So, what do you prefer to use, lumpwood or briquette?
This is an age-old debate you will usually hear around gatherings where a grill is involved. Each of us has our preference and will defend it fiercely. But is there really any difference?
If you walk into any grocery store when the weather is nice, you’ll find a massive selection of charcoal for sale.
Charcoal is formed when wood is burned without using oxygen.
It leaves a by-product that is about 98 percent carbon.
Historically, it has been used for many things. This includes fueling cars and as an ingredient in gunpowder. However, its main use in modern times is for cooking.
But back to the great debate: which is better for grilling?
Let’s take a look at each, how they are formed and their pros and cons. Maybe we can help you decide.
Lumpwood charcoal is exactly what it says on the box.
It’s charred pieces (or lumps) of various hardwoods. This is more than likely one of the first fuels our ancestors used.
One of the main reasons people use lumpwood is the amount of heat it can produce, quite quickly. The smoke it produces is clean and fragrant.
Although it reaches a high temperature, it can burn out quite quickly. Also, some of the smaller pieces might fall through the charcoal grate. This could necessitate the addition of more coals for a long cookout.
On the plus side, the high heat it gives off is perfect for cooking burgers and searing steaks. It's also good for grilling other faster cooking foods. Additionally, it produces very little ash, meaning less vent blockages and clean up.
Lumpwood charcoal is made entirely from natural wood. Sometimes as a blend, or from a single type of tree like oak or hickory.
Some grilling enthusiasts decry lumpwood charcoal for long and slow cooking. However, if you are prepared to put the time in looking after your grill, it can deal with the job just fine.
One of the other disadvantages of lumpwood charcoal is a less even burn.
It also generally costs more and sizes are inconsistent. This means they can take up more room in your grill pan.
These coals are good for ceramic grills and indirect cooking on kettle grills. They also work well in competition smokers.
Unlike the all-natural wood of lumpwood, briquettes are made from charcoal plus other additives.
These could be sawdust, starch and sometimes sodium nitrate. However, these additives usually burn off when the ash appears, so will not taint the flavor of your food.
Briquettes might take longer to reach the required heat, but they burn for a long time.
They are uniform in size and supply a consistent heat for your grill. They are perfect for long, slow cooking.
If you need them to sear food, just increase the number of briquettes. Briquettes also tend to be cheaper than lumpwood charcoal, making them a more affordable option.
On the downside, the production of ash from briquettes exceeds that produced by lumpwood. This in turn increases the amount of waste. The ash can also restrict airflow through vents when grilling.
Briquettes don’t give your food as much flavor as lumpwood does. They can also be a bit more difficult to light.
Briquettes are best used for direct cooking of burgers and thin cuts of meat.
They are also good for the slow burn of a smoker and indirect cooking in a kettle grill. You can get more of them in your grill, due to their uniform size.
So, which side of the fence are you on?
There are many arguments for and against each type of charcoal.
You might want the long, slow burn of a briquette or the fast, high heat of lumpwood. You may prefer the smokier flavor produced by lumpwood, or the even heat distribution of briquettes.
They both have their pros and cons.
However they both do the same job: grill your food to perfection.
There are times when you might choose one over the other, depending on what you are cooking.
One thing is for sure, the great debate will undoubtedly continue. There will always be staunch supporters claiming the superiority of either lumpwood charcoal or briquettes.
This post was last updated on April 15th, 2019 at 07:56 pm
William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.