Most serious grillers will tell you that using hardwood lump charcoal for your grill is a no-brainer.
Lump charcoal is made by slowly burning pieces of hardwood in the absence of oxygen. I’ll put a video down below to show you how they are made. It is a really fascinating process. This releases all the moisture and sap from the wood and creates black, lump pieces of charcoal. Briquettes, on the other hand, contain composite woods and chemical additives. For the purposes of this article, we’ll just focus on the lump charcoal as it is significantly better for grilling.
Let’s dig deeper into the benefits and explore some of the best lump charcoal products available.
Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes
Lump charcoal is indisputably the more natural and healthier option. Briquettes are really the “fast food option” of charcoal: they are cheap, extremely easy to find, and reliable when it comes to grilling.
Unlike the pure, natural lump charcoal, briquettes are highly processed and manufactured with chemical additives that help them to burn evenly and consistently. The majority of briquettes contain petroleum to make them burn longer. When burned, those chemicals will work their way into your food, changing the flavor (and not for the better!) To top it off, you need lighter fluid to get the fire going – again, more chemicals in your grill.
It is easy to see why people are attracted to the convenience and consistency of grilling that briquettes offer. But, they give off a chemical smell when lit and create a lot more ash than lump charcoal.
Most people don’t take the time to learn about how they are made, but if they did then they would quickly make the transition to lump charcoal and never look back.
Lump charcoal offers a variety of benefits. It is more responsive to oxygen, which makes it much easier to control the temperature of your fire if your grill has adjustable air vents. It also lights quickly with no lighter fluid and creates very little ash, making it much easier to clean up after each grill. Best of all, there is no chemical smell to deal with since it is entirely natural with no additives whatsoever.
If you do have the choice, we strongly suggest you opt for high-quality lump charcoal because it is all-natural, additive-free, and is better for your health and for the environment.
Best Hardwood Charcoal
Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
This professional-grade lump charcoal is made from pure, ultra-dense South American hardwood trees. There are no fillers, scrap materials, or chemicals in this charcoal – it’s just wood. It offers superior burning time: 4+ hours in open grills and 20+ hours in controlled smokers. The maximum temperatures are over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but I have never needed to burn it this hot. This lump charcoal comes in a waterproof and resealable bag with zip-top closure to keep your charcoal stays safe secure no matter where it’s stored.
Items to Note:
- Wood is sourced from Paraguay, which has some of the strictest preservation laws
- Perfect for Kamado Style Grills like the Big Green Egg
- A 2” lump of this hardwood charcoal is more dense than charcoal made from mesquite or oak. That means it will burn more efficiently.
- Requires less charcoal due to its density
What reviewers say: This charcoal is absolutely the best one in terms of heat, longevity, coal size, density, and naturalness. Low ash, incredible heat, pleasant smoke smell and flavor, and perfectly sized pieces.
Kamado Joe KJ-Char Hardwood Extra Large Lump Charcoal
Crafted in Argentina, this charcoal features a unique blend of different South American hardwoods. These dense hardwoods produce an ultra-large charcoal that burns longer and produces a top-quality wood flavor and smoke. It is 100% natural and made from hardwood trees, meaning that it burns clean without additives or foreign materials.This charcoal burns longer and hotter, meaning that it costs less per use than similar high-quality brands because you won’t need to use as much to cook your meat to perfection.
Items to Note:
- Made from Argentinian hardwoods: Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, and White Quebracho
- Does not use any scrap wood or cutoffs from manufacturing
- The 20lb bag may be shipped in a box to minimize damage
What reviewers say: Burns longer than other similar brands for a given volume of charcoal. Comes in a sturdy box that protects the charcoal pieces, meaning that pieces don’t get crushed through the bag before they make it to your home. Burns slow and steady for several hours. Gives foods a pleasant, smoky flavor.
Fogo Premium Oak Restaurant All-Natural Hardwood Charcoal for Grilling and Smoking
This 35-pound bag contains a premium blend of 100% all-natural hardwood species. It lights up fast, lasts long, and reaches ultra-hot temperatures quickly. It works in any style of grill, but does especially well in ceramic style grills, like Big Green Egg, Weber Kettle, Smoky Mountain, Primo, Kamado Joe, and others. This restaurant quality charcoal produces wonderfully flavored meat and food. The bag contains medium-sized pieces.
Items to Note:
- This is a 35lb bag
- “Super Premium” means about 80% of the lumps are 4 inches or larger
- Larger sizes result in a more stable temperature and longer burn time
What reviewers say: Burns for nearly twice as long as other brands. Smells great and imports a pleasant hardwood flavor onto the food. Truly consistent and long-lasting heat that reaches high temperatures. Many reviewers claim that this is the all-around best charcoal available on the market.
Big Green Egg 20-Pound Bag of Natural Charcoal
Big Green Egg charcoal is 100% natural and ultra-premium quality lump charcoal. The 20-pound bag contains American oak and hickory hardwoods. It is quick to light and burns hotter and more efficiently than charcoal briquettes. Since there are no additives, it leaves food tasting delicious with a pleasantly, natural smokey flavor. There is minimal ash after each grilling session, which makes for easy clean up.
Items to Note:
- 20 pound bag
- Can be significantly less expensive to find at a local BBQ dealer
What reviewers say: A little bit goes a long way because these pieces of charcoal burn slowly, ultra-hot, and efficiently. Mostly large pieces with some smaller pieces thrown in there, essentially the only small pieces were previously larger pieces that had been broken through the bag. Top quality charcoal that consistently cooks meat and food to perfection.
B&B Oak Lump Charcoal
This 100% natural charcoal prides itself on being the “expert’s choice” for professional and outdoor grilling use for over 50 years. These large, lump pieces of charcoal burn cleanly and ultra-hot, plus they last much longer than lower quality brands of lump charcoal. A nice, natural earthy smoke flavor complements grilled food, and there is minimal ash leftover afterwards.
What reviewers say: Some pieces in the bag are quite small but are mixed with larger and medium sized pieces. Many reviewers say this is premium grade charcoal and on par with other top-quality brands.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Types Of Charcoal Are Best?
While charcoal is always made out of natural wood, sometimes brands are misleading with their wording. Some lump charcoal brands claim their charcoal is made from natural wood, but they are actually made from compressed dried lumber scraps, saw mill scraps, or general scrap pieces of wood.
While those are technically all natural (since it is implied that there are no additives), it is always best to use a lump charcoal that is made directly from hardwood trees and otherwise unprocessed. Second-hand scraps that have been transformed into lump charcoal tend to create more dust/small chips than natural wood lumps, which is not ideal for grilling.
How Do You Light Lump Charcoal?
Never use lighter fluid. It will make your food taste like lighter fluid. Plus, there are plenty of other methods for starting lump charcoal that are just as effective and don’t use chemicals.
- Paraffin starter fire blocks work well
- Propane torches
- Plasma Arc Lighter
- Electric Charcoal Starter
- Hot Air Fire Starter
- Classic kindling and match method.
Experiment with different methods and find the one that works best for you.
What Is The Shelf Life?
When properly stored, lump charcoal should last several years. Always make sure to store the bag of lump charcoal in a dry location and to keep the bag closed whenever you’re not using it.
Why Are Some Bags Filled With Small Pieces, Chips, And Dust?
This can happen for a variety of reasons, and you’ll see it with some brands more than others. A lot of it comes down to how efficiently the manufacturers packaging system is. If they use a more aggressive packaging system, then many of the large lumps can break in the process. This can also happen during storage and transportation. To avoid this, buy higher quality brands of lump charcoal that are contained in more durable bags or boxes.
Can I Cook With Charcoal Indoors?
Never, ever, ever use charcoal to cook indoors. When burning, charcoal releases carbon monoxide (CO) which is toxic and deadly to humans. It is odorless and colorless, so you won’t even know you are breathing it in. Cooking outdoors with lump charcoal is safe because these gasses dissipate, but cooking indoors is extremely risky because it won’t have a place to escape.