This is the question of the day. Which is better for grilling and smoking on a charcoal grill, lump charcoal vs briquettes? We will compare the two choices and give you all the information you need to make a decision.
💡 Comparison Chart for Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes
|Cost*||$16.97 for 15.44 lbs.||$17.88 for 36 lbs.|
|Control||More finesse||Less finesse|
|Amount Needed||Less needed||More needed|
|Shape||Random Natural Wood||Uniform Size|
|Cleanest||All-Natural||Additives and Binder|
|Composition||Natural Hardwoods||Wood scraps, sawdust, binder|
Cost varies by location and other factors. Priced at a hardware store online.
🔖 Summary of Key Differences
A few notable differences will help you make a decision. There are pros and cons to each, and the right choice depends on your particular needs.
This is the most natural option. It is literally wood that is burnt to form charcoal. It does add a wonderful smoke flavor to your food and it is much easier to control the temperature by adjusting the air flow.
These are the cheapest option – by a long shot! They are made of scrap wood and chemical binders, and usually need a lighter fluid to start. They do burn faster and you’ll need more for longer burns.
📌 What is Lump Charcoal?
Logs, branches, and twigs are burned in a low temperature, low oxygen environment to produce coals. Because it is all-natural, the shape and size of each piece of charcoal will vary. No additives or binders are added. Because it is made from hardwoods, lump charcoal adds a smokey flavor to foods.
I use this style primarily and wrote an article on my favorite lump charcoal brands.
🔥 How to Light Lump Charcoal
Without lighter fluid
You do not need lighter fluid to light your lump charcoal. Use this method instead to make sure you get that natural smokey flavor of the lump charcoal without the chemical taste of lighter fluid.
Fire starters – I typically make my own fire starters using laundry lint, wax and cardboard egg cartons. But, I have been known to buy a package of them as well. These work great and are extremely easy.
Charcoal Chimney – This is another technique where a hand held metal chimney is stacked with charcoal, lit and used to jump start the grill. It actually works quite quickly, but I find it awkward to use it in my grill.
Electric Fire Starter – This used to be my go-to method to start the grill, but I moved away from it as it meant I had to drag the extension cord out and then put it back away. I also needed to find a place to set the tool to cool before I could put it away.
With lighter fluid
Don’t. Just don’t use lighter fluid to start the charcoal. Can I say that enough? It isn’t necessary and leaves a chemical taste that takes over the natural wood smoke taste.
Sure, it jump starts the fire, but you’ll notice a huge difference if you use one of the other methods to start the grill.
🍽️ How to Grill with Lump Charcoal
Make sure to light your charcoal at least 15 – 20 minutes before you want to start cooking. The coals need to be good and hot to be ready.
Note: I typically start the grill about 30 minutes early and them mix up the charcoal after it lights. I want to see an even burn across the charcoal as it helps to avoid hot spots. This isn’t as big of a deal if you are cooking something using indirect heat, as the heat deflector helps with that task.
Adjust the flow of oxygen by opening your grill vents. The more open the vent, the more oxygen will feed the fire and the hotter your grill will burn. Once your grill is stabilized at your temperature of choice, proceed with cooking your food as you normally would. Monitor the internal temperature of the grill and adjust the vents as needed to maintain your temp.
What are Charcoal Briquettes?
This is compressed charcoal made from sawdust and wood byproducts and molded to provide a uniform shape and size. A binder and other additives are added to help make the briquettes.
🔥 How to Light Charcoal Briquettes
With Match-Lit Briquettes
Several manufacturers produce match-lit briquettes. This eliminates the need to using lighter fluid (which is a great thing!) Light the briquettes with a match and stand back. It will get quite hot, quickly.
With a Charcoal Chimney
- Wad up newspapers or place a piece of fat wood in the bottom section of the chimney.
- Add your desired amount of charcoal briquettes in the top section of the chimney.
- Light the newspaper or fat wood.
- Wait until the coals are good and hot.
- Dump the coals in your grill and spread them out.
With an Electric Starter
- Make a pyramid with the charcoal briquettes in your grill.
- Plug the electric starter in.
- Place the nozzle into the stack of charcoal briquettes.
- Once you get sparks, pull the nozzle a couple inches from the coals.
- Move the starter nozzle around the coals until your fire is ignited.
- Remove the starter.
- Once your coals are turning white, spread them out on the bottom of your grill as desired.
🍽️ How to Grill with Charcoal Briquettes
Grilling with charcoal briquettes is basically the same as cooking with lump charcoal with two notable differences. One, you briquettes don’t get as hot. Two, briquettes don’t have quite the same level of finesse in regulating temperature. They burn fast. So you have to work a little harder to get the temperature you want and keep it there.
After they are lit and solidly burning, spread them out over the cooking area and don’t add your meats or veggies until the flames have stopped and the briquettes turn silver.
Lump charcoal can be used to achieve up to 1400ºF in a grill or up to 2000ºF in a forge. It burns hot! Charcoal briquettes may be used to get temperatures of about 500ºF and some say up to 800ºF but that’s about it. Briquettes are also harder to keep hot.
This question has been argued a thousand different ways and it really all comes down to personal preference. Each has its own positives.
They burn fast and usually burn up between 60 and 90 minutes.
45 minutes on a charcoal grill and several hours in a closed smoker. I have used one batch of lump charcoal for 12-14 hours on a low-and-slow brisket smoke and still had plenty left over.
Fill the bottom of a large burn barrel with natural, dried hardwoods. Let it burn for a bit until you have really good fire going . Add more hardwood and put a lid on top of the burn barrel. Make sure your fire can breathe JUST a little. Watch the smoke and it should turn to blueish. This takes 2-3 hours. Wear welding gloves and give it a good shake. Seal it up and leave it for one or two days.
Make sure you take all precautions to prevent the spread of fire and prevent injury. Wear protective gear.
These briquettes are made from wood scraps, sawdust, and bits and pieces. A binding chemical is added to form to shape, and some varieties add another chemical for lighter fluid. These materials are compressed, cut to the same size, and heated in the absence of oxygen.
Yes. Your charcoal briquettes can go bad one of two ways. One – they can get wet and either mold or disintegrate. Two – the added lighter fluid (if you have that kind) can evaporate making the briquettes harder to light. Otherwise, they do not go bad with time and can be used.
To get the charcoal briquettes lit, you should arrange them in a pyramid on top of your lighting source of choice. Once they are fully hot, you can spread them out across the bottom of your grill as desired.
You might be able to, but it is no the same thing as lump charcoal. In order to make lump charcoal you need a very low-and-slow process so that the coals are hardened but not all used up.