Last Updated On: May 31, 2021

In the world of charcoal grilling, you’ll have two choices: lump versus briquettes. Our expert team of grillers has taken the time to research and compare the best on the market.

We are going to take a deep dive into the differences and similarities of lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. By the end, you’ll have a good understanding of which will best suit your smoking needs.

Charcoal and Grilling

Charcoal inside a grill

In recent years, most backyard grillers have made the switch from wood to charcoal due to the fact that charcoal is high in carbon content [1].

The higher the carbon, the more energy the material has to burn. You’ll find your grills are burning hotter and at a steadier rate.

Charcoal is essentially wood burned down to its basic form: carbon.

The fire from a charcoal griller is cleaner. No more watery eyes or constant sneezing. Staying away from chemicals is both good for you and your food.

2 Types of Charcoal: Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

Lump vs briquette charcoal

The two most popular types of wood charcoal sold in stores are lump and briquettes. Let’s take a look at these two coal types.

Lump

Lump charcoal is extremely popular among professional pitmasters and has found popularity on the BBQ competition circuits. The everyday backyard griller is starting to join in on the fun.

Lump charcoal responds really well to oxygen making it fun to play around with. It will burn hotter than the alternatives.

Popular griller James Llorens says that he’s “pretty much used all the various brands of charcoal and determined I prefer lumps over briquettes.”

This particular type of coal is created by slowly burning real wood, like ash, until the chemicals, sap, and moisture have left the wood. After this process is complete, the only thing that remains is pure charcoal.

This coal burns hotter but needs to be supervised as it could easily burn the food you are grilling. Easily change the change of the fire and burn less ash than other coal types.

Grillers find lump charcoal easy to control as it responds well to oxygen and is the most natural fuel for grills. Backyard cooks who love a more ‘natural’ product will fall in love with lump charcoal [2].

They will also have over 75 lump charcoal brands to choose from as lump coal grows in popularity.

Pros
  • Lights quickly
  • Easy to adjust the temperature
  • High heat
  • An all-natural fuel
  • Little ash production
Cons
  • Come in different sizes making grilling evenly hard
  • More expensive
  • Need to add more lump charcoal over time
  • Burns faster

Briquettes

Briquette charcoal on grill

Charcoal briquettes are the most common type of coal used by the everyday home griller.

Briquettes are also the most common form of coal found in grocery and hardware stores.

This type of coal is made of leftover wood and sawdust that is then mixed with additives.

After everything is combined, the wood and sawdust get compressed into a uniform shape like a pillow.

There are a wide variety of briquettes available because the chemical additives have a huge role to play.

Some additives make the charcoal briquettes easier to light while others might give the food more flavor. The type of coal with lighter fluid might be helpful in the grilling process but could also leave a bad aftertaste.

A briquette fire will slowly burn over a longer period of time meaning the oxygen feeds fire for longer on less wood. The heat a briquettes fire gives off is perfect for slow cooks.

Pros
  • Burns longer
  • Keeps a steady temperature and heat
  • Cheaper
  • Uniform shape for easy burning
Cons
  • Takes a while to light
  • Don’t burn as hot as other forms of charcoal
  • Give off a chemical smell
  • Large ash production

How Does Wood Affect Your Coal Decision?

A burning wood on a grill

It’s important to know that the type of wood you use can affect how the charcoal works. Most grillers use hardwood versus softwood.

A softwood would be pines, firs, cedars, or spruces – all of which keep their leaves year-round. You’ll find them great for making soap and other products.

When used, they leave a weird taste which could be negative.

That’s why charcoal is typically made from a harder wood such as apple, cherry, oak, or royal oak.

These types of hardwoods add a positive contribution to food flavor. Hardwood lump charcoal burns hotter by simply using natural chemicals found in pure wood.

Are There Any Quality Differences?

Unlike other products, there are no standards that coal has to meet [3]. That means you’ll have to trust the manufacturer and the claims they are making. Most of these companies claim to create coal from untreated wood.

You shouldn’t be surprised if your bag of lump charcoal contains multiple tree types in it. The variety in wood can either increase the flavoring of your food or be a detriment.

When shopping around, you might notice some companies might talk about quality processes. This means working to reduce and eliminate rocks, metal, and other oddities from your bag of lump charcoal.

Additional Differences

One major difference between these two is that lump charcoal has no additives. The proponents of this brand believe it’s superior because of its purity or lack of additives. Briquette typically has certain ingredients added to it that make it easier to light or smoke differently.

Unlike lump charcoal, briquette charcoal comes in a uniform round shape that is the result of manufacturing. They tweak the charcoal just enough, so it comes out looking like a pillow compared to the lump charcoal which is all small and unique pieces.

The difference in additives and shape play a major role in the temperature and cooking time of the charcoal.

Lump charcoal’s burn rate is faster meaning you need to feed the fire more often. For a more consistent heat, briquettes are perfect. It will burn longer and burn consistently with less wood.

Similarities Between Charcoal Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal

A burning charcoal in a grill

While these types of coal are produced differently, they find common ground in certain areas.

For example, both lump and briquettes charcoal can be organic or chemical free. Both products are available as natural.

They are both made from wood that is burned on high heat until all that’s left is carbon.

They also can be considered self-igniting. If you leave the coal out where it gets wet, they can catch fire on their own.

It’s very important to leave your grilling coal in a dry spot. Overall, these two types are quite similar, yet grillers have their bias learning one way or the other.

Does Grill Type Matter?

A meat being cooked on top of grill

The type of charcoal you use could depend on your grill.

While briquettes are the most popular type of charcoal, certain grills don’t have enough space to collect the ensuing ash.

This could cause a buildup of ash production, leading to dramatic drops in temperatures or the fire completely extinguishing.

You can find a work around for this by knowing your grill and adapting it to the needs of the briquette charcoal.

Yet, most individuals with these types of grills will simply choose to use lump charcoal instead. Kamado smokers are one type that doesn’t work well with briquettes.

Many grills have a charcoal chimney that helps you effectively start the fire especially when using lump charcoal. A lump charcoal fire will burn hotly for a long period of time, so it's important to monitor your cooking closely.

Grills with adjustable air vents are designed for lump charcoal pros and those using self lighting charcoal.

Can You Mix Briquettes with Lump?

It is possible to mix the lump with the briquettes charcoal. Since each type has its own unique strengths, you can combine them to find a good balance.

Adding a couple of the lump charcoal to a briquette could produce a hotter fire that burns more quickly – a perfect combination for searing a juicy steak. Things to consider when mixing your coal are whether you are fine cooking or slow cooking.

Does Location of Grill Matter?

A close up photo of grill grates on fire

While location of a grill doesn’t overtly affect charcoal choices, it is an important part of the grilling process.

In an area with a lot of severe weather conditions, you might opt for lump charcoal that keeps a grill hot for long periods of time.

In high-altitude areas, you’ll notice that it’s harder to keep the fire going due to the lack of moisture in the air.

High altitude with low oxygen environments may find briquettes more helpful as it keeps a low fire.

Our Choice: Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes

We won’t fault you for choosing either one of these amazing charcoal options. You should base your decision on the following factors:

  • Grill type
  • Type of food being grilled
  • Experience level

With our team’s many years of experience, we find lump charcoal to be the best. Try out both types of charcoal and determine which one best fits you and your grilling needs.

References:

  1. http://www.fao.org/3/x5328e/x5328e0b.htm
  2. https://www.premierfirewoodcompany.com/cooking-wood/the-natural-benefits-of-lump-charcoal/
  3. http://www.fao.org/3/x5555e/x5555e09.htm

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