Everyone is passionate about something. From cars to phones to food, opinions run vast and far. When it comes to grilling, there are many conversation starters and debates over techniques and methods, including which charcoal is better, lump or briquettes. Both have been used for years to grill terrific dishes, and proponents of each have strong feelings about the other.

Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes - Similarities

Charcoal in both forms is made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen until all the natural chemicals, sap, and moisture are consumed. The resulting charcoal is mostly carbon, great for cooking at high temperatures, and imparts an adored mesquite smoky flavor and aroma. The wood's flavor has more to do with the climate from where the tree grows than the actual type of wood; however, all charcoal gets made from hardwood, such as oak, hickory, cherry, mesquite, pecan, and apple.

Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal comes from pieces of hardwood that result in parts or "lumps" of varying size. Since the resulting charcoal is virtually only carbon, lump burns hotter and faster than briquettes with very little ash. The premier choice of fuel for professional grillers and amateurs for searing and shorter grill sessions, critics complain that its irregular size makes it challenging to grill "slow and low."

Also, lump is considered more natural than briquettes because there are no additives or fillers that can transfer unwanted chemical smells or taste to the food. However, it is still essential to read the packaging and ingredients when purchasing.

Charcoal Briquettes

Briquettes are made of sawdust and leftover woods that are burnt down and shaped using molds. Fillers are added as binders, and chemical additives are used to make them easier to remove from the molds. The molds allow briquettes to be made in uniform sizes that are easy to work with for different grilling methods. Although charcoal briquettes burn longer than lump, they don’t burn as hot and leave considerable more ash due to the incorporated binders.

Briquettes are cheap and easy to work with because of their consistent size, making them the more popular fuel overall, especially for longer processes like smoking or slow roasting. Yet, critics claim these additives and fillers produce chemical smells when burnt and can be tasted on the food. 

So, which is the better charcoal – lump or briquettes?

Most experts agree that each has its advantages and disadvantages. Lump charcoal is considered purer and the healthier choice for those practicing an organic lifestyle. Proponents of briquettes argue that lump is expensive and too difficult to work with for anything longer than searing burgers or steak. There is truth on both sides, but natural briquettes are readily available, and it is possible to control the heat of lump charcoal with practice.

April 12, 2021 — Jason Klein