Lump charcoal vs briquettes: What is the difference?

lump charcoal vs briquette

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Barbecue aficionados and newcomers alike often debate and question why some of us prefer lump charcoal over briquettes. What’s the difference between lump charcoal and briquettes, and which one is better? 

This article will discuss the main differences between lump charcoal and briquettes, the pros and cons of both, to help you decide which type of charcoal is best for you and your grill.

What is the Difference Between These Two Types of Charcoal?

The difference between lump hardwood charcoal and briquettes is primarily in the materials used and the production process. Lump wood charcoal is a natural product and a by-product of burning pure, untreated wood in a low-oxygen chamber. The final product is a piece of charred lumber that was formerly the lump of a hardwood tree.

Some companies may utilize recycled wood, but the manufacturing process does not involve the addition of additives, chemicals, or the reshaping of the wood. It begins as a lump of wood and ends as a lump of coal.

Charcoal briquettes, on the other hand, are a molded product that is manufactured in a factory using sawdust, chemicals, and binders to form a properly shaped charcoal piece.

Depending on the brand, certain briquettes may be manufactured with lighting fluid for self-lighting capabilities ( self lighting charcoal ), but the basic point is that this product is more “precisely controlled and manipulated” to produce the easily identifiable briquette shape.

Let’s go over these two types of charcoal and go over the differences in detail.

Comparison Chart

Hardwood lump charcoalBriquette Charcoal
100 Percent Natural made from pure wood like OakMade out of recycled materials like sawdust
100 percent natural, contain no additives or chemicalsAdditives and binders are often used to produce briquettes
Can burn hotterDoes not burn as hot but can stay at a constant temperature
Produces very little ash productionProduces “powder-like” ash which can be a problem in some grills, including kamados. Large ash production
Easier to light and fast – burns hotOften requires lighter fluid to light
It is natural, so the shape and size of the lumps is unpredictableFactory-made had shape, ever brick is the same size and shape, burn consistently
Hardwood charcoal costs moreBriquette charcoal is more affordable
good quality charcoal can be hard to find in local storesBriquette charcoal can be found even at the corner gas station

What is Lump Charcoal?

Lump wood harcoal is prized among many BBQ enthusiasts because it is perceived as being a natural fuel. Lump hardwood charcoal is made by burning wood in low-oxygen chambers. The process of making lump charcoal and what it is can be read in detail here.

Lump Charcoal

lump charcoal testing

Many BBQ pitmasters and home users alike use lump coal because it is natural, unlike most briquette products. Chemicals, binders, or additives added during the briquettes’ production will burn, adding a chemical smell to your and other unwanted items.

However, some lump BBQ charcoal brands use recycled wood to manufacture the charcoal, introducing foreign objects and even chemicals if the wood was treated with chemicals in its previous life.

So the key when choosing a good natural lump wood charcoal brand is to make sure that it is indeed all-natural.

Pros

There are many benefits to using lump charcoal, and it all starts with the use of natural hardwood and materials to produce lump wood charcoal. The biggest pro of lump wood charcoal is its natural quality. Charcoal made naturally and organically keeps chemicals from manufacturing.

  • The result here is that your charcoal, your fuel, is 100 percent natural.
  • Natural pure pieces of Wood – no chemicals, fillers, binders, or lighter fluid.
  • Lights easily
  • Lump coal burns hotter – great for searing steaks
  • Less ash – Low ash production works great in kamado grills.
  • Lump charcoal is reusable. You can use the same charcoal a few times.

Cons

Not everything is perfect with lump BBQ charcoal, although it is the purest form of charcoal and natural. Some pitmasters still prefer using briquettes. We will get into that later.

  • Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster, meaning you might need to buy new charcoal bags more often.
  • This is a natural product with natural shapes; having different size coals means different heat output.
  • You guessed it!- Lump charcoal is more expensive, but for some, well worth it.

Where can You buy It?

Lump charcoal is not available in every store and certainly not available at gas stations. Good lump charcoal is often found in BBQ stores or smaller hardware stores.

The good news is that it can also be purchased and delivered to your front door. Our article on lump charcoal shows you the top brands and where to purchase them.

What are charcoal briquettes?

charcoal briquettes

Briquettes are equally shaped charcoal blocks, normally pillow-shaped, made of sawdust, leftover wood, and recycled lumber. Making briquettes is similar to making lump charcoal, except instead of natural wood and tree lumps, compressed sawdust is compacted and burned in a low-oxygen environment to create the charcoal briquette.

However, in some cases, fillers, binders, and other additives are added to enhance briquettes and help the ignition process.

Charcoal Briquettes

Briquettes are produced from various materials, including recycled wood and sawdust. Chemical additives help briquets hold their shape, ignite, and are all mixed into the finished product.

Some additives used in the manufacturing of briquettes bind the sawdust mix together and create the familiar pillow shape. Unlike lump coal, briquettes burn slower and keep a consistent temperature thanks to their uniform shape.

It is easier to stack briquettes and easier to manage their temperature. However, if you are serious about grilling and enjoying good-tasting BBQ, you will want avoid any charcoal-containing chemicals, as chemicals will burn and ruin the food’s taste.

Pros

  • Is easy to keep a steady temperature in your grill or smoker.
  • Consistent size and shape—meaning every briquette produces the same heat output.
  • They burn longer—briquettes can burn for a long time.
  • There is even heat since all briquettes are the same shape and size.
  • Briquettes are cheaper than lump charcoal.

Cons

  • Some charcoal briquette brands contain additives and chemicals which, when burn end up in your food.
  • Without lighting additives or chemicals, it is harder to light briquettes. You need a chimney starter. A chimney starter can help you light briquettes faster and safer.
  • Briquettes produce more charcoal ash than lump charcoal.

Which one should I choose?

I prefer to cook only with lump charcoal because I want to use the cleanest fuel possible when charcoal grilling my meats. I also use a Kamado grill, which limits me to only using lump charcoal. Sure, you can use briquettes in some kamados, but it will be messy; you will be cleaning a large amount of ash, and your kamado won’t get as hot as it can.

The choice here will also have to do with the type of cooking you do and the type of smoker or grill you own.

If you own a kamado grill, briquettes will fall apart as they burn and create almost powder-like ash, which can be excessive and obstruct the airflow in your kamado.

If you own a regular charcoal grill and often cook, the briquettes might be a great choice since they are cheaper and easier to control temperature.

However, if you want the purest charcoal, then 100 percent nature lump charcoal is for you.

FAQs About Lump charcoal and Briquettes

Can you mix lump charcoal and briquettes?

Yes, you can. This is layering heat and creating different temperature zones. If you have a large enough grill, you can use briquettes for a long steady cook and use the lump charcoal for a high-temperature sear.

Why does lump charcoal cost more than briquettes?

Lump charcoal is made from hardwoods and logs, which cost more. On the other hand, Briquettes can be made from recycled materials like sawdust and blends of additives, which reduce manufacturing costs.

Conclusion

Both lump charcoal and briquettes are a fuel source for charcoal grills and smokers. Their differences make them unique and applicable to specific uses and cooking styles but the main take way from this article is that lump charcoal is more natural and burns hot while briquettes are a more “processed” product.

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