The Best Charcoal for Your Grilling Needs

Give your food the mouthwatering taste you deserve with the best charcoal for your grill.

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The Best Charcoal Options

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Around the world, cooks use charcoal as an alternative to propane or natural gas to grill food over an open flame. This style of grilling tends to give the food a smoky taste that lingers on your taste buds. The taste is a one-of-a-kind combination of the selected charcoal product, the grill on which you cook the food, and the food you are preparing. Due to this unique experience, avid backyard grill cooks can get attached to one specific type of charcoal. However, if you don’t know what to look for when you are buying grill fuel, you might be missing out on the best charcoal for your grilling needs. See our list of charcoal products that stand out in their respective categories.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
  2. BEST ALL-NATURAL: Primo 608 Natural Lump Charcoal
  3. BEST LUMP: Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
  4. BEST FOR CERAMIC GRILLS: Kamado Joe KJ-CHAR Big Block Lump XL Charcoal
  5. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
The Best Charcoal Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Types of Charcoal

Charcoal can come in many different types, including briquettes, instant charcoal briquettes, hardwood lump charcoal, flavored briquettes, Binchotan, and Thai charcoal.

Charcoal Briquettes

Charcoal briquettes are one of the two main charcoal types that Americans who grill use regularly. This type of charcoal comes in uniform size and shape due to its manufacturing process. Materials such as wood scraps, sawdust, coal dust, borax, and petroleum binders make up charcoal briquettes, producing an acrid-tasting smoke when they are first lit. Charcoal briquettes burn longer and more evenly than lump charcoal, but cannot reach the same temperatures. Briquettes generally cost less than lump charcoal, but the additives they contain can be harmful. For this reason, many people choose lump charcoal for its pure carbon base.

Instant Charcoal Briquettes

Instant charcoal briquettes are essentially the exact same product as regular charcoal briquettes except for one big difference: Instant charcoal briquettes come saturated in lighter fluid or other petroleum-based accelerants that make them much easier to light. With these products, the idea is that the accelerants will burn off quickly, but unfortunately, they can produce an oily taste on food if a briquette is not fully lit when grilling begins.

Hardwood Lump Charcoal

The second of the two main types of charcoal, hardwood lump charcoal, burns hotter than charcoal briquettes, but cannot burn as long and tends to cost more. The reason for these differences is that lump charcoal manufacturing uses a different process. Wood is burned without oxygen until all the moisture and gases are gone, leaving pure carbon that retains the same form as the wood that it used to be. This process is free of binders or petroleum-based accelerants, making it a far healthier option than charcoal briquettes and a favorite of grill cooks looking for a smoky, grilled taste.

Flavored Briquettes

Flavored briquettes are, as the name indicates, a flavored version of charcoal briquettes. These briquettes are intended to produce a flavored flame that will lend its taste to the food on the grill and commonly come in mesquite, hickory, and applewood flavors. However, many grill experts suggest using flavored wood chips with regular charcoal instead to get a stronger flavor in grilled food.

Binchotan

Binchotan is a type of lump charcoal that originated in Japan, though it’s now popular across the United States. This type of charcoal is traditionally produced using ubamegashi oak in southwest Japan and burns very clean, very hot, and for a long time, making it one of the best options for grilling. However, all these great features come at a price, one much higher than for other types of charcoal, with a single piece of Binchotan costing several dollars. This is because most Binchotan imported to America comes from endangered mangroves in Malaysia.

Thai Charcoal

Thai charcoal is a relatively recent addition to the grilling world. It was created by the well-known chef Andy Ricker, who used sustainable orchard-grown rambutan fruitwood to produce this charcoal. The result is lump charcoal similar to the binchotan in heat and burn times, but at a fraction of the cost, though it can be difficult to light. Despite the benefits of Thai charcoal, buyers might have trouble finding the product because it is not currently popular with average Americans who grill food.

Features to Look for in the Best Charcoal

Before choosing charcoal for your outdoor grilling needs, take a few minutes to educate yourself on the most important shopping considerations to keep in mind.

All-Natural/100 Percent Hardwood

All-natural and 100 percent hardwood are two labels that appear frequently on charcoal packaging to advertise clean-burning products.

  • All-natural: Most people think that all-natural means that products are safe, health conscious, and environmentally friendly, but the meaning behind the “all-natural” label is less beneficial than consumers might believe. In reality, the all-natural label means that there were no synthetic (man-made) ingredients used in creating the charcoal product. However, lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes typically are made without synthetic material anyway. They contain carbon, wood, coal, and maybe starch and borax, all of which occur naturally. So, the only guarantee from this label is that the manufacturer didn’t add anything extra to the mix that was created synthetically.
  • 100 percent hardwood: This label frequently displays on lump charcoal products and on higher-quality charcoal briquettes. However, buyers should not mistake this label to mean the product is 100 percent charcoal. This claim means that the labeled charcoal product wasn’t produced using sawdust, wooden pallets, or other scrap wood and that it wasn’t mixed with anthracite coal.

Burn Time

The burn time of charcoal will depend on the type of charcoal in use.

  • Charcoal briquettes burn at an even pace and usually outlast lump charcoal products. The use of petroleum-based binders in charcoal briquette production gives them the ability to burn at a consistent temperature over a long period.
  • Lump charcoal burns at a quick pace. It climbs rapidly to a higher maximum temperature than charcoal briquettes before burning out. Unfortunately, this rapid burn is short-lived compared to charcoal briquettes.

Despite these basic categorizations, each charcoal manufacturer will indicate an approximate burn time for their respective products and a suggested method of use to obtain this burn time. Keep in mind that every grill burns differently, so while a company can advertise an average burn time based on a series of controlled tests, any individual user might not experience the same results.

Burn Temperature

To grill requires heat—and lots of it. The burn temperature is another factor that broadly splits between charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal.

  • Charcoal briquettes burn at an average temperature of 800 to 1000 degrees. The heat charcoal briquettes produce is even and lasts longer than lump charcoal for better control of the grill’s temperature. For those new to charcoal grilling, briquettes are great for building experience but burning food less often than if a new enthusiast jumps straight into using lump charcoal.
  • Lump charcoal can reach temperatures of 1400 degrees, but this type of charcoal benefits from an experienced hand. This is because it can be difficult to manage the quickly climbing and rapidly declining temperatures that burning lump charcoal produces.

Minimal Fillers

Fillers are additives that manufacturers mix with carbon to form a thick paste, which they then feed into rolling molds to create charcoal briquettes. These fillers typically include sawdust, wood chips, coal, borax, limestone, sodium nitrate, or starch, each performing a variety of functions to bind the product together and help it burn.

Products that use a lot of fillers produce a lot more ash than lump charcoal and also can have negative effects on food, such as poor flavor or the possibility of hazardous byproducts.

Tips for Buying and Using Charcoal

When you are selecting charcoal for your grill, be sure to invest in a 100 percent hardwood charcoal product. This will lead to a much cleaner burn than products that use pallets and scrap wood to make their charcoal. To identify quality charcoal, look for brands that have thin edges for simple lighting. Uniform shape is another factor that is beneficial because it makes stacking the charcoal easier, but you should avoid products with a lot of fillers. These charcoal products create too much ash, choking the flame on a grill.

Fillers also aren’t great for your health, and although inexpensive, self-lighting products are the most likely to risk exposure to hazardous byproducts, like carbon monoxide. Novice charcoal grill cooks should start with charcoal briquettes until they learn more about how to handle the vents on the grill. Lump charcoal needs an experienced hand to control its rapid temperature changes and shorter burn time.

  • For a clean-burning grill, invest in a 100 percent hardwood charcoal.
  • Look for thin edges, minimal filler, and uniform shape when choosing a charcoal product.
  • To avoid hazardous byproducts in food, stay away from cheap, self-lighting charcoal products.
  • Lump charcoal requires more experience to use than charcoal briquettes, making charcoal briquettes a better choice for anyone new to using a charcoal grill.

Our Top Picks

The top-rated products below were chosen for quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the best charcoal for your grilling needs.

The Best Charcoal Option: Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Photo: amazon.com

1. BEST OVERALL: Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Legally sourced South American hardwood goes into Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal, with no fillers, chemicals, or scrap wood. This pure, 100 percent natural hardwood burns clean so that guests will taste the flavor of their favorite steak, not the fuel.

The South American hardwood used to make this lump charcoal is 30 percent denser than oak or hickory. This difference in density means that Jealous Devil’s charcoal can burn much hotter and longer than traditional charcoal products, boasting a burn time of 12 hours when used in ideal conditions. In addition, grill cooks won’t have to deal with sparks, pops, flare-ups, or excessive ash because of the purity of this 35-pound bag of lump charcoal, making it an ideal choice for the grill.

The Best Charcoal Option: Primo 608 Natural Lump Charcoal

Photo: amazon.com

2. BEST ALL-NATURAL: Primo 608 Natural Lump Charcoal

Primo 608 Natural Lump Charcoal is an excellent option for those looking to get a combination of longer burn time from charcoal briquettes and the heat of lump charcoal in an all-natural product. This lump charcoal is completely free of tars and other chemicals, leaving the food it cooks with a smoky flavoring instead of an unpleasant fuel taste.

The manufacturer boasts that this 20-pound bag of lump charcoal can last up to 35 cooks before having to restock. This is due to the long burn time; Primo states that when used with a Primo grill, on low temperature and in ideal conditions, this lump charcoal can burn for up to an extraordinary 36 hours.

The Best Charcoal Option: Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

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3. BEST LUMP: Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal is made with renewable, natural resources by taking hardwood leftovers from timber milling. This Missouri-grown oak, hickory, maple, and pecan wood blend creates a pure, 100 percent all-natural lump charcoal that has no fillers, chemicals, or other harmful materials.

Rockwood says that even the packaging of this charcoal is recyclable, landfill-safe, and doesn’t release harmful fumes if burned. The clean, slow-burning, lump charcoal lights easily and heats quickly, producing a minimal amount of ash and burns for up to 24 hours. However, this burn time is based on a low-temperature fire, and on a heavily insulated smoker in ideal test conditions.

The Best Charcoal Option: Kamado Joe KJ-CHAR Big Block XL Lump Charcoal

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4. BEST FOR CERAMIC GRILLS: Kamado Joe KJ-CHAR Big Block XL Lump Charcoal

Kamado Joe is among industry leaders in the manufacture and sale of ceramic grills, so it should come as no surprise that Kamado Joe KJ-CHAR Big Block Lump Charcoal is a great charcoal product designed specifically for their grills. This 100 percent hardwood product can burn for up to 18 hours in a ceramic grill while producing only a small amount of ash. This makes it ideal for a ceramic grill that relies on even heating throughout the entire grill.

The lumps in this 20-pound bag are made from a blend of guayacan, guayaibi, mistral, and white quebracho hardwood, which burns clean and gives a robust wood-fire flavor. Kamado Joe Big Block Lump Charcoal mixes fast-starting small pieces and long-burning large pieces, for quickly heating up to the desired temperature plus a long cook time.

The Best Charcoal Option: Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes

Photo: amazon.com

5. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes

Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes are a great option for someone new to using a charcoal grill because they are affordable. This means novice grill users can add a few more briquettes than necessary while honing their grilling skills without feeling it in the wallet.

The two 12-pound bags of charcoal briquettes produce an even heat that is ready to cook over in about 15 minutes thanks to the unique shape of the briquettes. The sides of the briquette have grooves so that there are multiple, thin edges on each side that are easy to light. The 100 percent natural charcoal briquettes are advertised as long burning, but the manufacturer does not list the maximum burn time.

FAQs About Your New Best Charcoal

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FAQs About Your New Charcoal

Before investing in a new type of charcoal, take a look at these frequently asked questions and their answers below.

Q. What is the healthiest charcoal to use?

Lump charcoal is one of the best charcoal types to use because it does not use additives or flammable petroleum products. It is made by burning wood in a low-oxygen environment, leaving only pure carbon in the shape of the original wood pieces.

Q. What burns longer: briquettes or charcoal?

Briquettes burn longer than lump charcoal, however, they do not provide the same level of heat. For a slower grill style, go with the long-burning briquettes, but to turn up the temperature for searing steak or other foods, choose charcoal.

Q. What is the longest-lasting charcoal?

The longest-lasting charcoal is Japan’s Binchotan. This premium-priced charcoal can burn for three to five hours at extremely high temperatures, making Binchotan a regular staple in high-end restaurants.

Q. What is better: charcoal or coal?

When it comes to grilling, this is a simple question. Charcoal produces more heat and burns much cleaner than coal, making it ideal for grilling foods. As a slow-burning fossil fuel, coal just can’t compare.