Though charcoal briquettes are perfectly fine for most backyard BBQers, many grill enthusiasts swear by lump charcoal.
Unlike charcoal, which uses filler, binders, and petroleum additives, lump charcoal consists of 100 percent wood that has gone through a carbonization process. Lump charcoal is made from hardwoods such as elm, oak, and maple that infuse smokey flavor into steak, burgers, ribs, and chicken.
While briquettes come in a uniform shape, lump charcoal maintains wood’s natural, irregular shape. It also burns at higher temperatures than briquettes, allowing you to achieve a better sear on your grilled meat.
If you’re looking to up your grilling game, read on to learn more about hardwood charcoal and find out why the products below are some of the best lump charcoal options available.
- BEST OVERALL: Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
- BEST BUDGET: Best of the West Masters Selection Lump Charcoal
- BEST FOR KAMADO: Harder Charcoal Lump Charcoal (HAXLWC33)
- BEST FOR SMOKING: B&B Oak Lump Charcoal
- BEST NATURAL: Fogo All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Lump Charcoal
Don’t pick up just any old bag of lump charcoal. There are several important factors to consider when selecting which brand to choose, including the lump size, burning temperature, and flavor.
One of the biggest challenges one faces when using lump charcoal is size. A bag of charcoal briquettes contains pieces that are a uniform size and shape. Pieces of lump charcoal, on the other hand, vary in size and shape, which makes it challenging to get an even layer of charcoal in the grill.
A bag of quality lump charcoal has pieces ranging in size from about 1 inch to 4 inches with more medium-sized chunks, which provide a more consistent burn than large pieces. Higher-quality lump charcoal will also be well sorted. A quality bag of lump charcoal will have a minimal amount of waste, with no ash, dust, and chips that aren’t usable in your grill.
One reason many grill masters choose lump charcoal over standard briquettes is its higher burn temperature, which allows the griller to achieve coveted hard crusts and sears on steaks and burgers.
Charcoal briquettes have a maximum burn temperature of about 800 degrees Faherenheit, while lump charcoal can reach up to 1,400 degrees. Higher-quality hardwood lump charcoals have higher burn temperatures than more affordable varieties.
Lump charcoal is also more responsive to the oxygen levels in the air compared to briquettes. This makes it easier for a grill chef to control the temperature using a grill’s air vents.
One of the main reasons grill enthusiasts use lump charcoal over briquets is flavor. You can buy different wood species of lump charcoal, including maple, hickory, oak, walnut, and cherry, and each has its own distinct flavor. The flavor imparted by charcoal briquettes, by comparison, is relatively one-note. Lump charcoal is also devoid of chemical additives that can give meat a chemical taste.
Mild woods such as apple, alder, and bamboo impart subtle flavors, making them good matches for mild fish and poultry. Oak and cherry impart a medium amount of flavor into the meat suitable for beef, pork, and poultry. Hickory, pecan, and mesquite are the woods of choice for intense flavor, ideal for brisket, salmon, and pork barbecue.
The quality of lump charcoal varies widely depending on the brand you buy. Low-quality lump charcoal will contain dust or small bits that burn too quickly or fall through the grates of a grill. A bag of high-quality lump charcoal will contain minimal waste; instead it has softball-size pieces that are easy to arrange in the grill and burn evenly for longer periods of time.
Lump wood charcoal comes from various sources. Some lump charcoal is made of wood scraps from building materials and furniture makers, and may include old flooring and furniture. If this wood was treated with chemicals it can cause the charcoal to spark or smoke, making it difficult to control the burn.
Since lump charcoal is often a byproduct of lumber mills, it’s not uncommon to find other debris mixed in, including rope, pieces of metal, and even plastic. Quality lump charcoal producers will thoroughly sort their wood to prevent this material from ending up in the bag.
Most lump charcoal is environmentally friendly, recycled scrap. Some brands of lump charcoal are made from bamboo, which is a sustainable resource. Other packages, however, are not as environmentally responsible. Some lump charcoal that comes from South America, for example, may contribute to the deforestation of rainforests. Researching the charcoal manufacturers and learning more about their practices will help you make an environmentally responsible choice.
Tips for Buying and Using Lump Charcoal
Here a few tips and tricks to think about when purchasing and using lump charcoal. Read on to learn whether your charcoal will impart a smoky flavor, and the best way to light your charcoal fire.
- When purchasing lump charcoal, look at the material content. Hardwood lump burns longer and produces less ash and smoke, making it ideal.
- Some lump charcoal has gone through full carbonization, which means it will give off little to no smoke. Fully carbonized wood infuses your food with little to no smoke flavor, so you can amp up your meat’s flavor factor with rubs and sauces. If it’s smoky meat you’re after, look for lump charcoal that has not gone through the carbonization process.
- How you light the charcoal has a significant impact on the type of heat it creates. Lighting from the top down is suitable for low and slow cooking for meats like ribs and brisket, while lighting from the bottom is best for creating high temperatures for searing steaks and burgers.
- Once lit, use a tool to arrange the charcoal for best results. Lump charcoal burns best when there are gaps between the pieces that air can flow through. Distributing the charcoal evenly under the grates will help you achieve a consistent temperature throughout the grilling surface, whereas banking lumps to one side will create two temperature zones.
- Lump charcoal can be expensive, so be sure to use it efficiently. When you’re done grilling for the day, cover the grill and close off all vents to extinguish the flame to preserve remaining charcoal for another use.
Our Top Picks
The following recommendations earn high marks in terms of flavor, quality, and value. Whether you’re using charcoal for grilling, smoking, or baking, these varied options are among the best.
This aptly named lump hardwood charcoal gets scorching hot. It can reach a maximum temperature of nearly 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can sear steaks and burgers with ease. It also burns slowly, providing you with more than 4 hours of burn time in an open grill and 20 hours in a smoker. It consists of high-quality South American hardwoods with no filler or scraps mixed in to pad the package’s weight.
Jealous Devil doesn’t smoke or pop and produces a minimal amount of ash, making it ideal for grills, smokers, and kamados. This charcoal adds mild flavor without overpowering meat that’s suitable for mild fish, steaks, and chops. Jealous Devil comes in 8-pound, 20-pound, and 35-pound bags.
This charcoal from Rockwood is a great value for the avid griller, even more so because you can buy it in bulk for a cheaper by-the-bag price. Rockwood’s charcoal has a good variety of lump sizes with a low percentage of dust and tiny pieces. Each bag features a mix of oak, hickory, maple, and pecan, giving it a full though not overwhelming flavor.
Though it can be a challenge to light, Rockwood lump charcoal reaches temperatures of more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit. With its low smoke output, it won’t infuse much flavor into food, so you can control the smoke flavor by adding sawdust or chips. This lump charcoal is environmentally friendly; they get their ingredients from scrap hardwood leftover at lumber mills, and the bag is recyclable as well.
You don’t need to burn a lot of cash to get high-performance lump charcoal. Best of the West Masters Selection will add a smoky flavor to your food at an affordable cost. The 20-pound bag costs a fraction of other lump charcoal. Despite its low price, it’s a quality product with a high percentage of medium and large pieces. You may need to break down the larger pieces before using them.
Best of the West lights easily, even without lighter fluid, and has a high maximum burning temperature that allows for searing meats. With no additives or added flavors, you can count on a consistent, natural hardwood flavor.
Kamado grills are made in a three-in-one design that allows you to grill, smoke, and bake all in one unit. For a kamado to work correctly, it requires hardwood charcoal that will create a consistent heat source. Harder Charcoal features large lumps made from South American quebracho wood that burns longer and more evenly, providing that consistent burn that a kamado grill requires.
Quebracho, which is renowned for its hardness, burns at temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees and produces little ash. This wood also comes from a sustainable source, as it is harvested without chopping down trees.
Note that this lump charcoal is larger than others, with many pieces measuring 6 inches in diameter or larger. If you have a smaller grill, be prepared to break some pieces down. Harder Charcoal comes in 33-pound bags.
If you’re going to spend the day smoking meat, it better be loaded with flavor when dinnertime finally rolls around. B&B charcoal is packed with oaky, hardwood notes, which will infuse your meat with plenty of rich flavor after a day of smoking. It’s additive free too, which means you don’t need to worry about chemical flavors ruining your meat.
The density of the hardwood coupled with the large size of B&B’s pieces give it exceptional burn time, ensuring you won’t need to be reloading charcoal during all-day smoking efforts. This charcoal comes in 20-pound bags.
FOGO all-natural charcoal is made of a blend of tropical hardwoods that is completely free of chemical additives. Because it’s easy to light, you won’t be tempted to use harsh lighter fluids to get your grill up and running. You’ll be ready to grill just 15 minutes after lighting FOGO, and can look forward to rich, smoky flavored meats.
While other hardwood charcoal include a significant percentage of waste in the form of dust and chips, FOGO’s mix includes mainly large- and medium-sized pieces. As a result, it burns at higher temperatures for long periods without sparking. FOGO comes in 35-pound bags.
FAQs About Lump Charcoal
If you still have burning questions about how to purchase and use lump charcoal, read on for more information.
Q. How do you light lump charcoal?
The most effective way to light lump charcoal is by using a charcoal chimney starter. Begin by filling the lower part of the chimney with newspapers. Pour the charcoal into the chimney, then light the newspapers. Once the charcoal is burning, transfer it to your grill.
Q. How long does lump charcoal burn?
Lump charcoal typically lights very quickly—in about 15 minutes—and will burn for about an hour when used in an open grill.
Q. How much lump charcoal should you use?
It depends on how much you’re grilling. A good rule of thumb is to use about 1.5 times the weight of the meat you’re grilling in lump charcoal. So, if you’re grilling 5 pounds of steaks, you’ll need about 7.5 pounds of lump charcoal.