In the world of grilling, there are two sides: gas and charcoal. While gas grills have their advantages, at least in terms of heat distribution and more distinct meat flavor, charcoal, particularly lump charcoal, definitely has its own features to offer and is the reason behind this best lump charcoal buyers guide.
Typically when cooking with lump charcoal, you’re going to see a deeper, darker color on anything you are grilling. You are also going to pick up some of the smoky flavor produced by the lump charcoal, particular on thicker cuts of meat. This adds an entirely new taste profile to your meat and can be pretty impressive.
- 1 What is Lump Charcoal?
- 2 What is good lump charcoal?
- 3 Why you should use lump charcoal
- 4 Best Lump Charcoal
- 5 Best Lump Charcoal for Kamados
- 6 Different lump charcoal woods
- 7 Is lump charcoal bad for the environment?
- 8 What Are the Disadvantages of Charcoal?
- 9 Lump charcoal vs Briquettes
- 10 How to store lump charcoal
What is Lump Charcoal?
Lump charcoal is the product of burning wood in the absence of oxygen. This creates a product which is almost pure carbon. All of the sap, moisture, and other elements are burned out of the wood until you’re left with pure, organic lump charcoal.
It is the process of creating lump charcoal that makes it such a pure fuel for grilling. You are left to cook over something that is a product of a natural chemical reaction. There are three types of lump charcoal available to consumers: saw mill scraps, kiln dried lumber scraps, and natural wood, such as tree limbs.
What is good lump charcoal?
The absolute best lump charcoal is one that is 100 percent pure hardwood, with no additives. This would mean using natural wood, either tree limbs or saw mill scraps. You want something that also has large pieces in the bag, without an excess of dust or small broken slabs.
Other qualities to look for in a good the best lump charcoal are a lack of excessive sparking when the charcoal is lit, and no foreign objects in the bag (this is a rare occurrence, but it does occasionally happen).
A good lump charcoal also comes from sustainable sources. It’s good to find a company that uses sustainable practices to produce their lump charcoal. Typically, most American companies will use these methods for creating their lump charcoal.
Another quality of really great lump charcoal is that it will come from a single source of wood. This is due to the fact that different woods have different burning times and temperatures, and can sometimes produce uneven heat and inconsistent flavoring. It can be hard to find sometimes, but there are companies in the US that will produce and sell single wood lump charcoals. However, these products can become unavailable at times due to a lack of natural resources.
Why you should use lump charcoal
Lump charcoal is the fuel of choice among most barbecue purists because of its various benefits. It burns hotter, it lights faster, and it produces very little ash as a byproduct.
On top of that, lump charcoal is also very responsive to oxygen. This means that if your grill has adjustable vents, you can give yourself greater temperature control. If you’re searing or if you’re cooking low and slow for a few hours, lump charcoal can handle the job.
In addition to these positive qualities, the best lump charcoal also produces a more subtle smoky flavor than just smoking with raw wood. You’ll end up with a more nuanced and balanced piece of meat.
Best Lump Charcoal
Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal
Fogo is a blend of Central American hardwoods, handpicked to provide the largest possible pieces. Its scent is moderately strong but provides a pleasant smoky flavor to whatever you’re cooking. Fogo burns at a high temperature and produces heat for a long time. This makes it an ideal lump charcoal for searing or slow smoking. Fogo also produces very little ash.
Royal Oak Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Royal Oak has several different types of lump charcoal, with some of them originating from South America. However, this American blend is made from oak, hickory, maple, and walnut woods.
Royal Oak uses easily renewable woods, which is a plus in terms of environmental impact. The size of the wood chips in each bag is relatively even, and it typically has little dust or splinters. It is also easy to light and burns for a long time. Like the Fogo, Royal Oak lump charcoal also has minimal ash production.
Jealous Devil All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal is unique in that it is produced from a Paraguayan hardwood tree called the Quebracho Blanco. Quebracho loosely translates to axe-breaker, a name given to the wood due to its high density. That density is what gives Jealous Devil an edge above some other south American lump charcoals.
Jealous Devil lights easily and can burn for an extended period of time. It can also reach temperatures up to 1172oF. Like the Fogo brand, Jealous Devil also contains very little dust or foreign objects in the bag. Its scent is different from most American hardwoods and might take some getting used to, but it is a great choice for grilling.
Original Natural Charcoal
This particular brand of lump charcoal is a blend of cherry, apple, and oak. The trees used in this blend are grown in Ukraine, which has the perfect climate for fruit trees of this variety. This brand of lump charcoal is very easy to light and produces a very high temperature. It also produces a very low amount of ash and burns for a long time.
One of the most comforting qualities of this brand of lump charcoal is that it is very eco-friendly. The pieces used in production are all pruned from existing trees, or harvested from downed trees.
Rockwood Lump Charcoal
Rockwood Lump Charcoal comes entirely from Missouri and is comprised of hickory, oak, maple, and pecan woods. This particular blend of wood produces a much milder smoke that won’t overpower the flavor of your meats.
Though it is slightly harder to light than some of the other charcoals on this list, Rockwood lump charcoal tends to burn for a very long time. It also produces very little ash, making it an ideal wood for longer, slower smoking. However, it can reach temperatures of 900oF, which also makes it a great choice for high heat searing.
Best Lump Charcoal for Kamados
Kamado Joe Big Block Natural Lump Hardwood Charcoal
This particular blend of hardwood lump charcoal is similar to the Jealous Devil, in that it comes from a blend of South American ‘axebreaker’ hardwoods. These dense woods not only burn longer and hotter, but they also allow you to reuse this brand of lump charcoal up to three times. This can also account for the extra large size of each piece of charcoal.
The large size of the lump charcoal in the Big Block blend means it can burn up to 18 hours. Combined with the reusability of this particular charcoal, that means that you can get quite a bit of mileage out of this blend. Even after multiple uses, this lump charcoal will still deliver great results, whether you’re searing or slow smoking on your Kamado.
Big Green Egg Lump Charcoal
This blend of oak and hickory contains no additives and is the ideal choice for cooking with the Kamado Big Green Egg. This brand of lump charcoal lights easily and burns evenly. The BGE brand of lump charcoal also has a very mild smoky scent, making it ideal for more delicate foods like fish or chicken.
Different lump charcoal woods
There are a variety of different woods which go into the production of the best lump charcoal, each with their own characteristics. These are just some of the woods available:
Apple – Applewood is a milder lump charcoal, producing a sweeter smoke that is the perfect accent for pork ribs and fish. Usually, there are some unburned pieces in pure apple wood lump charcoal to help enhance the sweet, smoky flavor.
Birch – You typically use Birchwood for cold-smoking fish. Since birch is a softer wood, it burns faster than hardwood lump charcoal, so it’s best to use larger pieces. Birch must also be fully carbonized, as unburned birch can produce an acrid and unpleasant smoke.
Cherry – Like applewood, cherry wood produces a very sweet smoke, which makes it great for low and slow smoking.
Hickory – This is probably the type of wood that most people are familiar with when it comes to smoking. A hickory lump charcoal produces a very strong smoky flavor, which makes it ideal for meats where you really want the smoke flavor to come through, such as brisket or pulled pork.
Oak – Oak is a very common ingredient in many lump charcoal blends. It helps with the burning temperature and time of charcoals, though it can produce a slightly bitter smoke if it comprises too high of a percentage in the blend.
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Is lump charcoal bad for the environment?
Since lump charcoal comes from purely carbonized wood, it tends to burn cleaner than charcoal that has a lot of additives. This, of course, is important to cooking because you want something that gives off a flavorful smoke that won’t taint your meat with any strong, bitter, or unpleasant flavors that come from other elements. In some cases, such as with the Kamado Big Block lump charcoal, you can even use it more than once, meaning it creates less waste.
The most important aspect to a lump charcoal’s impact on the environment is sustainability. As previously mentioned, there are several companies using sustainable practices to produce their lump charcoal. These include using easily renewable resources and selective harvesting. For example, Original Natural Charcoal uses only pruned limbs and downed trees to produce its blend of cherry, apple, and oak.
What Are the Disadvantages of Charcoal?
One of the biggest disadvantages of lump charcoal is the cost. It is definitely pricier than your standard charcoal briquettes. There is also the issue of uneven pieces, meaning some of your charcoal chunks might burn faster than others. This can produce uneven heating and leave you with hotspots on your grill.
Finally, the best lump charcoal tends to burn faster if you do not precisely control the oxygen levels. That means you may have to pay closer attention to the meat you are smoking than you want during your family gathering or party. Then again, if you can manage to get the levels precisely accurate using the vents on your grill, you might not encounter this issue.
Lump charcoal vs Briquettes
There are plenty of great lump charcoal brands out there, but there are also plenty of briquettes that have proved their worth in the world of grilling. So which is the better choice for you? It all depends on the qualities you’re looking for in a barbecue fuel.
First, the initial differences: while lump charcoal comes from natural wood that has been carbonized with no additives, briquettes are usually born from sawdust and other materials. These additional materials typically act as binders to give briquettes their uniform shape. Sometimes these can just be vegetable based, but some companies have used elements like borax, limestone, and cornstarch as binders.
Secondly, briquettes do not burn as cleanly as lump charcoal. However, they also tend to produce less smoke, which can be beneficial if you’re somewhere like an apartment complex and you don’t want to smoke out your neighbors. Briquettes will also give you heat for a longer amount of time without as much maintenance as lump charcoal, but it is best to let the briquettes burn for a while before you start cooking in order to burn off some of the chemical smell that accompanies them. However, there are some briquettes that are mostly comprised of natural organic material, such as Stubb’s All-Natural Charcoal Briquettes, which are 95% hardwood charcoal and 5% vegetable based binding agent.
How to store lump charcoal
The most important part about storing your lump charcoal is to keep it dry. That means storing it away from excess moisture. However, if your charcoal does get wet, all is not doom and gloom. You can lay it out in the sun in a single layer, allowing it to dry out. It should be fine to use once all of the moisture has evaporated.
A good suggestion is keeping your leftover lump charcoal in a sealed container. This will keep any moisture in the air from getting to it. The biggest benefit to storing your lump charcoal like this is that it will keep it from getting moldy. Once lump charcoal gets moldy, it can negatively affect the taste of your food, so you’d have to get rid of it. Considering the cost of good, high-quality lump charcoal, this would definitely not be in your best interest. Check out our post on best charcoal storage containers.