The Best Charcoal for Your Grilling Needs - Bob Vila

2021-12-23 08:07:42 By : Ms. Ruo La

By Timothy Dale | Updated Jul 22, 2020 7:18 PM and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

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.

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

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 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.

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 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 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 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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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