Charcoal for the Barbeque
The Charcoal you use for your barbecue will impart
a lot of flavor to your food
, so it pays to carefully
choose which one you will use.

Just as there are many recipes for similar foods, and
several ways to barbque the same thing, there are a
great many choices when it comes to deciding which
charcoal to use for your barbecue. You didn't think this
part would be easy did you?!

The good news is that it is hard to go truly wrong when
using charcoal, especially if you follow a few barbecue
rules of thumb.
One of the first choices to make about charcoal for
your barbeque is whether you will use "lump" or

Lump charcoal primarily refers to hardwood charcoal
that has no binders or additives in the wood. They will
usually say something to the effect of being "100%
Natural" as a result.

Briquettes have been formed from things other than
simple carbonized chunks of wood, and could include
things like sawdust, petroleum products, binders to
help keep their shape and density, etc.

I prefer to use lump for my barbeques if for no other
reason than knowing what we are burning, and
covering our food with!
That being said, there are some burn characteristics
I have found in using briquettes that can have a few
My experience has been that briquettes tend to burn
longer than an equivalent amount of lump.

During that burn, we have noticed that they keep a
more consistent temperature than lump.

Briquettes seem to burn at a lower temperature as
well. This will mean you need to use more of them.

From a cost standpoint this is not really an issue,
since briquettes are usually lower priced than lump,
but briquettes produce a lot more ash than lump,
and so your ash can really pile up when you are
having to use a lot of them.

This pile up can impede air flow, especially over a
long cook, if you don't manage it.
As far as taste is concerned, one guideline I STRONGLY recommend, is to never
use a charcoal that has been soaked in something to make it easy to light. Those
chemicals will inevitably transfer some taste to your food, not to mention what they
may be doing to your health. I have seen some pros use lighter fluid, and it works
for them, but I can't imagine how they overcome the taste

Past that, briquettes on the market today can be found in some different flavors,
particularly with hickory or mesquite. These infusions can help get some of the
smoke from these woods to change the taste of your meat, though we prefer to
just use the actual wood, at the level we like to cook with.
Qpinion: I was at a wonderful barbeque
at the beach one summer, at a rental
house several families were sharing for
a week. There wasn't anything fancy
being served, just some good slaw,
great baked beans, fresh salsa and
chips, and burgers from the grill. The
hosts had sprung for a charcoal grill to
cook the meat, and we were gathered
around in the ocean breeze having a
great time - right up until the first bite of
the burger. Someone had purchased a
bag of easy-to-light charcoal, and the
burger tasted almost like a cake of
lighter fluid.
I choked it down and politely refused
seconds that evening, and made a
mental note to figure out how to gently
convey to the cook that there
is a
difference in charcoals!
When it comes to lump charcoal, there are a vast array of ones on the
market, though you may need to search the Internet to find them.

They are made from many types of wood, from coconut to standard hickory,
and so you can really make some taste differences with the type you choose.
This wide variety gives you the ability to experiment and fit the flavor to your
tastes. You may find you like apple better than hickory for pork, or a subtle
wood to go with a certain fish. Create your own masterpiece!.
As you may suspect, there are quality differences among manufacturers of lump

Charcoal is made by burning wood in the absence of much oxygen
, so that the wood
carbonizes rather than burning to ash. This carbon then burns again when you light it, but
with much different characteristics than the raw wood. You want your charcoal to be fully
carbonized for a good cook, and you may find some manufacturers that will ship you
pieces that are not fully carbonized.

For a good cook you need to have good airflow and consistent heat from the charcoal.
To really effectively achieve this you need a mix of decent sized lumps of charcoal. You
may see marked differences from one manufacturer to another in the amount of small
pieces of charcoal in a bag, and in the amount of dust. Not all of this is due to lack of
concern with quality at the manufacturing level - charcoal can also be broken and pounded
to dust during shipping. While that seems to be out of the control of the charcoal producer,
there are choices in packaging and shipping methods that could make a difference, and
evidently some manufacturers utilize them because their coals are consistently in better
shape upon arrival at my smoker!
From time to time we will use some different charcoals and publish our reviews here on the site - our own impressions of them. If
you have a specific request for a charcoal review, or a review comment of your own from using a certain charcoal, please let us know!
Left is a firebox of Cowboy Hardwood
Lump Charcoal. The original coals have
burned in, and we have added a few
unburned coals, and some hickory wood, to
the mix as we prepare to start the cook.
Another difference you may notice from one lump bag to another is the appearance of the
wood itself. Some bags will contain chunks of tree limbs and such, while another brand
may contain pieces of actual cut, dimensional lumber - wood like you would see at your
local home supply store. While the ascetics of this are not exactly appealing, I am not sure
that the smoke, or taste, of these two types of wood are terribly significant. All things being
equal - like dryness, 100% natural - the two woods should be fairly similar in taste.
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