Lump Charcoal Vs. Briquettes: BBQ Showdown

The virtues of lump charcoal versus those of briquettes constitute what is perhaps the second greatest division among barbecue aficionados. The only more passionately debated topic is the question of charcoal vs. gas. If you are new to charcoal grilling, this will likely be the first decision that you will have to make. What are the differences between these two types of fuel? How do they stack up with regard to burn time and flavor? These and other questions will be answered below.

lump charcoal
Lump Charcoal

charcoal briquettes
Charcoal Briquettes

What are the differences between lump charcoal and briquettes?

Lump charcoal consists of whole hardwood that has been burned until little remains aside from carbon. Briquettes are made from powdered charcoal bound together with fillers such as cornstarch.

Lump charcoal consists of irregular pieces while briquettes are uniform in size and shape.

Which one offers a better flavor?

Lump charcoal is typically considered the type of charcoal that burns the cleanest. This is because it has no other ingredients aside from the woods used to make it. Because of the binders in briquettes, they may burn a little less cleanly and add unwanted flavors to food.

Does lump charcoal generate more heat than briquettes or vice versa?

Lump charcoal does generate more heat than briquettes. While this may be perfect for most foods, it can also be a downside in some cases. A fast sear may be ideal for cooking flank steak but will be a problem if you want to slow-smoke a ham.

The lower heat of briquettes is still more than hot enough for most foods and will also be easier to control when you need to cook food slowly.

Which offers a longer burn time, lump charcoal or briquettes?

The burn time of lump charcoal is actually much shorter than that of briquettes. There are exceptions like Japanese binchotan charcoal, but it is expensive and very different to the typical lump charcoal that you might find in a grocery or hardware store.

The reason behind the longer burning time of briquettes is that they actually have a lot of other ingredients, which can help to slow down the burn time in a number of ways. Those additional ingredients cause them to create more ash and this can help to damp down the fire.

Another reason that briquettes burn for longer has to do with the shape and sizes of the pieces. The irregular shapes and sizes of lump charcoal pieces will result in some burning faster than others.

How do lump charcoal and briquettes break down when it comes to cost?

Lump charcoal is more expensive than briquettes. The higher up-front cost combined with their shorter burn time means that grilling with lump charcoal will cost considerably more than grilling with briquettes.

Is one easier to use than the other?

Because of lump charcoal’s higher heat, you will have to be extremely careful when cooking with it. The heat is also inconsistent, so there is a greater potential for charring foods. On the upside, it is easy to light and produces little ash. Less ash makes it easier to clean up after grilling.

The lower temperature and greater consistency of briquettes reduce the risk of you burning your food; however, you will have more ash to clean up.