Serious barbecue enthusiasts debate the merits of their preferred form of fire--lump charcoal versus briquettes. Learn about the pros and cons of each type. Some projects respond better to one form versus the other, and many barbecue people have a sharp preference for lump charcoal or briquettes based on some of the criteria outlined below.
Lump charcoal is the purest form of charcoal commercially available, made by burning wood in an oxygen-free environment. Foodies and serious grillers will always be attracted to lump charcoal for this reason. Advantages of lump charcoal include the fact that it leaves behind less ash that briquettes, it reaches a hotter temperature and ignites faster than briquettes and it's a natural byproduct.
Briquettes are cheaper and more readily available than lump charcoal, although most types of briquettes contain added chemicals for a better burn. While letting the briquettes heat to an ashy-white color will burn off the chemicals, organic enthusiasts may prefer the purity of lump charcoal. Advantages of briquettes include their lower cost, greater availability, a more consistent burn and a longer burn.
While lump charcoal has many advantages, it's certainly more expensive than briquettes and burns faster. It is not a great choice for a substantial grilling project, such as a whole turkey. Lump charcoal can also have inconsistent quality in shape and size of the pieces, with some bags containing many crumb-sized pieces that are unusable. Lump charcoal pieces can sometimes pop, creating a fire hazard.
Briquettes are cheap and convenient, but they can be challenging to light. They leave a mess of ash and can give off a chemical smell during the initial burning period.
Many barbecue enthusiasts prefer briquettes for the lon, low heat required for smoking. This makes sense from a price point, since smoking requires such a long exposure to heat that using lump charcoal may be prohibitive for some.
While the choice between lump charcoal or briquettes is most often a personal one, there are several considerations that might push you toward one side. In some regions, lump charcoal and briquettes cost approximately the same, and in some areas, one may be markedly more available than the other. Consider your cooking project and how much fuel it is likely to require, as well as how firmly you will need to control the heat. Notice the consistency over time when using one or the other, as well as how both store, how they initially heat and any odors they give off. Most people settle on a personal preference after working with both options for a short time period.
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