Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes
In the world of charcoal grilling and smoking, there's nothing more fundamental and fiercely debated than the topic of lump charcoal versus charcoal briquettes. Being the building block for everything you grill or smoke, it's no wonder that grill masters around the world defend their personal choice with extreme passion. So, you might ask, "Which is the best to use?" Well, there really is no easy answer, but there are some charcoal essentials you should know in order to help you make the right choice.
Charcoal is produced by burning wood in the absence of oxygen, and lump charcoal is the product of that. Since lump charcoal is charcoal in its most natural form. Because of this, it's no wonder that the purists almost always prefer it. Beyond that, lump charcoal offers quite a few attractive qualities; it lights faster, burns hotter, and leaves very little ash compared to briquettes. Lump charcoal is also more responsive to oxygen, making it easier to control the fire's temperature if your grill has adjustable air vents.
PROS: Lights quickly, burns hotter, little ash production, easier temperature adjustment, all natural
CONS: Burns faster, more expensive, less consistent as the bags can contain unusably small pieces of charcoal
Charcoal briquettes can be considered as the fast food of charcoal; they're cheap, reliable, can be found on almost every corner, but you really don't want to know what's in them. Unlike the pure lump charcoal, briquettes are comprised of manufactured wood by-products compressed with certain additives to help them light and burn consistently. These additives do give off a chemical smell when lit, but allowing them to burn until covered with white ash before starting to cook should avoid any off-putting smells transferring to your food. Although this may not sound real attractive or appetizing, there are some good advantages to briquettes. These advantages include providing a more stable burn while maintaining a steadier temperature for a longer period of time with less hand holding then lump charcoal.
PROS: Burns longer, easier to maintain consistent temperature, cheaper
CONS: Longer to light, chemical smell, large ash production
And this is just the beginning. There are excellent resources out there to further fuel all the charcoal nerds, but after many years of experience, there are not many who can still pick a clear winner in this epic battle. Many have found lump charcoal superior for grilling, providing faster cooking and better heat control more easily, not to mention leaving hardly any ashy mess to deal with at the end of the day. Briquettes on the other hand have been the saving grace for many when smoking. Briquettes allow you to set it and forget it, burning for hours on end at a steady temperature during the long cooks required for barbecue. If you should find yourself with one on hand and not the other, don't sweat it. At the end of the day both lead to great grilling or barbecue. So the true winner of this on-going debate boils down to personal preferrence.