It’s time for Labor Day grilling. If you’re not a gas grill lover, should you go with briquettes or fancy hardwood lump charcoal? Find out which is preferred by members of the Burnt Finger BBQ Team, Aaron Chronister and Jason Day, authors of BBQ Makes Everything Better.
The most common and widely available form of charcoal is the briquette, but our preference is to use all-natural hardwood lump charcoal. The first difference you’ll notice when opening a bag of lump charcoal is the appearance. Unlike briquettes, which are all the exact same size and shape, lump charcoal looks like charred pieces of wood. It’s made by burning pieces of lumber and wood in an oxygen-deprived environment. The resulting product is an all-natural charcoal that is perfect for barbecuing.
Briquettes are made in the same fashion, but once the initial burn is complete the resulting charcoal is ground up and combined with fillers and additives before compressing. The purpose of these additional ingredients is to improve the performance, but they also have a few undesirable side effects. When first lighting briquettes, there is a distinct odor given off while the coals are ashing over. If you are cooking while this process is taking place, then that odor will impart an undesirable flavor to your food.
Another benefit to hardwood lump charcoal is the amount of ash that is yielded from a burn. One of the added ingredients in briquettes is sand, which helps hold the heat. The downside is that it remains in the bottom of your grill once the fire burns out. You can easily burn three to four times the amount of hardwood lump charcoal before equaling the same amount of ash as one briquette fire.
Now, before we totally write off the use of briquettes, we have to point out that companies are starting to make all-natural hardwood briquettes. They perform the same as hardwood lump charcoal and don’t contain the additives of traditional briquettes. You just have to be conscious of the charcoal you’re purchasing and make sure you see the words “all-natural hardwood” on the bag.