Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes: What’s the Difference?

Are you ready to get serious about grilling? The first step is knowing which fuel to use. Let's talk about briquettes vs lump charcoal.

For the past five years, I have traveled the country cooking in more than 60 grilling and smoking competitions. I’ve tried just about everything the grilling world has to offer in my quest to find the best possible taste, cook the best meat I can and win the coveted Grand Championship. I and all my competitors know that getting the best results on the grill starts with the heat source you are using to cook.

Take it from someone who has seen and tasted it all— it really does matter.

The art of grilling has so many personal preferences, variables and options that rarely is there a clear-cut best-choice option. The debate between briquettes and lump charcoal is an exception to this rule, however. Experienced grill masters almost universally prefer lump charcoal over briquettes. Lump charcoal may be the clear-cut choice on the grilling scene, but let’s talk about what these choices are and what makes them different before you decide what is best for you.

What are Charcoal Briquettes?

Briquettes are the most common fuel source for grilling. They are probably what you grew up on, can be found just about anywhere grilling supplies are sold, and are likely what most people are comfortable using. Briquettes are made by combining sawdust, coal dust and some type of binder to help form and maintain their consistent square shape. Some manufacturers have recently started adding flavor options to their briquettes like mesquite, applewood, cherry or hickory wood splinters. If you’re a casual backyard griller, briquettes can cook incredible food and have some real advantages, like cost and availability.

What is Lump Charcoal?

Lump charcoal is similar to briquettes with a few major differences. Lump charcoal consists of actual pieces of wood— they are not just a mold of dust. Lump charcoal is made by charring the pieces of wood in a low oxygen kiln, an oven that is designed to only char the wood without actually burning up the pieces. The chunks will come out completely black but won’t be burned or reduced in size like you would see on burned wood in say a bonfire.

Because they are made from real pieces of wood, every lump of charcoal can be a different size. This can take a little getting used to, but before long the shape and sizes won’t be a factor.

Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal

Now that you know the difference between the two versions of coal, let’s talk about what each one offers and how you can decide which is best for you.

Briquette pros

  • Briquettes are readily available and can be found in any BBQ store as well as many hardware stores, Target, Walmart, even gas stations;
  • Briquettes are usually a less costly option for grilling, especially for those of us who use our grills often;
  • The size and shape of briquettes are consistent and very easy to use.

Briquette cons

  • In order to create a consistent shape and size, briquettes use a binder and are not pure wood;
  • Briquettes can get hot, but they do not have the ability to get to extremely high temperatures;
  • Briquettes leave behind a large amount of ash.

Lump charcoal pros

  • Lump charcoal is made from pure wood chunks, there are no additives to the wood;
  • Lump charcoal can get extremely hot which offers additional cooking uses;
  • Less ash is created from lump charcoal;
  • At lower temperatures, lump charcoal can burn longer than briquettes.

Lump charcoal cons

  • Within every bag of lump charcoal the wood chunks will be a variety of sizes and shapes;
  • The cost of lump charcoal is very often higher than briquettes.

So Which Fuel is Better for You?

Choose briquettes if you’re looking for a fuel that you’re already familiar with, is easy to find, has a consistent size and burn, and doesn’t hurt your wallet. If you want a super hot or long fire, if you are trying to take the taste of your food up a notch, or if you want a less frequent, easier clean up then lump charcoal could be your solution. Both are great sources of heat for your grill, and they are both here to stay. At the end of the day, if you love cooking like I do I really encourage you to try something new!