The Best Lump Charcoals for Better Barbecues
By Laura Denby,2022-07-20
Though there’s some debate about what type of grill is best, most grillmasters agree that barbecuing over charcoal undoubtedly means more flavor. Charcoal is the key to tastier barbecue, but not all types are created equally. Have you ever stopped to wonder what your charcoal was made from? There are two main types—lump and briquettes—and each has its benefits. Charcoal is made by burning wood with little-to-no air, and lump charcoal refers to pure, natural hunks of wood that are a result of that process. Alternatively, briquettes are a more commonly-found, more affordable option. These commercially manufactured pieces come in uniform sizes, but the bags often contain fillers and wood by-products, which means they create additional ash and can often smell like chemicals.
Although briquettes are typically cheaper and more convenient, lump charcoal is a tastier and cleaner way to cook. Most pitmasters agree that lump charcoal is a gamechanger on the grill—it burns hotter and longer, making for a fiery barbecue that’s free of additives and chemicals. With so many options to choose from, we rounded up the best lump charcoal to add to your shopping list this summer. Read on for our favorites.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall: Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal
- Best Value: Rockwood Hardwood All Natural Lump Charcoal
- Best for Smoking: The Good Charcoal Company
- Best for Flavor: Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal
- Best Long Lasting: Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
Best Overall: Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal
Brand: Jealous Devil | Wood Type: South American Hardwood | Weight: 35 pounds
Why we chose it: This all-natural lump charcoal imparts a mild flavor and can accommodate super-high temperatures.
This high-quality lump charcoal is made from hand-picked and hand-cut South American hardwood. The pure wood is made without fillers or scrap, so it’s 100% natural and specially carbonized to remove impurities. The extra-large chunks can accommodate high temperatures of up to 1,170 degrees Fahrenheit, and the clean construction means no sparks, flare-ups, excessive ash, or heavy smoke.
Most charcoal is stored outside, so we love that this charcoal is contained in a water-resistant and resealable bag to preserve freshness. The ultra-dense wood allows for a superior burn, and the large chunks can burn for over four hours on the grill and over 20 hours in smokers. It has a mild flavor, so if you’re looking for something bolder, be sure to blend it with your favorite flavorful wood.
Best Value: Rockwood Hardwood All Natural Lump Charcoal
Brand: Rockwood | Wood Type: Oak, Hickory, Maple, and Pecan | Weight: 60 pounds
Why we chose it: The bold wood flavor and affordable price per bag make this lump charcoal an incredible value for the price.
Made from Missouri hardwood oak, hickory, and maple, this lump charcoal is responsibly made from leftover wood that can’t otherwise be made into lumber, so no trees are harvested for the purpose of making charcoal. The ethically-made charcoal is free of chemicals, fillers, and other impurities, which leaves a pure, rich flavor that’s easily imparted to meats, fish, and vegetables.
This charcoal is specifically designed to light quickly and burn longer. The paper bag is designed with soy-based ink, so the entire thing is completely recyclable, landfill-safe, and won’t produce toxic fumes if burned. The renewable resource creates less ash, which makes for easier clean-up. This 3-pack of high-quality charcoal comes at an affordable price and exceptional value.
Best for Smoking: The Good Charcoal Company
Brand: The Good Charcoal Company | Wood Type: Acacia | Weight: 15.4 pounds
Why we chose it: Made from dense acacia wood, this charcoal burns hot and long, meaning you don’t need to use as much of it, which is perfect for smoking meats over a long period of time.
The Good Charcoal company’s charcoal is sustainably-sourced from the Namibian bush in Africa to help prevent bush encroachment and preserve open grasslands. Made from dense Acacia wood, this charcoal burns longer and hotter than oak or hickory, so grillmasters can use less of it with each grilling session, therefore lowering their environmental footprint over time.
This mildly-flavored charcoal can accommodate super high heat. However, its ability to burn longer is what makes it a great choice for smoking. Smoking sessions require a lot of time, so having a charcoal that can burn longer is essential, and the Good Charcoal company stands up to the task. The uniformly-sized chunks help produce a consistent, even heat source.
Best for Flavor: Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal
Brand: Fogo | Wood Type: Inga | Weight: 35 pounds
Why we chose it: The all-natural hardwood Inga wood imparts a smokey flavor, and the thoughtful production process results in pure, clean, and consistent charcoal.
Oak is known for producing a smokey flavor when burned, so this bag of premium hardwood oak is a great way to enhance the bold grilling flavors charcoal users love. It features super-large pieces of wood, which means they can burn for a long time. Ideal for smoking flavorful dishes, these large, oak hunks light quickly and burn long. There’s nothing additional added, so you’re sure to achieve a pure, refined wood flavor.
This sustainably-sourced wood is first air dried then converted into charcoal in artisanal brick ovens. Master charcoal makers then hand-pick each piece before bagging to classify it as premium, consistent charcoal. A naturally clean, bold flavor is a result of the careful production process.
Best Long Lasting: Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
Brand: Kamado Joe | Wood Type: Blended Hardwood | Weight: 20 pounds
Why we chose it: If you’re looking for a lump charcoal that can burn long and be reused multiple times, Kamado Joe Big Block XL is a great choice.
We love that this charcoal can be reused multiple times, which means you don’t have to buy as many bags, making it a long-lasting option. Made from a blend of hardwoods like Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, and White Quebracho, each bag comes with large, dense chunks of all-natural wood. The pure wood means the charcoal imparts a bold, smokey flavor, and the size of the chunks means it can burn for up to 18 hours. Though this option comes with a lot of large chunks, users have reported that some bags contain small bits as well, which adds dust.
How We Chose These Products
To find the best lump charcoal for home cooks, we performed extensive competitive and market research to understand the leading options in the category. We combined our editors’ culinary expertise with industry insights to determine the qualities that each bag should have. We also considered user reviews to understand the real-world pros and cons consumers should consider. Lastly, we spoke with James Beard-nominated Chef Yia Vang for his insight on the factors to consider before shopping for charcoal. Vang is the co-owner of Union Hmong Kitchen and ambassador to the Good Charcoal Company, and his approach to combining local and cultural food traditions has been featured on CNN’s United Shades of America.
Features to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Lump Charcoal
Sources and Quality
One of the biggest benefits of using lump charcoal compared to briquettes is that it’s made completely from wood, rather than any additives, fillers, or chemicals. In order to reap those benefits, it’s important to research where your lump charcoal comes from and how it’s produced. To burn hot, flavorful, and fume-free charcoal, look for suppliers that use sustainably-sourced, all-natural hardwood. Lower quality producers cut corners by using wood that contains varnish or chemicals, which can add toxins to food and give smoke a chemical after taste.
Everybody knows that grilling with charcoal is more flavorful than grilling with gas, but beginners might not realize that different types of charcoal can impart different flavors. Before selecting a bag, consider whether or not you want to add a smokey, charcoal flavor, or if you simply want to complement and accentuate the flavors of the food you’re cooking. Hardwoods like hickory, oak, and pecan have a more intense flavor, which means they’ll add their own flavor profile to the food you cook. Hickory and oak are specifically known for their smokey flavor, which means they’re great to use on large cuts of meat like brisket or ribs. Alternatively, acacia has a sweeter, more mild flavor, which makes it a great option for grilled chicken, fish, or vegetables. Before selecting a charcoal, assess what you plan to cook and what flavor profile you’d like to achieve.
Different types of wood burn at different temperatures, so take note of what material you’re using before you light up the grill. When shopping for lump charcoal, consider how hot and fast you plan to cook, and select a type of wood that is suitable for that. If you cook a lot of high-heat meals like steak or stir fry, select a wood that can reach a higher temperature. If you’re planning to smoke a chicken over low, slow heat, look for a wood that can burn for longer periods of time. You’ll also want to make sure to vent your grill or smoker appropriately for the type of wood you plan to use.
Charcoal typically gets stored outdoors, so reliable packaging is a must. Before selecting a lump charcoal, consider how you plan to store it and where. If you’ll be storing your charcoal in a garage, shed, or other outdoor areas, make sure it’s contained in durable, reliable packaging that is resistant to outside elements. Some options are water-resistant while others are UV-protected. Most of all, consider if your lump charcoal comes in a resealable bag to prevent messes and help keep it fresh over time.
The size of the lumps is directly related to how long the charcoal will burn. It’s important to look for charcoal with large, uniform lumps. Larger chunks of charcoal will burn hotter and longer, and high-quality bags will have mostly large lumps with minimal broken bits or ash. Small bits and excessive dust and ash at the bottom of the bag can be messy and cause sparking.
Ask the Experts
Q: What is lump charcoal best used for?
Lump charcoal lights easily and burns hotter than standard briquettes. Therefore, Chef Vang says that it’s best used for high-heat cooking, such as steaks, stir fries and burgers.
Q: How do I light lump charcoal?
Thanks to its pure wood construction, high-quality lump charcoal should be easy to light. Vang recommends using a tumbleweed starter to get the fire going. If using a chimney starter, place the tumbleweed starter or a few pieces of crumpled newspaper at the bottom, and pile the charcoal in the starter on top. Light the tumbleweed or newspaper first and let the coals ignite.
Q: How long does lump charcoal burn?
Different types of lump charcoal will burn faster than others. Depending on the size of the lumps, how much coal you use, and the style of grilling you employ, Vang says lump charcoal will burn for about an hour.
Q: Do you need a chimney starter to light lump charcoal?
Although not completely necessary, Vang says a chimney starter is an easy way to get your fire going fast and hot. As a result, it’s a great accessory to have for on-demand barbecues.
The best lump charcoal should be all-natural, so that it can burn long and hot to impart a pure, clean, smokey flavor. Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal is all-natural with a mild flavor, so it’s the perfect option for home cooks looking for a reliable, high-quality charcoal to have on hand.
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