Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes – What’s the Difference?
There is always something to debate about among BBQ fanatics including things as simple as the original and meaning of the term barbecue.
But, one of the debates that are probably not ending anytime soon is on what is better to use for grilling between lump charcoal and briquettes.
Both have barbecue aficionados that swear by them and will hardly ever put anything else on their grills. But, for beginners and the occasional "grillers", the choice is not always that obvious and will use what they can find easily and cheaply.
However, to make sure that you get the best food and experience from your barbecuing, it is important to know what sets lump charcoal and briquette apart and hence how to choose between them.
Whether you are using lump charcoal or briquettes, you can be confident of ending up with a nice smoky flavor in your foods, but the taste is not always the same, and so is the experience of using them. A good starting point to choosing between the two is to know what each is about and both its merits and demerits.
Lump Charcoal Overview
For the barbecue enthusiasts that prefer to use a more natural fuel source for grilling, lump charcoal is the best option as it is made by burning natural wood or logs.
To make lump charcoal the logs or leftover woods are heated at high temperature with minimal oxygen until the moisture, resins, and sap in the wood are vaporized leaving behind a lump of combustible carbon.
Lump charcoal tends to light up faster than briquettes and will also attain relatively higher temperatures and because it is all-natural with no additives, it will not leave a lot of ash behind.
However, lump charcoal tends to burn down faster than briquettes which means you will often use more of it when grilling, and it is also more expensive.
Briquettes came about due to the need to address some shortcomings of the lump charcoal such as scarcity and the higher price tag.
They are also made from wood, but unlike lump charcoal, they will be made by combining sawdust or wood shavings with additives to help with bonding, give them a good shape and ensure they burn longer.
You can still find pure hardwood briquettes that are held together by natural starch which might cost more than regular ones but are safer to use and will give the food a more natural smoky flavor.
Lighting up briquettes takes more effort and time, and they will not burn with high temperatures like lump charcoal. But once they start burning, they will burn way much longer. And better yet, you get more even heat distribution thanks to the shape and burning consistency of briquettes.
How it Is Made
Leftover wood or logs
Sawdust or wood shavings and additive for bonding
800 – 1,000 °F
Burn Speed and Time
Fast for around 1 hour
Slow for several hours
Lots of ash
Ease of Lighting
Around $15 for a 10 lbs bag
Around $10 for a 10 lbs bag
Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes
Most people that like to do barbeque will have an opinion on which one is the best between lump charcoal and briquettes. But, there are still many others on the fence on which one will work best for them. If you are in this group of the undecided, here are some of the key differences between the two.
1. How It Is Made
The main difference between lump charcoal and briquette and what makes them differ in the other aspects is how they are made.
Lump charcoal is an all-natural fuel source made from burning leftover wood or logs under low oxygen conditions which leads to vaporization of compounds in the wood such as moisture and sap leaving behind a lump of charcoal.
Briquettes, on the other hand, will be made by mixing sawdust or wood shavings with natural starch or other additives to help with bonding and then molding them to form the small charcoal chunks, and the molding can be done by hand or with a machine.
2. Burning Temperature
Given the different ingredients and process used to make lump charcoal and briquettes, they will also burn at different temperatures.
Lump charcoal is mostly natural carbon, and it will burn at relatively higher temperatures than briquettes depending on the type of grill you are using and availability of oxygen. But, typical lump charcoal will burn at around 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since briquettes are often made from different materials, the burning temperatures vary more than when using lump charcoal. However, in most instances, they will burn anywhere between 800 and 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The higher burning temperature means that lump charcoals will cook relatively faster than briquettes.
3. Burn Speed and Time
With their different composition and structure, it should also be obvious that lump charcoal will burn at different speeds and will take different amounts of time to burn down completely.
Lump charcoals are designed to burn hotter and will hence burn faster and for a shorter period, when compared to briquettes. This burning speed and time are ideal for cooking methods such as searing and grilling.
With briquettes, on the other hand, you will get charcoal that is built to burn slow and for many hours which means a little of it will last longer. And this makes them perfect for slow and low cooking methods.
4. Volume of Ash Produced
While lump charcoals are made from larger pieces of leftover wood and logs, briquettes will combine sawdust or wood shavings with other additives. From this fact alone it should be obvious that briquettes will leave more ash behind than lump charcoals.
Because there are no fillers or additives in the lump charcoal structure you will get a much cleaner burn and with less ash. But, with briquettes, there will always be a huge pile of ash left behind thanks to these additives.
However, if you are using briquettes made from pure hardwood with no artificial bonding agents, you will also be left with less ash.
What all this means is that lump charcoals tend to be less messy and will hence give you a much easier time when cleaning up than briquettes.
5. Ease of Lighting
Both lump charcoal and briquette will take more effort to light than other kinds of fuels such as gas, and this is more so when using a traditional charcoal grill that does not have an automatic lighting mechanism.
However, when comparing the two lump charcoal is much easier to light than briquette, and you will not spend a lot of time on it.
Given that lump charcoal is more natural carbon it will be more responsive to oxygen which besides allowing it to light easily will also make it easy for you to control the temperature if you are using a charcoal grill with some adjustable vents.
6. Best Uses
Both lump charcoal and briquettes serve the same purpose and will be ideal for the same cooking methods, but their different structure and properties mean they will be best suited for different cooking styles.
The hotter burning temperature that comes from lump charcoal makes it ideal for cooking methods that require a hotter heat source such as searing and grilling.
However, with a grill or smoker that makes it easy to control the temperature, you can also use lump charcoals for smoking. But, when smoking with lump charcoal you will need to keep adding more in short intervals as it burns down fast.
Still on smoking, lump charcoal will also be more appropriate given that it produces a natural smoky flavor that will make your meats and other foods more delightful.
Briquettes burn at relatively lower temperatures than lump charcoal, and so they might not be very pleasant when using fast and high cooking methods like grilling.
But, they make up for this with their slow and long burning time that makes them perfect for smoking and other cooking methods like the snake which requires having different temperature zones.
Apart from the low and slow cooking, their uniform size that allows for easy arrangement also makes briquettes ideal for snake or domino cooking methods.
7. Average Cost
Although several factors will determine the cost of both lump charcoal and briquettes from the type to where you are buying from, generally lump charcoal is more expensive.
Lump charcoal is time-consuming to make and also takes more work, and so it tends to be pricier. Also, briquettes are more popular and considered a more modern source of fuel which means it is more widely available and hence cheaper.
Lump charcoal burns down faster than briquettes which means you will end up using more of it which further makes it even more expensive to use.
On average lump charcoal tends to be at least one and a half times more expensive than briquettes depending on the quality and the brand. You can expect to pay at least $15 for a 10-pound bag of lump charcoal and around $10 or slightly less for a 10-pound bag of briquettes. But, this prices will also vary depending on where you are buying from.
If your idea of barbecue is getting foods with a distinct smoky flavor, lump charcoal and briquette is the way to go for your fuel source.
But, their similarities probably end at the fact that they are both wood-based because everything from their burning temperature, speed and time to their cost is different. These differences mean that the two will be ideal for different uses.
For those looking for something for use for some quick grilling and searing, the hotter burning temperature makes lump charcoal the best choice. However, if you are on the lookout for a slow and low fuel source for smoking or one that provides more even burning, briquettes are a perfect pick.