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The Difference between Lump and Briquette Charcoal

A common debate in the grilling world is what type of charcoal is best: briquette or lump. The answer is sure to turn friends into enemies and casual grillers into extremists. Many have some specific grilling tale about one or the other or an experience that stands out. So let’s dig in.

What is Charcoal

open bag of lump charcoal

Charcoal is created by burning wood without any oxygen. Lump charcoal is the product of the process in its purest form—pieces of wood burned into carbon.

Charcoal briquettes are manufactured by machines that press the material together. Unlike the pure hardwood lump charcoal, the briquettes contain several additives that help them light and burn consistently.

Most briquettes are compressed tightly from various materials such as coal dust, borax, sawdust, wax, chaff and more. A few companies such as Better Wood Products create briquettes made of pure wood, free of any filler compounds. That makes them both healthier and chemical-free, but also safe for kamado and ceramic grills.

Time to Light

The Difference between Lump and Briquette Charcoal 1

Many people complain about the longer prep time when grilling with charcoal. Gas lovers out there always brag about how quickly they go turn a dial and get going. So how does charcoal stack up?

We’ll look at “time to ash” or how soon the charcoal has a consistent cover of gray ash. Lump charcoal on average lights about 30% faster than standard briquettes. In addition, most briquettes will give off nasty smoke and smells from all the additives and chemicals. Lump lights up with less smoke and smell.

Cooking Hot and Fast

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Lump charcoal burns quicker and at higher temperatures than briquettes. That means you can cook hot and fast but use less charcoal with lump. This is great for searing things such as steaks and pork chops.

Cooking Low and Slow

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Burn Time

There’s of course a trade off with lump charcoal burning hotter and faster. While you’ll get cooking faster at higher temps, the fire won’t last as long as briquettes. This of course varies based on whether you’re grilling with an open top, closed top or in a Kamado which retains heat better.

Your standard big box store briquettes typically only maintani really high heat for about 10 minutes or so before settling down at medium temperatures for about an hour.

Temperature Control

kamado grill thermometer

You can extend burn times of course by restricting airflow. This will help lower the temperature, extend burn time and maintani a more consistent heat. This is done through the dampers on your grill or smoker.

Briquettes take longer to respond to airflow changes versus lump charcoal which quickly adapts to changes in airflow.

Charcoal: Ash in Lump vs. Briquette

One of the best parts of lump charcoal is that it’s much easier when you’re done after a day of grilling. It produces very little ashes and thus leaves little to clean up. Briquettes on the other hand, tend to produce a high amount of ash which not only creates more work afterwards, but also tends to easily blow up and dust your food, clothes or

Summing Up

At the end of the day, the difference between lump and briquette charcoal is straightforward and may not make a big difference to casual grillers. Lump charcoal is great for hotter and faster grilling, not to mention kamado ceramic grills. Briquettes are good all round options for casual backyard grilling and will produce more stable heat over a longer time which may be worth the extra ash and preheat time.