BBQ 101: A Guide to picking the right type of Charcoal for your next Grilling and Barbecue Adventure

BY: Richard Wachtel
Published: November 20, 2012

I get a lot of great questions from Grilling with Rich readers from around the world. They range from: What is the Best Grill to Purchase? What side dish is your favorite? How can you make that perfect barbecue competition chicken?  But one question that I always get asked is: What is the difference between Lump charcoal and briquette charcoal and which is the best? [See Our Brand New Series: Barbecue 101]

Kingsford Charcoal Being Made at the Kingsford Charcoal Plant in Belle, MO

While I was in St. Louis for the Kingsford BBQ Invitational, not only did I get a chance to experience up close the amazing world of top notch barbecue competition, and visit some amazing sites such as the Budweiser Brewery  I also got a chance to see where all the magic happens for the leading maker of briquette charcoal at the Kingsford charcoal factory.  But before we get into the differences, lets get some background on what charcoal is made of and addition, some background.

By doing a simple search on the internet you will find that charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash which is obtained by removing water and other material. Charcoal is usually produced by heating of wood and other substances in the absence of oxygen. The first invented charcoal briquette was made and patented by Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer of Pennsylvania in 1897, and was then popularized by Henry Ford, who used wood and sawdust byproducts from automobile fabrication and then the “Ford Charcoal” Company went on to become the very popular: Kingsford Company.

At the Kingsford charcoal plant I got to see the process of how briquette’s are made and it was a great experience and something that I now have a better appreciation of. One of the most interesting aspects of the whole entire process of making a Kingsford charcoal was that the whole process is started with just some basic sawdust and then the added ingredients such as:  wood char; mineral char; mineral carbon; limestone; starch; and borax just to name a few of the ingredients. Another interesting part of the whole entire process is that the whole process from making the coals all the way to final step of packaging is done by computers. I actually asked the question of what was the plant like before we had computers? My guide said, it was really hard, and computers really made a positive impact on making Kingsford coals.

I really enjoyed learning how Kingsford manufactures the most popular and well known grilling and barbecue product: Briquettes. Overall, I think that this was THE best tour of the trip. I did enjoy a lot of the other tours and aspects of my time in the St. Louis area, this was a great way to really learn about the passion of the employees in the product that they produce  of on a daily basis, but also it was great seeing how passionate they are about producing a quality product. 

Kingsford Charcoal Plant in Belle, MO

Okay with the process of how Kingsford makes coals and also my thoughts about the tour, lets get down to the nitty gritty: What is the difference between Lump charcoal and briquette charcoal and which is the best?

Lump Charcoals are made directly from hardwood material and usually produces far less ash than briquettes, and they also burn longer and hotter. So if you are looking to sear or really raise the heat of your grill or smoker, you are going to want to use lump and are not necessarily great for meats that require a long time in your smoker. Another important factor to remember is that lump charcoals are very inconsistent given due to the various sizes of charcoal in the bag and the pieces of the lump charcoals.

I am sure that you know, that Briquettes are the most standard and widely used charcoal. Briquettes, compared to lump, give you a longer, more consistent burn, at a lower temperature. The consistency of the briquettes come from being an engineered product that is duplicated over and over; therefore you get the same quality time and time again.

So I have personally tried both the lump and the briquette’s in my a lot of my many barbecue adventures. I have found that there are both negatives and also positives to using either types of charcoals when you are BBQ’ing. I think that after seeing how Kingsford charcoals are produced, it gave me have a deeper appreciation of briquette coals. I also think that by using lump coals, you are getting a different type of heat source but still a great option for those who like the hotter cooking temperatures. [See Related: BBQ Infogrpahic about Charcoal]

I don’t necessarily think that there is a answer to this growing question: Lump v. Briquettes, because I think that they are two very different products and like everything in barbecue it is more what you feel is comfortable with. So that begs the question,

Grilling with Rich at the Kingsford Charcoal Plant in Belle, MO


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Born and raised in Long Island New York Richard Wachtel has developed a passion for all things about barbecue and grilling, social media and also just having fun. Now living right outside the Nations Capital: Washington D.C., Richard Wachtel loves to read, write and learn about all things barbecue and grilling and digital marketing.

Category: BBQ 101, Kingsford Charcoal Recipes and Adventures, Latest News, The Grilling Life