Grilling with on a charcoal kettle evokes a feeling of simplicity, but choosing a charcoal can be confusing. Lump, briquette, natural, hardwood, chips, chunks, which is best?
First of all, chips and chunks are used for smoking, not as fuel. This wood is not charred, and will simply burn instead of producing a controlled heat source in your kettle.
Briquettes are made from sawdust and small pieces of scrap wood, held together with binders and coal dust. People like the uniform size and shape of briquettes. They burn cooler than natural charcoal, and usually require lighter fluid to start. Briquettes burn through fast, so you need to time cooking correctly and will likely need to add more charcoal to the kettle while grilling. This will also result in a lot of ash. The binders, chemicals from any composite wood used to make the saw dust, as well as lighter fluid used, can affect the flavor of your meal and pollute the air. Briquettes are less expensive than lump charcoal, making it perfect to grab for a short camping trip.
Lump, natural, and hardwood are all terms for the same type of charcoal. This type is made from pieces of wood that are burned slowly, until charred. Lump charcoal varies in size and shape, which can make it difficult to layer, and bags can include un-charred pieces. Hardwoods, like oak, mesquite, cherry, and hickory are the most commonly used for charcoal. Just like when using smoking chips, the smoke from lump charcoal will impart flavor into your food. Cooks may come to favor certain woods and blends.
The best part about lump charcoal is that you are burning only wood. Big Green Egg natural lump charcoal, for example, is made from 100% American oak and hickory wood, no fillers, no additives, nothing compressed. This means less ash and a hotter burn. Investing in an electric or chimney starter means no lighter fluid either.
*Note: Due to extreme demand and coronavirus-related supply chain delays, charcoal availability may vary.