Grilling is loved by many and is a great activity to do with your loved ones. It’s simple, produces delicious food, and allows people to bond during the process. However, few people take the time to think of the charcoal they are going to use.
Grilling is not just about heating your food in open fire. The smoke from your charcoal has an impact on the aroma of the meat and vegetables you cook. Therefore, it makes sense to make a good choice of the charcoal you plan on using.
Here are our top three brands with the best lump charcoal for grilling.
This brand has always been a favorite for many grill masters who love its mild flavor and a mellow after taste. The charcoal comes in a heavy-duty bag and weighs about 20 pounds. The bag protects the charcoal against humidity when grilling outdoors.
This brand has the best hardwood lump charcoal for the price. The manufacturer hand-selects the pieces for export. Therefore over 85% of the lumps are either medium or large pieces. The long ones are particularly great for long cooks in a smoker or grill. They can also be used in ceramic cookers. Less than 5% of the content is composed of dust.
It is hard to find hardwood charcoal that has such a mild flavor. It also burns at lower temperature than many competing brands. This makes it ideal for smoking meat and other dishes. The generated temperature is about 459 degrees Celsius, which is still high enough for grilling. You can grill with a batch of coals for over four hours and smoke meat for over 20 hours.
In addition, charcoal has a high rate of ignition. Your whole batch will be ready at optimum temperature in 15 minutes thereby allowing you to start grilling as soon as you light your grill.
- Very dense charcoal that burns for several hours
- Good, mild flavors that make grilled or smoked dishes tasty
- Recommended for slow and low cooking
- Some bags have small to medium-sized lumps
Royal Oak brand charcoal is made from walnut, maple, oak, and hickory. However, most of the lumps in the bag are made from Oak. The content is a mix of small medium and large-sized lumps. The dust accounts for about 6% to 8% of the total content. These lumps are housed in a heavy-duty, humidity-free bag that weighs around 8.8 pounds. Royal Oak has another brand called Star Grill Lump. Interestingly, both brands have a similar description.
Due to a mix of different tree species, there are varying smells that come from its smoke. However, it is more of a mild to strong smell mostly because oak and maple make up the majority. The mixture delivers a high temperature of about 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it ideal for grilling hard foods such as yams and for searing. In addition, the charcoal lights up quite fast and should reach the optimum temperature within less than 16 minutes.
One of the best characteristics of the coal is that it leaves very little ash after it’s used. It is a popular brand with steak grill masters. The bags from Central American sources come from sustainable forests. However, those without an American logo may not be from verifiable sources.
- High optimum temperature which makes it ideal for grilling hard foods
- Burns fast
- Lasts longer
- Most of the lumps are either small or medium-sized ones
- Sources not in South America cannot be verified as sustainable
The Jealous Devil brand has its base in Paraguay, South America. The lumps are sourced from a single tree species called Quebracho Blanco. This tree is a hardwood species that is incredibly dense. In fact, its name translates to ‘ax break’ due to the hard time it gave traditional loggers when felling it down.
One of the best characteristics of the brand is the high temperature it generates when it heats up. You can get grilling temperatures of up to 1172 degrees Fahrenheit. This is higher than most brands can offer except those with maple and apple trees. In addition, these coals do not pop or spark when burning like most of the hardwoods do, which makes it ideal for use in restaurant settings where space is limited.
Quebracho produces smoke that is stronger than that of oak, which makes it less desirable for smoking meat. You may also take a while before you are used to the smoke. However, expect to have consistent, long burning ambers for your long grills.
Jealous Devil is sold in bags weighing 35 pounds. These bags are waterproof for ease of carrying the charcoal outdoors when grilling. Most of the lumps are either small or medium-sized. The amount of dust in the bag is about 6% of the whole content, which is quite impressive. Most of the sources are from sustainable forests. However, there’s still not very strong legislation on forest protection in Paraguay.
- Burns very hot
- Very dense, which ensures that it burns for long hours
- Low dust content in the bag
- It has a very strong smell that makes it less suitable for smoking
Grilling Lump Charcoal Buying Guide
There are dozens of lump charcoal brands in the market. This makes choosing the ideal brand for your grill difficult. As stated above, the choice of charcoal determines the aroma you get in your food, the number of briquettes you are going to use for your grilling and how long it takes before the grill reaches the optimum temperature among other things. This guide provides easy tips to keep in mind when looking for the best lump charcoal for grilling.
Go for 100% Pure Charcoal
You should always go for 100% pure natural wood lump charcoal. It should be free from binders, chemicals, additives, and fillers. These additives produce an inconsistent temperature when heated, which results in poorly cooked food. In addition, some additives may emit harmful fumes when exposed to fire.
These compounds may mix with your food and contaminate it. Even the cases where the fumes are harmless, the smell of the fumes may be unpleasant on food making it inedible. Always check for 100% natural statement on the label along with a mark of quality.
Hardwood Charcoal is Preferred
While most of the premium brands sell hardwood lump charcoal, you may find a few poor quality brands mixing hardwood and softwood trees when making charcoal. Softwood is less dense and tends to burn quite fast. This means that you will spend lots of charcoal to grill a little amount of food. Most of the softwood trees also lack the smoke quality that is needed to add good flavors to food. Common hardwood trees used for making lump charcoal include apple, maple and oak. Oak is the most common hardwood tree followed by Maple.
Pick a Brand with Many Long Lumps and less Dust
You expect some dust in your charcoal package due to handling and moving of the coals from the source to the market. However, the amount of dust that collects at the bottom of the bag should not exceed 5% of the total weight of the package. Most of the charcoal types that tend to break easily and get lots of dust is the less dense variety. The variety also burns very fast. Check the average dust levels for a brand from users across the internet.
In addition to low dust, an ideal brand should have most of the lumps either long or medium-sized. It takes a few long lumps to grill your food, especially for the long grills, which is very convenient. Small lumps tend to break easily and generate lots of unusable dust.
As stated above, hardwood is the preferred wood for making grilling coals. However, different hardwood species have varying densities. The denser the hardwood, the longer it burns. This makes it convenient as you do not need to keep adding coals to the fire and waiting for them to reach the required temperature. It is also cheap as you spend less charcoal for your grilling session. Maple, Quebracho, and Apple are some of hardwood varieties that produce high-density lump charcoal.
For the charcoal to be made, trees are felled and burned in a kiln. If no trees are planted in place of the cut ones, there can be devastating consequences to the environment. You can be part of the initiative to ensure that tree harvesting does not lead to adverse climatic changes by buying charcoal from sustainable sources. Most of the premium brands state the source of their wood from sustainable sources.
You can also do your research and check whether the brand takes care of the environment. Check the company website or the branded bag local compliance numbers, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Rainforest Alliance certification. In addition, you may consider a brand where most trees are sourced from local sustainable forests rather than foreign sources
The optimum temperature differs from one charcoal variety to another. If you are looking for charcoal for smoking and slow grills, you may go for one that has a lower optimum temperature. On the other hand, charcoal with high optimum temperature is good for grilling hard food or searing. Temperatures above 1100 degrees Fahrenheit are considered high. Information on optimum temperature is included with the charcoal information.
Speed of Lighting Up
The speed at which the charcoal lights up determines how long you will have to wait between lighting up your grill and grilling your food. Once your charcoal reaches the optimal temperature, it’s ready for grilling, however, the time it takes to reach that temperature may vary. Ideally, the waiting period should not be more than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, most of the very dense charcoal varieties have long waiting time. Therefore, you have to strike a balance between waiting time and density when making your purchase decision.
The Charcoal Should Burn Consistently
High-quality lump charcoal should burn at the optimum temperature all the way through the grilling process. It should not spark excessively to prevent a risk of fire, especially in confined spaces and near dry yards. Use an in-meat thermometer to monitor the temperature of your food during grilling.
In the same line, ensure that the charcoal does not come into contact with water. Buy brands which package charcoal in water-proof heavy-duty bags as they prevent accidental wetting of the charcoal. However, keep your charcoal in a cool dry place especially when grilling outdoors to ensure consistency when burning.
A quality brand should not have any foreign objects such as earth, nails, wooden pieces, and leaves in the bag. Most foreign bodies will produce unpleasant smell when they come in contact with fire. Go for brands that hand-select lumps into their bags.
As you are grilling and smoking food, the smoke adds some aroma to your food. You can go for strong or mild smoke flavors. Some charcoal varieties are too strong to use specifically for smoking although you can still use them for grilling and have great success. Fortunately, common hardwood trees such as maple, beech, oak apple have a pleasant, mild flavor that is transferred to your food by smoking. If you require a particular flavor, go for single tree lump charcoals. However, most mixed tree varieties provide enhanced flavor and aroma compared to the single species ones. Of course, your choice will be determined by your preferences. Some prefer aroma-rich charcoal, while others prefer a milder flavor.
Charcoal not only provides heat to cook your food, but it also affects taste, aromas and cooking times. Take your time when choosing lump charcoal varieties for your grill to pick one that meets the most important characteristics discussed above. With the best lump charcoal, your grilling will be convenient, fast, and enjoyable.