What is Lump Charcoal?
Lump charcoal is 100% natural and pure, with no additives. It’s wood that has been burnt down until it’s pure carbon in an oxygen-poor environment at very high temperatures. Its burn behaviour will depend on what wood it was originally; for example, maple or oak gives a steady heat, and some other woods can be sparky. Lump coal will burn hotter but quicker than briquettes, so the burn time is shorter. Ensure you get lump charcoal double-sieved, so you're not paying for something messy and can't burn.
What is Charcoal Briquettes?
Briquettes have a pillow shape and are a composite fuel. They combine coal dust, accelerants, charcoal fines, binders and an oxidising agent. The binder makes sure the briquettes stay in their unique shape (it is usually a food-grade starch), and it also makes sure the briquette doesn't crumble. The oxidising agent ensures the briquette is easy to light. The rest is generally coal or charcoal fines that are carbonised hardwood. Some briquettes give off acrid-smelling smoke, so a chimney starter is recommended.
We asked Noel Hassapladakis the following questions about lump vs briquettes when it comes to charcoal BBQ:
When to use Lump vs Briquettes
When it comes to cooking, a useful tip is to opt for briquettes if you plan on cooking low and slow. Although this fuel has little flavour, any wood you introduce will be prominent in the taste. Briquettes are great for producing long-lasting heat, and while they can be used for searing, doing so means missing out on the opportunity to infuse more flavour into your dish.
On the other hand, charcoal burns hotter and adds more flavour to your food. Therefore, lump charcoal is recommended for hot and fast cooking, such as grilling wings with a closed lid, direct grilling, and rotisserie cooking. Its ability to impart significant flavour to meat and vegetables is a great option for enhancing your dishes.
Tips when handling Lump vs Briquettes
When lighting your charcoal, briquettes can take a while to get going. So ensure you get them nice and hot and let them ash over before pouring them into your BBQ. If you've had trouble with your fuel going out, it’s probably because you didn't light it properly in the first place.
Waiting until your lump charcoal is fully ashed before you start cooking is best for direct grilling. To speed up the process, I like to use a piece of cardboard or a Tupperware lid to fan the charcoal while it’s igniting. Watch for those beautiful glowing red hot embers before you start grilling.
Briquettes are great for a long, slow burn, while lump charcoal is perfect for extreme heat and maximum flavour.
Does the type of BBQ you have influence the type of fuel you need to use?
Regarding cooking, it’s less about the type of pit and more about the style. If you're cooking large secondary and tertiary cuts with a lid on, go for briquettes and add wood to enhance the flavour. Ensure the fire burns clean and maintain a thin blue smoke for the best results.
For hot and fast cooking, lump charcoal is the way to go for maximum flavour, whether with the lid on or off. The meat is exposed to smoke and heat for a shorter period, so you want to ensure the flavour has a good punch of smokiness. Add some wood to the mix if you want to ramp up the flavour.
How can you minimise charcoal waste after a cook?
As with any cook, when you have finished, always close off all the vents and ensure the lid is down and sealed. This will choke the fire out, and the fuel can be reused for the next cook. If you cook on an open barbecue or have a kettle, pour your fuel into it and choke it off. You will be surprised at how many cooks you can get out of one load if you are more frugal.