When it comes to preparing authentic grilled meat, no amount of briquettes or propane can match up to the charm of best lump charcoal. The later brings a distinct smoky flavor and aroma to the dishes.
Finding the best lump charcoal can be a difficult task. You need to know that the fuel you use for cooking heavily impacts the taste of the food.
When it comes to cooking, I am always inclined to the old-school methods. I am writing this review to help you buy the best lump charcoal within your budget. I will also talk about things to look forward to while selecting the charcoal and more.
Best Lump Charcoal of 2017
|Fogo Premium |
|Jealous Devil |
Fogo Premium – Best All-purpose Charcoal
You must have heard the name of Fogo if you’re into barbecuing at all. If you’re a seasoned cook, a mere look at the charcoal pieces inside the bag will give you a hint of its quality. They use Central American Hardwood for the manufacturing. It has all the ideal characteristics of a good quality charcoal.
As I already said before, the quality of the charcoal will heavily influence the taste of the dishes. Being made from selected hardwood trimmings and no other ingredient, it leaves a fine smoky flavor in the grilled edibles.
I have been using Big Green Egg for years. I have tried slow cooking for halibut, Salmon, and Tilapia fillet directly on the hot charcoal and they turned out to be perfectly seared. I was afraid of overcooking them since the charcoal burns super hot.
Starting the fire is also incredibly easy. As per the manufacturer’s recommendation, I used vegetable oil instead of Lighter Fluid to light the charcoals. Only 100% natural hardwood lump charcoal can retain its signature mild smoky flavor for hours and Fogo is, fortunately, not an exception. It is great for both slow and fast cooking which is not the case with most other charcoals.
Last but not the least, the makers have kept the prices really modest provided the efficiency of the charcoal. Given the large size of the coals, they burn significantly longer than most other branded charcoal.
The brand name, the price, the fuel efficiency, and flavor – everything goes in full favor of the Fogo. I have used bags of this charcoal in the last two years and the consistency it has maintained is commendable. From pork ribs, salmon fillet to veggies, everything comes out perfectly grilled if you can control the temperature properly.
Royal Oak – Best for Smoking
Upon opening the packet, I did notice a few lumber mill scrap but that’s all, no other fillers. Minimum amount of chips and junks in a bag full of charcoal, Royal Oak nailed the first test.
Like the previous product, it also injects a mild, smoky taste in the meat, fishes, and veggies. The charcoals are procured from American hardwood that comes from Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. It takes minimal effort to lit up the charcoal, you can easily achieve an ideal cooking temperature within 15 minutes.
If you have used only charcoal briquettes so far, you will instantly notice the difference. The heat lasts longer and keeps the flavor locked into the smoked meat for a pretty long time too. I used Royal Oak Lighter Fluid to burn the charcoal as recommended by one of my colleagues. You can also use newspaper sheets and place them at right at the bottom of the grill.
Royal Oak is specially manufactured for smokers. If you’re not well-experienced at grilling, controlling the temp would be easier with this charcoal. Honestly, I feel the charcoals could have been better filtered but that doesn’t take away its efficiency from it. The pieces burn quickly and retain ideal temperature for a long time. On my Weber grill, it took me merely half an hour to prepare hot dogs and tandoori chicken.
Grill Dome – Best for Kamado
Kamado style grills are a hot favorite among many Americans. These traditional Japanese grills require the best quality charcoal to perform to its optimal potential. The product under scanner this time is specially created for such grills.
Recently, I have come across the news that the lump supply for Grill Dome comes from the supplier of Wicked Good. In the packet I bought last month, the size of the pieces was significantly larger than how they used to be a year ago. So, that’s definitely a great improvement. There were almost no flying sparks and it didn’t leave much ash after I put it off.
Those who are into slow cooking would make the most of this product. My family loves smoked lamb rack and Grill Dome charcoal keeps the flavor of it intact for more than half a day. The fact that it uses the mix of a variety of woods to procure the charcoal makes it ideal for almost all type of smoked and grilled dishes. Unless you want a specific wood flavor dominating your food, you will be satisfied with the taste it imparts in the dishes.
Grill Dome lump charcoal is an absolute value for money when you consider that a single pack of it would suffice for several grilling sessions. As far as the flavor is concerned, be it pizza, ribs or bacon, it simply leaves no room for complaint. The price of a 20 lb. bag is pretty modest as well. All-in-all, it would be hard to find a better charcoal for Kamado grills at this price.
Jealous Devil Quebrancho – Best for Grilling
On a very irrelevant note, anything that comes in black and red packaging grabs my attention immediately. Moving on to the more serious things, the Jealous Devil is known by many for its one-of-a-kind burnt aroma.
There’s a local and extremely popular food joint near my apartment which uses this brand of charcoal for grilling.
The charcoals are procured from Quebrancho Blanco tree and have an amazing density.
Upon opening the bag, I hardly found any junk or scrape. However, the amount of dust was a bit bothersome. The charcoals are otherwise well-filtered to ensure optimal efficiency. Coming to the size of pieces, the majority of them are medium-sized. There are a number of large pieces as well but they make up only 10% of the mass. Lighting up the fire is also fairly simple and the fire spreads quickly if lit up properly. You need to crumble 3-4 3.5 sheets of paper to ignite the charcoal.
But as far as the quality of the charcoals is concerned, it is a good bang for the buck. Not as great as Fogo but decent enough.
Despite minor flaws, the Jealous Devil lived up to my expectations. I used it for my big old BGE and it took roughly 10 minutes to achieve a piping hot temperature. I cooked a sumptuous dinner for 5 hours and the charcoals held the temp quite well for that long. If you are on a budget yet not ready to compromise with the grilling quality, this might be your go-to product.
Cowboy – Best Lumpwood
Cowboy charcoals might not the best charcoal available but it injects a unique taste in the food and that’s what really counts. It is essentially a lump wood barbecue charcoal and produces a very little ash. It also leaves no chemical odor in the dishes and all these make it a good choice for in-house grilling purposes.
Thanks to its supreme heat production, it is one of the best lump charcoals for searing chicken and pork and many other types of meat. I haven’t myself tried it for low and slow cooking but many of my acquaintances have. Their reactions were quite positive.
For the same reason, you will only need a handful of pieces to get started with the BBQ. It also burns clean and doesn’t add a strong smoky flavor to the food which I really liked.
One bag of Cowboy charcoal will last you a whole season. Most of the pieces are medium sized but the fire spreads rapidly and gets to the perfect cooking temperature in minutes. Highly recommended for searing. The subtle woodfire flavor it adds to the dishes is the biggest plus point of this product.
Eco Charcoal – Best for Green Egg
I am a proud owner of a BGE and it has been in my family for generations. Almost any kind of charcoal can be used for Green Egg. Eco charcoal stands out in the crowd for the lip-smacking hardwood flavor it adds to the grilled items.
As the name hints, Eco charcoal is manufactured in an environment-friendly way. Only those trees which are already cut or supposed to be cut are used for the manufacturing of the charcoals. The bag I received had almost equal numbers of big and medium sized chunks.
Since no additives have been used in the process, there will be no odd smell or taste in the food. I know many top-notch steakhouses and pizzeria in my city which use this particular brand of charcoal. The burning duration makes it a perfect choice for those who love cooking steak on an open fire. The smoky flavor it releases is at par with high-end restaurants.
I simply loved the taste of the smoked chicken I cooked using this charcoal. I didn’t notice any chemical smell. It took me much less time than I expected to prepare a meal for 20 meat-blokes. There would a bit of flying sparks and popping, so I would ask to you use this charcoal for outdoor BBQ. A bag of it will be adequate for a whole summer.
Quebracho Carbon – Best Natural Charcoal
No briquette, gas or propane can bring the explosion of flavors that natural lump charcoal can. Quebracho is one of strongest woods in the world. The barbecue charcoal derived from it burn for a long time and turn piping hot within or less than 15 minutes.
Quebracho charcoals are mostly imported from South America. In my knowledge, South American charcoals do produce a great amount of sparks and popping. This one, however, is an exception. The fire burns clean and leaves minimal ash after it is put off.
The fire burns low and slow, keeping the subtle flavors and moisture of the meat intact for a long time. After the cooking was over, I had a good number of leftover charcoal which could burn for 3-4 hours.
Quebracho stands true to its claim by infusing restaurant-quality flavors and aroma in the food. Reaching the desired temperature for cooking a verity of dishes is quite convenient with this charcoal. You don’t have to toil much to ignite the fire. The fire spreads fast and distributes the heat all over the chimney equally.
Fogo! – Best of the West
Many Fogo loyalists swear by this charcoal. And this fan base includes many renowned chefs of top restaurants as well. They call it the “award-winning charcoal”. I was naturally very curious to know what all this fuss is about. I was lucky enough to give it a try a few weeks back at a friend’s pool party.
Hardwood charcoal has always been my favorite as the mild yet distinct aroma it infuses with the food is simply unmatchable. As expected from Fogo, all the pieces in the bag are carefully selected and there is a very little amount of chips and dirt in the bag. It burns nice and slow and the fire lasts way longer than conventional charcoals.
I used it with my friend’s Kamado and regulating the temperature was an absolute breeze. If you are into low and slow cooking, you’d have a good time cooking with it. It also doesn’t create much sparkle, although it pops a little. The burning duration is really praiseworthy. After preparing a feast for dozens of guests, I still had enough coal left for another cooking session.
The Fogo! has rightfully earned a position in my list of the best charcoals. It has got almost everything one should look for in a premium quality charcoal. It is affordable, efficient, easy to handle and most of all, it passes on its classic hardwood flavor to the foods when cooked over an open-fire.
Original Natural – Best Rated
Original Natural Lump charcoal has gained quite a massive popularity among home cooks as well as in steakhouses and pizzerias in the last few months. It takes the coals roughly 30 seconds to get ignited. It gets to the perfect temp for smoking and searing within 15 minutes. If you wish to let the charcoals burn hotter for a longer time, simply increase the air flow by opening the vent.
The lump charcoal pieces are mostly scrap wood used for milling operations. The majority of the pieces were small. Yes, the sizes of the charcoals do disappoint a bit. On a brighter side, they come in plastic bags which help to control the mess of the charcoal dust to a great extent.
Although the price of this product is a bit on the higher side of the cost spectrum, it provides a good value for money. I have to give that to it. A 20 lb. pack can be used for a number of BBQ parties and camping trips. Indeed it was a disappointment to find so many junks, dust, and chips in the bag but the dishes came out really well. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Original Natural would lump charcoal are purely natural. As you’d expect from a premium charcoal, it leaves nothing but wood-smoked taste in the delicacies. I found no traces of chemical odor while using it. If you’re okay with stretching your wallet a little bit, Western charcoal could be a value for money deal for you in the long run.
Mangrove – Best Hardwood Charcoal
Last but definitely not the least, I’ll end this segment by throwing light upon Mangrove lump charcoal. Those who don’t like strong smoky flavor in the meat will appreciate the subtle grilled-charcoal aroma it brings to the dishes.
Lighting up the coals and controlling the temp won’t require a lot of expertise over grilling. Do not use lighter fluid to ignite as it may negatively impact the taste of the food.
However, a major drawback is that there are plenty of small pieces in the bag along with a lot of dust and chips. But nevertheless, the usable pieces provide a nice and clean burn. If you want to try out low and slow smoking, that won’t be an issue as you can bring the temp down to 250 degrees F.
To sum it up, I would say that Mangrove is not the best charcoal option out there. But people love putting their trust and money on an established brand. There are many chefs who prefer and recommend Mangrove. It’s easy to ignore the drawbacks when you finally taste the food flavored by this charcoal. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best I have ever had.
With summer comes the season of Barbecue. Who doesn’t love the soul-steering smell of meat seared and grilled over the open fire in the lawn? Americans love grilling with charcoals, mainly because of the beautiful smell and flavor it infuses in the meat and veggies. Moreover, charcoal-powered grills are cheaper than electric or gas powered models.
Grilling is one of the smartest methods of cooking meat. Not only it makes the meat tender and delicious, it also drips the excess fat away. Cooking on a gas stove doesn’t have that benefit.
The next benefit is the high temperature. Best lump charcoals can reach more 1000 degrees or even higher in less than 20 minutes. Therefore, charcoal is the best fuel you can use for searing steaks. Moreover, charcoal grills are portable. You can carry them with you for campfire trips, picnics or outdoor gatherings without breaking a bone.
Lump Charcoal v/s Briquettes- Which One Is Better?
I have seen gastronomy-geeks engaging in heated debates over this one topic. To be honest, there’s no definitive answer to this question. It all depends on your personal preference. But there are several in ways in which lump charcoal proves to be a better alternative to briquettes.
Since natural lump charcoals are not mixed with any additives, the flavor it imparts is pure and soothing to the taste buds. Among the other benefits, charcoal burns hotter and for longer, giving you full control over the cooking process. If you get your hands laid on a pack of quality charcoals, you will be greeted with minimal sparks and ashes.
Briquettes are technically a more reliable option than charcoals. They may not burn as hot as charcoals but they do maintain a consistent temp. You least likely to experience any temp fluctuations with briquettes.
Also, it is easy to control the flame with them. But, one of its major drawbacks is the addition of additives in their making process. No matter what precaution you take, you are sure to notice a weird smell and a slight hint of chemical taste in the food. So, unless you are in a lot of hurry, I would always recommend you to go for the traditional style of charcoal grilling.
Is Charcoal Grilling Safe for the Environment?
Charcoal combustion is not 100% eco-friendly. Charcoal emits a higher amount of carbon dioxide than propane. However, the former is sourced from sustainable sources like the branches, twigs, and prunes of trees. Charcoals are of several types.
But natural lump charcoals have a much lower rate of carbon emission. You can always go for electric grills but they are nowhere near to the efficiency of charcoal-powered grills.
What Are the Disadvantages of Charcoal?
I have already discussed about this topic to some extent in the previous sections. But there are a few more cons of grilling food at such a high temperature. Some studies have shown that grilling and roasting increase the level of a substance called HCA in the food. Apparently, HCA creates the risk of cancer. But hey! This is no gospel truth as well. I don’t think anybody has ever got cancer for attending multiple BBQ parties.
Among the other minor demerits, charcoal dust can be a bit of a fuss to handle. Some of the variations also produce a lot of ash and sparks. They do increase the humidity of the house if used indoors. Plus, unless you have experience, you might have a hard time learning to control the temperature of the chimney.
How to Choose the Best?
Know the Materials
The raw materials used for deriving the charcoals are the highest determinant of its quality and performance. Klin-dry hardwood, charred hardwood, oak, maple make the dense charcoals that burn hot quickly and last long.
Size of the Charcoal Pieces
The best lump charcoal bags come with plenty of big chunks to aid maximum fuel efficiency. They also help in controlling the temperature quickly. Small pieces tend to block the air passages which is why they take longer to burn properly.
Know Your Cooking Goals
While some charcoals are specially made for searing, some are excellent for low and slow cooking. What would give you the best bang for the buck depends on your preferred cooking method.
To Sum it Up
After giving a lot of thought, Fogo Premium emerged as the clear winner. All the products I have included in this article have a specialty of their own. But Fogo charcoals score high in every department, be it the burning time, temperature control, fuel efficiency or flavor imparting. To top it all off, you won’t even have to burn a whole in your pocket to afford it.
Through this article, I made an attempt to pen down my years of experience as a grillmaster. I run a food truck and grilled meat dishes are my specialty. Charcoal has always been my go-to fuel when it comes to barbecuing. Hope my experience and knowledge will help you find the best lump charcoal for your own cooking expeditions.