The Great Grilling Divide: Lump Charcoal, Charcoal Briquettes, or Competition Level Briquettes

charcoal typesGrill masters and barbecue enthusiasts across the country have been debating that age-old question of lumps or briquettes since the dawn of grilling. At least it seems that way! With each person having their own personal reasons for defending their favorite, there’s a lot that’s been said both for and against each one. While it may have led to some unsavory arguments between colleagues and neighbors, the constant debating over which is best has led to at least one positive outcome. There is now an abundance of information available to those looking at their fuel bed options before making their choice.

The Purist: Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Pros: When it comes to a good, clean, and pure burn, there’s no better product to choose than a standard hardwood lump charcoal. It’s made with pure wood, and therefore is generally easy to handle. It’s easy and quick to light, burns hotter than briquettes (of either variety), and responds very well to adjustments made in the air vents, having been refined during the oxygen-absent burning process it underwent to create it. Lump Charcoal is also almost always preferred by those smoking meat, due to its pure, chemical-free, untainted flavor.
Cons: Ironically, one of the biggest cons of Lump Charcoal is also one of the pros that it carries: the heat at which it burns. With the ability to burn so hot, users sometimes complain that it burns too hot and that once it’s reached a temperature they’re unhappy with, it’s unable to be cooled quickly. While the size of the flame produced changes well with the addition and removal of oxygen with the adjusted air vents, the same cannot be said of the actual temperature.

The Prodigy with Promise: Charcoal Briquettes
Pros: One of the more often mentioned pros for charcoal briquettes is its budget friendly price. However, prices aside, there are still a lot of other reasons people might prefer charcoal briquettes over lump charcoal. Defenders of lump charcoal often bring up the fact that it is able to burn steadily at a constant temperature without needing to be micro managed as lump charcoal does, and they definitely have a point. It also burns much longer than lump charcoal does, allowing for a much more hands-free full day or night of grilling.
Cons: Comparing briquettes to lump charcoal is like comparing a sirloin to a fastfood hamburger: they both taste great, just don’t ever ask what went into making the first one. In general charcoal briquettes are made of the reject parts from lump charcoal, and the wood products used must first be chemically treated to create the briquettes. This results in a sometimes undesirable chemical taste that is enough to be off putting to some, and is almost always a downside when smoking meat.

The Professional: Competition Briquettes
Pros: Competition Briquettes combine some of the best qualities of hardwood lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. With the high heat burning capacity of lumps married to the longevity and consistency of the heat produced by briquettes, competition briquettes often create a great flame for quick and easy grilling.
Cons: While it does have some of the pros of lump charcoal, these are ultimately still briquettes, and therefore do still contain some of the same chemicals as their little brothers. Thus, they can still tend to leave meats with the unwanted chemical tint to the flavoring.

The debate over fuel bed preferences is one that has endured for decades, and will continue to do so as long as grills are lit. With no clear winner ever coming out of this ongoing debate, it seems that it’s every grill master for himself when ultimately making the decision. But whatever your choice, go forth and grill this summer with confidence in your decision, and don’t be afraid to defend it in the ever continuous great grilling debate!

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