Coal can make or break your barbecue. Find out what kind you need – and what to avoid – in our guide to the best lump charcoal for your grill or smoker.
When it comes to trying to choose the right outdoor grill, opting for charcoal over propane is a no-brainer.
The old school method of cooking has remained a favorite over gas cooking simply because of the far better, more authentic food it produces.
Crucial to this is the use of good charcoal. Lumpwood charcoal creates an authentic smoky flavor that creates that beautiful flavor that we identify as ‘real’ barbecue.
Finding the right type of lumpwood isn’t easy however. Different brands and types vary wildly in terms of quality, and many even impart very different flavors on your food.
My guide here is on hand to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, and help you choose the best lumpwood charcoal for your needs.
So with all of that in mind, here are our 7 picks of the best lump charcoal bundles out there.
Best All-Purpose Charcoal: Fogo Premium
When pushed to give you their choice of their favorite type of charcoal, the majority of BBQ enthusiasts will recommend natural hardwood.
Often made from oak and maplewood, it’s is one of the cleanest and most reliable lump charcoal types out there.
The Fogo brand is synonymous with good quality BBQ fuel. They always use Central American all-natural hardwood, which is an ingredient that has seen them produce reliable, powerful fuel for years.
Fogo’s lump charcoal is large to ensure longer burning and higher temperatures. Photo: Fogo
This lump wood fuel has all the perfect characteristics for excellent charcoal.
Their all-purpose lump charcoal comes in large pieces, which means that even just a handful of coals will burner longer and at high temperatures. In fact, they claim that 80% of the coal you get in any bag will be at least 4 inches in size.
These larger coals provide larger surface area to burn, and also aide good airflow for temperature control.
This high cooking temperature also give the Fogo fuel an added level of versatility to it, as it can also be used in Kamado grills, which demand high heat levels.
The natural hardwood composition found in Fogo’s coals infuse food with a beautiful smoky flavor. This is proof alone that you should always go natural hardwood over chemical briquettes.
It’s this natually smoky flavor that makes it so great at matching with foods that go beyond just your standard BBQ meats, like brisket or burgers. Because the flavor is far more natural in aroma and taste, it can go with more delicate foods like, fish and vegetables.
It should be said that this is an impressive achievement. Given the high temperatures that these coals burn at, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the resulting smoke might overpower white meat or plants. I’m glad to say that this isn’t the case.
Not to be outdone by high temperatures, this lump charcoal is also easily and quick to light. So no struggling with electric starters or lighter fluid. Just toss a bunch of these into your charcoal chimney and you’ll be good to go in minutes.
Natural hardwood lump charcoal is well known for keeping its smoky aromas for hours on end, and Fogo’s charcoal fits the mold perfectly. The large size of each coal ensures long heating times.
Fogo have committed to only making their charcoal out of already fallen trees, meaning their environmental impact is minimal compared to other coal fuels.
The coals will need to be broken down if being lit directly at the base of your grill (i.e. not in a chimney starter). Charcoal size can be inconsistent from bag to bag, with some packs containing a lot of useless dust
Best Smoking Charcoal: Royal Oak
Royal Oak’s USA-made all natural hardwood is of fantastic quality, and emits a beautiful smoky aroma.
It’s made from renewable oak, hickory and maple, and contains absolutely no additives or chemicals. Basically, exactly what you want from natural hardwood.
These coals are really quick to light, only taking 15-20 minutes to reach a strong cooking temperature. Not only that, but the coals stay lit for hours, making them ideal for smoking.
What sets these coals apart is the impressively low amount of ash that they give off during burning. One of the pain points of smoking is the frequency with which you need to empty your smoker’s ash drawer, however Royal Oak have created a grilling fuel that cuts down on this significantly. This reduces the frequency with which you’ll need to swap coals, while also keeping your grill or smoker clean.
This charcoal is made specifically for smoking, and it shows. It cooks for long periods of time, while its rather more modest maximum temperatures make it easy to control cooking heat levels.
Best Natural Charcoal: Original Natural Charcoal Quebracho Carbon
This quebracho coal from Original Natural Charcoal is a perfect example of how the natural aromas and flavors of natural coals are superior to anything that artificial briquettes or propane can muster.
Derived from South American wood, this stuff is typical of fuel from the region. It’s packed full of the distinct smoky flavors unique to natural hardwood.
This Quebracho coal has stamina in abundance. It can burn at high temperatures for hours, yielding an impressive maximum of 1000°F.
Similarly, it’s easy to bring it down to a smolder of 200°F for low and slow cooking, burning for three to four hours at a time before needing to be replaced.
Just like with a lot of the other lump charcoal packs in this list, Quebracho Carbon can reach optimum cooking temperatures within just 15 minutes. Not only that, but it’s clean relative to a lot of other charcoals, leaving minimal ash or residue when cooking.
Best Hardwood Charcoal: Mangrove
Mangrove is best for people who are unsure about strong smoky flavored meat, and prefer something a bit lighter and more subtle.
So if you prefer grilled fish, chicken or vegetables, then this might be right lump hardwood for you.
Because the flavors and aromas of this coal are much more slight than the others on the list, it’s important you avoid the use of lighter fluid.
In all honesty I would never recommend using lighter fluid anyway, but especially so with coal type as delicate as Mangrove. You risk the nasty taste of the fluid completely overpowering the coals, so it’s best just to stay clear.
Like with the majority of coals on this list, Mangrove is made with dense hardwood trees. This ensures a solid coal that can sustain its heat for hours with hardly any temperature fluctuations.
Best Charcoal for Kamado Grills: Grill Dome
Kamado ceramic grills are beasts when it comes to raw cooking power. Armed with strong insulation, and reliable temperature levels, they are perfect for roasting and smoking. This lump hardwood fuel from Grill Dome is the best one for the job.
Grill Dome’s coals come in large pieces, so you can get a lot out of just a handful of them and also achieve impressive maximum temperatures.
Fans of BBQ smoking will get great bang for their buck out of these. They can smolder at low temperatures while keeping the flavors of your meat locked in.
Best Charcoal for Grilling: Quebrancho Jealous Devil
The Jealous Devil has a really unique almost-burnt aroma, making it absolutely perfect for grilling.
These coals are made from the Quebrancho Blanco tree. This tree gives the coals a superb density, which in turn gives your BBQ-ed food a fantastic smokey flavor.
The coals can reach a temperature high of an almost ludicrous 1172°F. This gives it an incredible sear for BBQ grill staples, like steaks and burgers. Its density almost means that it can burn for several hours at high temperatures.
A number of large coal pieces do help make up some of the coal bag’s contents, but otherwise it’s medium-sized pieces. If it were any other brand this might put me off, however these Jealous Devils are so dense and so pack full with power that this doesn’t impact performance whatsoever.
The long burning times and red hot flames that the Jealous Devil can achieve make this the absolute perfect fit for charcoal grilling. Matched with this are beautiful smoky aromas, chemical-free composition and very little residual ash. The perfect lump charcoal.
Best for Big Green Egg: BIG CP
It should come as no surprise that the best lump wood for the unique Big Green Egg models comes from the manufacturer themselves. This natural oak and hickory coal burns extremely hot while minimizing leftover ash, making it a clean fuel in every sense of the word.
Not only is it faithful to the natural ingredients that comprise lump wood, making sure it doesn’t contain any fillers or chemicals, but it goes one further by containing 100% natural American oak. It’s an eco-friendly fuel that compares favorably to other charcoal on this list in terms of being green.
The total absence of chemicals in the coal pieces does make it more challenging to light, and will need more time to reach target cooking temperature. However this is more than a fair trade-off for the price of having a healthy, clean, powerful supply of fuel.
Its composition also means that it imparts a beautiful smoky flavor on the meat without leaving any trace of chemical aftertaste. The perfect lumpwood charcoal.
Got any burning questions on hardwood lump charcoal? Check out our list of frequently asked questions to help you make the right buying choice.
What is lump charcoal?
Lump charcoal is the product of a long burning process whereby wood is burned in a low-oxygen environment. This purifies it and burns away any sap and water, and ultimately leaves something that’s close to carbon. This is lump, and is charcoal in its most natural form. The purists swear by it and so should you.
Lump charcoal might not look like much. In fact, in its raw form it looks just like burnt wood. But it’s comprised of about 89% carbon, which is what makes it such a great burning agent for barbecue.
The process of making it is actually incredibly elaborate and labor-intensive. What starts with about 1.5 tons of wood is then compounded down to just a quarter-ton of the charcoal we then use for cooking with.
What’s left is a naturally made, pure piece of burning fuel that’s completely safe for grilling or smoking food with.
Why you should use lump charcoal for grilling
It’s not just blind loyalty to charcoal purity that sets lump apart. It has a lot of other qualities going for it too. It burns at a much higher temperature than other cooking fuels, it’s really easy to light, and is a lot cleaner than briquettes.
Lump also responds well to oxygen, which makes it easy to raise and temper the heat levels for your grill if it has top and bottom vents.
Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes – What’s the Difference?
One of the most common choices new barbecuers face is between lump or briquettes as their fuel choice. Let me try to nip this one in the bud for you immediately and tell you to always go for lump charcoal.
As a more organic and real fuel source, charcoal isn’t mixed with the kind of fillers or additives that briquettes are. Not only does this mean that it’s healthier and more environmentally friendly to use, but the flavor that it then imparts on your food is as pure and authentic as BBQ fuel goes.
Not only this but, due to its dense composition, charcoal burns at a higher temperature for longer.
Admittedly, briquettes do tend to light a bit more easily than lump, but their performance and authenticity pales so much in comparison to lump that I would never recommend opting for them.
Characteristics of Good Quality Lumpwood Charcoal
The bigger the chunks, the better the fuel efficiency of your charcoal. Always be on the lookout for bags that contain a healthy number of large chunks.
The larger pieces are also great at aiding temperature control, whereas smaller pieces are prone to blocking air passages and take longer to light. Not only this, but if you are using cheaper charcoal then the composition will be more made up of fillers, which means that small pieces will be almost unusable. Go large as much as you can.
A safe rule to live by when choosing your coals is that bigger is better. When pieces are larger, they invariably burn for longer and also at hotter temperatures.
Always opt for larger pieces, and as you use different brands make sure to make a mental note of which ones serve up the most generously sized pieces at good consistency.
Also note the amount of dust or scraps sitting at the bottom of the coal bag. Too much dust risks clogging your grill or smoker vents.
Go all natural hardwood
When picking your fuel, only go for bags labelled ‘hardwood lump charcoal’ or ‘100% all natural’. Non natural briquettes are convenient to use, bit they’re always packed with chemicals, fillers and binders. These will heavily impair the quality of your meal while also being incredibly bad for the environment.