Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes [BBQ Smoking & Grilling]

By Ben Isham-Smith


What are the differences between hardwood lump charcoal and briquettes? Find out which one you should be using for your barbecue today.

Quebrancho Jealous Devil lump charcoal

Are you looking to find out the main difference between charcoal and briquettes? There is a lot of talk about what makes a better heat source and to be fair, each argument is valid. Firing up the grill and throwing some food on it has evolved dramatically. It still looks different from one country to another.

The main difference between lump charcoal and briquettes, especially when grilling is that lump charcoal is not uniform in size, so will burn at different rates. However, it burns hotter. Briquettes are industrially manufactured and have a uniform size and shape. In this article, we explore the fundamental differences between the two.

How Is Lump Charcoal Made?

While lump charcoal and briquettes are different, they are also similar. Both are the starting point of a great grilling or barbequing experience. However, they are made differently. One might say they are derivatives of each other. Briquettes are convenient, easy, and fast to use.

To make wood charcoal, wood needs to be heated without oxygen. This can be achieved by burning the wood in an airtight space. As this is done, sap, moisture, and other natural chemicals in the wood are evaporated and wholly removed from the wood, leaving only pure charcoal. Virtually any wood can be used to make lump charcoal, so you will not know what flavor each bag comes with.

What Does Lump Charcoal Consist Of?

Charcoal has a high carbon content. This gives the substance a large amount of potential energy, more than what you would find in the wood. Lump charcoal is made of basically any leftover wood. It is a more realistic option when compared with briquettes.


  • It burns hot
  • It is a natural fuel, and hence it is kinder on the environment
  • You can easily change the temperature
  • It has less ash
  • They burn cleaner
  • The lumps have varying sizes also means that the bag is generally lighter in weight than briquettes. This is because there is more air in the bag because of the irregular shape.


  • Charcoal comes in different sizes making it difficult to grill, which also means that it burns at different rates 
  • It is pricier
  • It isn’t easy to find
  • It burns faster

How Are Briquettes Made?

Briquettes are the tamer version of the two. They are often made using by-products of wood and compressed using different additives. The by-product can be sawdust, crammed into a uniform shape. The process uses chemicals, to come with a condensed form of the wood by-product.

The sawdust, or whatever by-product you are using that would work very well include wood charcoal, biomass, and coal. You will then need to use an accelerant when you need it to burn. The accelerant is necessary so that the briquettes combust effectively. The lack of oxygen in the individual pieces means that you need to help the process along. 

What Do Briquettes Consist Of?

Briquettes are made of wood by-products. They are then compressed with chemical additives to be cut into the briquette shape that you know and buy in the store. Companies use different recipes to make briquettes. These include charcoal dust/fines, sodium nitrate, sodium borate, calcium carbonate/whiting, and wheat starch.


  • They are easy to find
  • They burn out slower
  • They are affordable
  • They have a consistent and steady temperature
  • They burn for a long time
  • They are easy to use


  • They sometimes produce a chemical smell that can be unpleasant on the food
  • They don’t burn very hot
  • Sometimes they take longer to go on

Which You Should Choose For Grilling & Smoking

Both briquettes and lumps have their advantages and disadvantages. Understanding what each will offer you gives you an upper hand. By nature, the lump charcoal is faster to start, but it also finishes faster. Briquettes take longer to start, and they last longer. However, the significant difference is that the briquettes do not burn as hot as lump charcoal does.

Grilling and smoking may seem like the same action, but they are fundamentally different. Grilling requires high levels of heat over a shorter period. This is why grilled food will not take as long as cooking it on the stove. 

Given the fact that grilling needs high levels of heat, it’s a no-brainer that you will need the type of charcoal that burns hottest. This makes lump charcoal the better bet. It burns hotter, and also you get to absorb the natural scent of wood. Briquettes miss that natural woody flavor. Also, lump charcoal burns clean and for a shorter period. These are the exact conditions needed for grilling.

Smoking, on the other hand, does not need high temperatures. It’s quite the opposite. Smoking requires low stable and consistent heat. You also take a more extended amount of time to smoke meat. Briquettes take longer to start up, but they even burn longer. They are the best way to smoke meat.

Briquettes also burn constantly, providing a stable source of low heat. Smoking requires low, steady heat rather than an open flame.

One Last Thing

Both briquettes and lump charcoal work well when you use them for the right purpose. Lump charcoal has many advantages that you will appreciate, especially if you are after a lot of heat. The most significant takeaway is that it is the more natural of the two. Even though briquettes look good and have a uniform shape, they are not as organic as lump charcoal. 

Lump charcoal may be harder to find, but this is because it is not manufactured using chemical processes like what happens with the making of briquettes. Cooking food over a grill outside has its perks. We like lump charcoal for the job of outdoor cooking mostly because it is clean and has less of a carbon footprint than the chemically manufactured briquettes. 

Lump charcoal is pure, and this is one of the primary reasons that make it a better choice. Think about what type of meal you want to make using the heat source, and this will help you decide on a preference. 

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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