Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal

Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal Introduction

You’ve chosen or are considering to use Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes out of the 6 most popular fuel sources for cooking outdoors: pellets, pure wood, electric, gas, charcoal briquettes, and lump charcoal. So, if you’re just thinking about it, read the article designed to assist you in making or changing decisions behind each kind of grill, which dictates your heat source.


If remaining with a lump or briquettes decision, read further below about questions and answers about lump wood charcoal but also has some comparing and referencing to briquettes. And also know that the link(s) to reviews are for different kinds and brands. And, mixed throughout, are some great tips and guidance regarding hardwood charcoal or regular charcoal usage. We begin with a popular grill brand example of the Weber Charcoal Grills line and some individual charcoal related functions behind some of them. Other grills and types such as Kamado are referenced in Best BBQ Grills articles. We just start off the charcoal reference with an extremely popular line of grills.


Best BBQ Grills view 2
Shown is Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill using Lump Charcoal

Cooking with Weber Charcoal Grill

The Weber Charcoal Grills and charcoal smokers are very good and extremely popular.



They tend to be affordable but they do offer a wide range of prices with varying features and functions. When considering charcoal, might want one that can be readily refilled during the cooking process. Lump charcoal will generally last shorter and will need refilling more often but usually only if the lumps are not large. With large lumps, you’ll add more lump charcoal less often. Also, not all grills have an opening for refilling charcoal. You can look for a panel front door or the grate itself might have a lift-able section for dumping in more, whether you use lump charcoal or briquettes.

Auto-Igniter and Charcoal Basket Trays

Some Weber grills will have an auto-ignitor built-in and it feeds from a small disposable screw-on propane gas canister. You have to let it run for about 5 minutes and then you turn it off, close the lid, and wait another 15-30 minutes for all the charcoal to light. The advantage is you can still use a cylindrical charcoal starter but you don’t need any paper or fuel briquette starters. The usual option is the popular use of a Chimney Charcoal Starter, which many still use regardless. Some who have the auto-ignitor will use for placing their Chimney Starter right over it to ignite the charcoal that way.



Another advantage is, those grills often come with their own charcoal basket trays that you can position right over the self-igniter so you won’t even need to use the cylindrical charcoal starter anymore. And some of the nicer Weber grills also have a Charcoal storage bin on the side, which holds up to a 15-lb bag. In the respect of storing lump charcoal, a plastic bag lining can be used and then the lump charcoal dumped into it.

Grill Lid Holder

Some round Weber grills will have a spot for you to place the Grill Cover each time you remove it. That makes it extremely handy for either short term removal or longer term when you’re watching burgers or steaks closely. It’s also good because you don’t have to set it on the ground or you don’t have to always have an empty spot on a side table that probably can’t handle the hot lid anyway.


Cover on Lid Holder and workspace shown - 300x200
Cover on Lid Holder and workspace shown

Vents

Using a round Weber grill is not different than other grills in the sense that you’ll need to learn how the various vents work to control the temperature and air flow. Vents on the round Weber grills are commonly on one or both of these 2 areas: the lid and the base.

Ash Removal – Ash Catcher

Ash removal is always a pain and it’s often because of the way charcoal is made. Unlike lump charcoal, briquettes are made with sawdust at times. This is one of several advantages of using hardwood lump that acts like pieces of wood, compared to regular briquettes. However, Weber does make some grill models with a removable ash catcher. And still other models, have a “One-Touch Cleaning” system, which is a set of 3 blades resembling a 3-prong propeller on a plane. This is where you repeat the open-and-closing of the base vent as those 3 small bladed arms sweep the base ashes into the available vent slots that lead into the ash catcher pot underneath. It’s extremely handy for both lump charcoal and briquettes.


Ash from 1 10 lb briquette and 1 20 lb bag lump charcoal after 3 winter months - 300x200
Ash from 10 lbs briquettes and 20 lbs lump charcoal after 3 winter months

The advantage here with lump charcoal is that you won’t have to empty the bucket out nearly as often as from briquettes ash. With briquettes, you might go through about 20 lbs. and you need to empty it. With lump, you might have to go through 50-60 lbs. before emptying. Overall, it’s about 1/2 – 1/3 the amount of ash production when using lump charcoal.

How much lump charcoal to use vs briquettes

Charcoal usage will vary depending on how much you’re about to use your barbecue grill, its burn rate, if it’s low and slow, and its cook time. And you might enjoy a smaller sized bag of charcoal briquettes compared to the larger, heavier bag of lump charcoal. But, you’ll appreciate the hardwood lump charcoal benefits more.

Regardless, all of this also depends on how long you need to keep the grill going during your cooking session. Ribs, for example, take the full duration of your charcoal briquettes so you’ll want extra to be sure. Burgers cook real fast but if you’re filling the grill surface area, you’ll need a lot there too. Here’s a ball park idea of how much charcoal to use. While it references briquettes or chimney starter quantities, you’ll need to equate that to the type of lump charcoal you use since those sizes vary extremely. Most cooking sessions for the average person will tend toward full or half full of grill space being used. With this knowledge, you can easily adjust lower for less than half grill space used.

How many charcoal briquettes to use

Full Grill Space Usage

The average grill might take about 100 briquettes or 1 full chimney starter.

  • Good for about 12-15 burgers at a time and good for 2-3 sets.
  • Good for about 6-8 steaks for 2 sets.
  • Good for about 12 pork chops and good for 2-3 sets.
  • Good for about 12-20 pieces of chicken.

Rotisserie style cooking will require a full amount of charcoal but divided in a split style arrangement where the center is empty of charcoal and the drip pan is used there. The sides will be heavy with 1/2 grill’s worth of charcoal on each side. You might have to refill charcoal in this setup. Split style cooking is also sometimes used for shish kabobs or ribs.


Weber Aluminum Drip Pans, as shown on Amazon


Half Grill Space Usage

  • The average grill might take about 50-75 briquettes or 1/2-3/4 full chimney starter.
  • Good for about 6-10 burgers at a time and good for 2 sets
  • Good for ribs on indirect heat. You’ll need about 75 or 3/4 full chimney starter.
  • Good for about 8 pieces of chicken.

Can Charcoal get wet?

If it gets wet, the cheaper charcoal will sometimes just crumble and is not usable. However, depending on how wet it gets, it still might be salvageable. It will usually not burn as hot and it will smoke more. Plus, the smoke will be a bit different in color and it will be a little harder to light. To try to salvage, one option is to mix it in with some regular charcoal that hasn’t been exposed to the water. The way that lump charcoal is made makes it less prone to permanent damage when exposed to moisture. So, if not exposed severely, lump and charcoal also burn okay when dried. You might need to mix in some extra non-impacted charcoal to the regular briquettes for improving reliability.

How long until charcoal is ready?

How to know when lump charcoal is ready

Lump Charcoal can be ready after lighting, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. If using a charcoal chimney starter, it usually is about 10-15 minutes, depending on what igniting method you used.


Lump Charcoal heated and ready - 300x300
Lump Charcoal heated and ready

When Using a Gas Igniter

With a built-in propane gas igniter (like Weber’s) that you leave on, it takes about 10-12 minutes total time. Replacement canisters are often going to be far cheaper to buy locally, e.g., via your big box store, instead of online due to shipping and packing requirements for propane under pressure.

With briquettes, usually a gas igniter is intended to only get the charcoal minimally started (from a 5-minute period) and then you turn off the gas igniter, close the grill’s lid, and wait another 30 minutes for it to “catch” more fully for a total duration of about 35 minutes.

Lump charcoal only needs about 5 minutes with an igniter (at the bottom) and then about 10 minutes wait time after that for the rest of the charcoal to catch.

When Using Fuel

If you’re using a fuel to dispense across the charcoal (which is normally not used on lump charcoal), you usually dispense the fuel and wait about 30 seconds to 1 minute for it to be absorbed. Then, after lighting, it’s about a 5-10-minute wait. It’s best to follow the directions on the fuel-based starting methods.

When Using a Charcoal Starter

These Charcoal Igniters or Starters will vary immensely and you can only know by reading the instructions and other customer’s reviews.



Can Charcoal Go Bad?

Charcoal that is self-igniting (has fuel in it) can go bad in the sense of the self-igniting function after about 3 months. Other charcoals that have additives can lose their potency depending on what was added. Charcoal overall, however, does not go bad as long as it’s not exposed to moisture. So, in a sense, it might take a few years but eventually could go bad over gradual exposure to light moisture in the air. I’ve had charcoal outdoors stored in a plastic storage bin, not moisture-proof but the bag closed up, and it lasts easily to the following year without any noticed difference. And, I’ve burned a bag of charcoal discovered in a garage after 3 years with the same result.

Does Lump Charcoal Go Bad?

If kept away from moisture, it will be just fine. You can read above question about “Can Charcoal Go Bad?” for further details.

Grilling Vegetables Charcoal

You can cook some larger vegetables on a charcoal grill without anything special. Those items might be like corn on the cob and baking potatoes. However, for common vegetables prepped in pieces, you’ll need a container like a pan or skillet and preferably one that has perforated holes. When cooking using lump charcoal, you’ll want to watch the temperature closer as it burns hotter. However, you can use indirect heat or better use of your vents for managing this type of cooking.


Vegetables added to perforated grill pan
Vegetables added to perforated grill pan

Is Lump Charcoal Better?

It has its pros and cons like other grill heat sources and here they are.

The Pros of Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

  • It burns hotter
  • It often is easier to light
  • It produces about 1/3 of the equivalent to briquettes ash.
  • The flavor of food is considered by some to be better, compared to briquettes.
  • Contains no additives

The Cons of Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

  • The number one con is that it costs more, and often a lot more.
  • It’s much dirtier.
  • It burns faster.
  • It’s harder to handle and dispense due to irregular shapes and sizes of its contents.
  • Many of the brands sold have a huge disparity in differences of effectiveness and quality.
  • Timings of refilling for long term cooking or smoking are inconsistent due to variety of sizes of lumps
  • Although not a technical con, it can impact your purchasing power and your cooking effectiveness if you’ve received an inferior product. Because of the high cost, there is a high level of scams claiming their lumps will burn longer or having a higher percentage of larger chunks. And, it even happens with branded products if their quality levels have gone down or, if their producer (in another country) has made some changes. I’ve seen some reviews even of some alleged popular brands are potentially a fake knockoff and not from an ethical reseller.

Lump Charcoal for Smoking

Is Lump Charcoal Good for Smoking?

Yes, if it satisfies two key requirements, which one of them is dependent on the other. Let me explain.

1) First off, you can use any charcoal for smoking as long as it will last the length of the intending smoking session. That’s the primary requirement. Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster so you’ll want to learn the proper venting to manage the air flow and temp. Also, the sizes of the lumps are an impact to its duration between refills so, that’s our next item.

2) So, the second part of the equation is the dependent item. In order for the charcoal to last long enough, it will be dependent on its size of the lumps overall. However, even the large lump charcoal bags will have a percentage of medium and small lumps. So, that’s why you’ll want to read reviews of those who mention an excessive or low amount of small pieces, which is often professionally rated as a percentage of a bag. If you are planning on smoking a lot, you’ll pay more to get a higher percentage of large lumps per bag. It’s also a reason that some people will resort to getting a smoker that allows wood burning because obtaining wood in certain sizes is much easier to manage on the manufacturing side of things.

So, in summary, you have to manage its heating properties as it will burn hotter (usually) than charcoal briquettes. And, you’ll need to manage the refilling processes as most lump charcoal comes in varying shapes and sizes. Also, it burns faster. So, if you’re filling the smoker and you notice a particular batch has a lot of smaller lumps, you’ll need to schedule to return sooner as that batch won’t last as long.


Weber Smokers


If you’re trying to replace using wood, getting a lump charcoal made from a hardwood is the best way to get closest to actual wood. Also, it’s been recommended to just put some burning lump coals on the top of the fresh charcoal bed and allow it to naturally light the lumps under it. Having a longer burn life would be of interest to those deciding on using it in their smoker.

Lump Charcoal Burn Time

Lump charcoal vs briquettes burn time varies significantly across the different brands and types of lump charcoal. However, if you equate with the same size of lumps with briquettes, overall the burn time is about 15-30% quicker with lump. However, I have experienced times where it appears the same. I have also experienced lump charcoal lasting longer when using large chunks. Again, it depends on brands, sizes, and types of briquettes as well as the lump you’re comparing.

Does lump charcoal require lighter fluid?

No; it does not. Lump charcoal can be lit just like charcoal briquettes but without lighter fluid. And, coincidentally, lump charcoal lights easier (usually) and burns hotter than briquettes. Also, the natural aspect of no additives to lump charcoal is another reason to avoid adding a fuel.

What are some ideas for buying lump charcoal on Amazon?

Lump Charcoal for Smokers (filtered for Smokers but many are same as for Grilling)

Lump Charcoal for Grilling (filtered for Grilling but many are same as for Smokers)

For the items shown below, the ratings were shown as being very high. Read the reviews of these items for your own decision-making.



Conclusion: Where can I see serious reviews of charcoal?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.