April 24, 2017

7 Best Lump Charcoal for Your Unbelievably Yummy Roast

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If you have been grilling for some time, you know that briquette is not the best charcoal to use. It may be cheap and highly available, but you don’t really know what’s in them. It’s made from wood by-products and has some unnatural binders that hold it together and make it burn consistently. But these additives give off a chemical smell which can transfer to your food which to me, is a huge spoiler. When you want to cook the best meat, you’d want the best ingredients not only in the food but also in the cooking fuel.

Yes, I’m a lump charcoal fan and in this article, I will give some of the reasons why I’m one, and review some of the best brands I’ve used through my years of grilling experience. I have used briquettes and gas grills in the past, but lump charcoal is the ultimate grilling fuel as far as I’m concerned.

The Pros and Cons of Lump Charcoal​

​There was a time when roasting or grilling only means briquettes, but recently lump charcoal has become the darling of serious grilling aficionados. There are a lot of reasons for that. Lump charcoal is made by burning real wood in the absence of oxygen. It is a natural process that does not include any additive from who knows where. If your grill has adjustable air vent, you can easily control its temperature because lump charcoal is highly responsive to oxygen.


  • Burns faster and hotter
  • It’s all wood with no additives
  • It leaves very little ash compared to briquette
  • Difficult to control especially for newbies
  • Less consistent compared to briquette
  • Content can vary between bags

All these being considered, I still believe that lump charcoal has more advantages over both gas and briquette. Knowing that I have a very clean burning fuel cooking my meat gives me that peace of mind and an appetite for the food I’m cooking.

How to Choose the Best Lump Charcoal?​

Now if you’re already convinced that lump charcoal is the way to go, your next question would most likely be, “how do I choose?” Now that is a valid question because there are so many brands of lump charcoal out there and it can be mind boggling to decide which one is the best to use. To make things easier for you, here are seven of what I would consider the best brands for your grilling needs. I rated them on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best.​

Made from 100% Missouri hardwood charcoal, I found no fillers when I poured the entire bag for sorting. The size distribution (see chart below) was good and there were little chip and dust falling below the bag.

Large

3.8 pounds

18.3%

Medium

12.0 pounds

55.3%

Small

4.1 pounds

19.8%

Chips/Dust

1.0 pounds

4.6%

Total

20.9 pounds

I find it a bit hard to light this charcoal using pieces of newspaper and the fire was a bit slow to spread. The good thing is, there was no popping or sparking as it climbs to higher temperatures. Another plus to this brand is that the smoke coming out of it is very mild unlike others that will make you teary eyed.

I tried starting it with a MAPP torch and there was some vigorous popping, but all in all, the fire was rather tame. It has the longest burn time and it produces very little ash. The maximum temperature reached up to 900 degrees which is pretty high compared to other brands. All in all, I would give this brand a 4.5 rating.

When I opened this bag and poured its content on the ground, I noticed that there was really nothing that you could consider large among the lump. I immediately found some lean to small sizes and a good amount of medium lump. While the size distribution wasn't really that bad, I would have preferred that they have included a few more large to medium sizes.

Large

0.0 pounds

0%

Medium

7.2 pounds

34.8%

Small

12.0 pounds

51.8%

Chips/Dust

1.5 pounds

7.0%

Total

20.7 pounds

Surprisingly, the charcoal was really easy to light using newspaper sheets. There was no sparking or popping and the smell was typical of American hardwood. There was also really little sparking and popping when I tried using the MAPP torch.

The fire spread rapidly which was expected because it starts easily in the first place. The temperature reached up to 1030 degrees which are way higher compared to other charcoal. The burn time was also high with little ash produced. Except for the lack of large to medium sized lumps, I did not hesitate to give this brand a 4.3 rating.

Since this charcoal came in a huge 35-pound restaurant-sized bag, I was already expecting to see some large and medium-sized lumps and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, some of the large sizes were really huge, I have to use a hammer to reduce its size a bit.

Large

11.1 pounds

31.9%

Medium

18.6 pounds

53.5%

Small

3.5 pounds

9.9%

Chips/Dust

1.6 pounds

4.7%

Total

34.8 pounds

It took me five sheets of newspaper to light this charcoal, which is high compared to other brands. The fire was slow to spread which is also expected for slow starting charcoals and the smoke is relatively mild. The maximum temperature reached up to 859 degrees, an average rate compared to other brands.

When I tried starting it with a MAPP torch, I noticed no sparking and very little popping. The burn time was really high with average amount of ashes produced. All in all, I would give this brand a 4.2 rating because it's somewhat hard to light and the temperature was pretty average.

After I bought my bag of Primo, the first thing I did, as usual, is to pour all its content on the ground for inspection. You can see from the table below that this brand has a very good size distribution with little uncarbonized bits.

Large

2.7 pounds

11.3%

Medium

8.3 pounds

34.8%

Small

10.6 pounds

44.3%

Chips/Dust

1.5 pounds

6.3%

Uncarbonized

0.8 pounds

3.3%

Total

23.9 pounds

This charcoal was relatively easy to start using only 3 sheets of newspaper. This is relatively fast compared to other brands and I noticed no sparking or popping as it burns. I can't put a finger on the mild flavor of the charcoal because it's a mixture of different American hardwood.

Using the MAPP torch, the charcoal presented little sparking and popping and the fire burns fast and spread quickly. In my temperature test, it peaked at 940 degrees with no sparking and popping as it climbs. It has a decent burn time with lesser ash produced. All in all the Primo is a fast starting, hot burning, and low ash-producing charcoal. My only gripe is that it's a bit pricey, but it’s really not that bad if you factor in the long burn time. For all of that, I will give this brand a 4.4 rating.

Can you believe where this charcoal came from? Ukraine. Yes, that's right, Ukraine and I was just so excited to pour out the gut of this Eastern European brand of lump charcoal. When I did, I wasn't disappointed because it has a decent size distribution without any scrap or anything that does not belong to a bag of charcoal.

Large

2.5 pounds

13.9%

Medium

6.2 pounds

35.3%

Small

7.3 pounds

41.5%

Chips/Dust

1.6 pounds

9.3%

Total

17.6 pounds

This brand of charcoal is amazingly easy to light. I used up a sheet of newspaper starting it and there was no sparking or popping as the fire spreads through several lumps. I'm a bit irritated with the strong smell and worried that it might transfer to the food so I allowed it to burn completely before putting the meat.

In my temperature test, it reached up to 1115 degrees which is the third highest among the brands I've tested. This is not surprising considering that it lights really fast. It has a shorter burn time with average ash produced. All in all the Original Natural Charcoal is a decent brand and aside from the strong smell, I will give it a 4.4 rating.

The Black Diamond Charwood is a relatively new brand that I found at a local hardware store and decided to give it a spin. It seems that this brand is trying to copy the size of briquette because when I poured the content out, there were really no large lump sizes. The smaller sizes are actually bordering on medium which is good if you want an evenly spread charcoal. Those who like to have large lump sizes for foundations may not like this brand.

Large

0.0 pounds

0.0%

Medium

0.3 pounds

2.6%

Small

8.5 pounds

76.8%

Chips/Dust

2.3 pounds

20.6%

Total

11.1 pounds

This brand is middle of the road when it comes to lighting speed. It consumed 3.5 sheets of newspaper before really lighting up with a really tame flame. There was also really little smoke with a mild smell which is good if you want to cook something that you don't want to overpower with the smoke. I decided to keep some of this brand as a backup for those times when I want to cook with neutral smoke flavor.

Surprisingly, this charcoal reached a whooping 1121 degrees in my temperature test. This is the second highest temperature ever reached in this series of tests using different charcoal brands. Using the MAPP torch, the Black Diamond burned without any sparking or popping and it also has a pretty decent burn time. I think this brand needs to filter their charcoal better to improve its size distribution and for that, I will give this a 4.2 rating.

The Jealous Devil is perhaps the only brand that gave me an almost perfect size distribution. When I opened the bag and poured its content, I immediately noticed that there were no scraps and uncarbonized pieces and the large sized lumps are just perfect, I don't need to smash it with a hammer to reduce its size. Majority of the pieces are medium sized lumps with very little chips and dust.

Large

3.9 pounds

10.9%

Medium

23.1 pounds

64.7%

Small

7.6 pounds

21.3%

Chips/Dust

1.1 pounds

3.1%

Total

35.7 pounds

This brand of charcoal is amazingly easy to light. I used up a sheet of newspaper starting it and there was no sparking or popping as the fire spreads through several lumps. I'm a bit irritated with the strong smell and worried that it might transfer to the food so I allowed it to burn completely before putting the meat.

In my temperature test, it reached up to 1115 degrees which is the third highest among the brands I've tested. This is not surprising considering that it lights really fast. It has a shorter burn time with average ash produced. All in all the Original Natural Charcoal is a decent brand and aside from the strong smell, I will give it a 4.4 rating.

Final Thoughts

From all the lump charcoal brands that I’ve reviewed, I believe the real winner is the Rockwood Lump Charcoal with a rating of 4.5. All other brands trail a few points behind but they are all good for any of your grilling needs.

When it comes to choosing lump charcoal, try to avoid those that have self-starting lighter fluid added. One of the reasons why you want natural charcoal in the first place is to avoid the smell of chemical additives transferring to your meat. Although some chef would tell you to just let the flammables but off, I don’t see the reason for taking chances. It’s for the same reason that I would also suggest that you avoid flavored charcoal. If you want to go natural, go all the way.

How about you? Do you have some experience with lump charcoal that you’d want to share? Drop a comment or two below and share us your thoughts.​

    Claire J. Ruiz

    I'm Claire, and my passion is cooking. I believe that food is what actually unites people and the dining table is where we set aside our differences. When we eat we become vulnerable because enjoying food requires a different level of trust and surrender to the person preparing your food. Sharing and enjoying food is one of the most intimate experiences in life.​

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