Who doesn’t love a little smokey meat now and then?
One of the best ways to get a nice smokey flavor in your cooking but without having to keep an eye on a smoker all day long is to grab a grill and some charcoal.
We know that getting just the right mix of ash, smoke, and heat is tricky, so we’ve gathered up all the best lump charcoal options for you to make your decisions more easily.
Why do we love charcoal grilling? It’s simple — a gas grill will never be able to give you that truly incredible, best-bareque-you’ve-ever-had flavor quite like a charcoal grill or smoker can.
But what is lump charcoal, and how do I choose a good option for it?
Don’t worry bro, we’ve got you covered.
(Now go uncover your air vent on your grill because you’ve got that covered too much!)
Top 10 Best Lump Charcoal Options For 2021
- Fogo Premium Oak Restaurant All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
- All-Natural Hardwood
- Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
- Ultra-Dense South American Hardwoods
- Kamado Joe KJ-CHAR30LB Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
- Hardwood blend (Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, and White Quebracho)
What Is Lump Charcoal?
Lump charcoal is really just what it sounds like — miscellaneous wood lumps. They may be scraps from a saw mill or leftover scrap pieces from furniture making.
But it’s not just wood; it’s been “cooked” to perfection (i.e burned for long hours in an oxygen-free environment) and turned into pretty much pure carbon. So these random scraps of branches and hunks of wood are not going to waste, and you can feel good about helping save the environment by helping repurpose this byproduct.
The reason you want to know this, is because just like the word “lumpy” sounds uneven, lump charcoal is NOT going to offer you exactly uniform shapes. If you want a consistent army of burning blocks, go with briquettes instead.
Charcoal briquettes, on the other hand, get “cooked” just about the same way, but they’re made of waste wood and sawdust and are shaped to be uniform on purpose.
Is Lump Charcoal Better Than Charcoal Briquettes?
This is up to personal preference more than anything, but let’s lay out some pros and cons of the two types.
(If you really want to get into this deeper than most, you can check out a comprehensive comparison from NPR, here. )
Lump Charcoal Advantages:
- Often burns hotter than briquettes, which may be useful for high-heat cooking needs
- Pure wood = no additives, since none are added during production (no lighter fluids, no additives that hold the shape together, etc)
- Responds well to oxygen adjustment, making it easy to control cooking temp
- Relatively clean burn with little ash production
- Lights quickly
Lump Charcoal Disadvantages:
- Pieces in any given bag are often very uneven sizes; may cause hot spots during cooking
- More expensive
- Faster burn time since it isn’t compacted during production
- Long burn time due to compact nature
- Compacted during production means more steady temperature during cooking
- Less expensive
- Messy; lots of ash production while burning
- Additives may give off a chemical smell while burning, may taint food flavor
- Lights less readily
So for this article, since it’s a slight winner in our book, we’re going to dive into the best lump charcoal and leave the briquette options for another day.
This is the best charcoal on the list because of the 100% South American hardwood that it’s made of. These are ultra-dense woods that offer a nice long burn time.
You’ll find this to be one of the best lump charcoal for smoking meats since that extra density helps it last about 20 or more hours in a smoker! At about 30% more dense than oak or hickory, you’ll love the extra clean burn and mild smokey flavor it adds to brisket.
Here’s an unexpected bonus feature with this best lump charcoal option: the bags are waterproof and UV-resistant, PLUS resealable. No more paper bags that get forgotten on the patio and ruined in the rain!
Fogo makes a solid contender here, and it’s the best lump charcoal for kamado grills on our list.
What makes it great for kamado is its medium to smaller sized pieces, designed specifically with ceramic Kamado grills in mind. The all-natural hardwood is dense enough to get to high heat but not too hot such that the kamado grills would retain too high of a temperature and just burn out fast.
These fast-lighting lumps will get you up to a great cooking temp in no time and stay there for a while, without needing to worry about cracking your ceramic beauty.
Here’s a nice option for nice bigger chunks, which tend to be a little harder to find.
Kamado Joe XL lump charcoal boasts about 18 hours of burn time and can be reused up to three times. Not every lump charcoal can say that!
The hardwoods blended here exotic breeds, offering a definitely unique grilling experience if you’re used to just using a more standard smoking wood like oak or hickory!
What we like about this option is that it’s a nice mix of some solid hardwood choices, which is important if you’re going to start taking smoking meats seriously. With renewable oak, hickory, maple, and walnut, you’ll get a nice smokey flavor without anything overpowering in the mix!
This is great for getting up and running, since you’ll be ready in about 15 minutes or so! It does burn a little quicker than we’d like though. We also love the noticeable light dust amount in the bag during use. Much nicer than some other brands!
Cowboys are notorious for being tough outdoorsmen, so now’s your chance to be one too.
This is one of our best choice lump charcoal options with 100% natural hardwoods to burn hot but clean. This lump charcoal is also made from renewable sources, which is a nice thought as well as a high-quality product!
It sometimes has a less than desired scent while burning, but it does not seem to alter the flavor of the meats so we won’t knock that much.
These charcoal lumps seem to burn a little “messier” than others — more pops and such — but it often comes with larger pieces than many other options on this list. If you’re looking for larger lumps (and hotter temps) then this may be the best option for you.
The single-wood flavor makes for a predictable finish to the meats you’re smoking, which isn’t the same when you’re using a mix of multiple hardwoods with a medley flavor.
We also like how little dust there seems to be with this brand, so it’s definitely up there as a best choice lump charcoal option.
Here you’ll find a unique wood type to make these lumps — Quebracho wood.
What the heck is that you ask?
Well, it’s simply a Spanish word to describe a “very hard wood tree,” sometimes called “axe-breaker” wood. I think that has us covered in terms of understanding why this makes for a great burn time/heat, and why the name “Harder Charcoal” is all too accurate.
As far as sourcing, if that’s important to you, this brand boasts never cutting down a living tree (maybe just because they don’t want to break any axes…?).
Regardless of sourcing, this is a nice dense wood that offers long-lasting heat without lots of smoke or pops. Density counts!
We like that this hardwood lump charcoal offers a more predictable smoked finish, unlike some options on this list. It offers a blend of apple, cherry, and oak hardwoods, which will lend itself to a truly delightful finish to whatever you’re grilling or smoking.
This brand does boast minimal ash, smoke, and sparks, which makes for a nice cooking experience all around.
We also love that this brand has their “100% Sizzling Guarantee” — basically if your finished beef or pork ribs aren’t “heaven in your mouth” they’ll refund you in full.
That’s definitely worth trying this brand, if for no other than reason than imagine the disappointment when you can’t demand the refund because it is heaven in your mouth! Yum.
Here we have perhaps the only organic option on our list, which makes you think a little bit.
These are called “center cut” because they are only cut from the center of the hardwoods, such that no bark, branches, etc. will end up in your bag of lump charcoal.
While it’s not necessarily one of the best lump charcoal Amazon offers, it may be one of the most consistent in size — they are essentially more like a uniform briquette size at about 3 inches each, but they’re still technically a lump charcoal in a box.
Whether it’s just due to the wood choice or the shape/size of these pieces, we like the cleaner burn and the consistent heat you can get with this lump charcoal.
We like the reusable nature of this lump charcoal, but don’t let that fool you. Despite being described as “weigh[ing] less,” this charcoal boasts up to 36 hours burn time, and can burn hotter than anticipated.
This charcoal does not burn as clean as others, however, producing more smoke until they’ve burned down some, so this is not the ideal choice for slow-smoked meats. That said, I’m not sure I’d gamble on a nice brisket with this option.
It does seem to have more consistent sizes within the bag, which is a nice way to blend that advantage of briquettes with all the benefits of using lump charcoal instead.
Lump Charcoal Education Center – FAQ
Why Should You Use Lump Charcoal For Grilling?
As you’ve seen in the beginning of the article, the ability to avoid additives and chemicals is a huge reason to use lump charcoal for grilling.
But when you factor in how long it takes to start the grill up and how hard your grill model is to adjust temperatures, it’s up to you to make the final call. If you’re looking for a high-heat sear, then lump charcoal is the way to go, without question.
What Makes For Good Lump Charcoal?
The best lump charcoal options are made of strong and dense hardwoods, to ensure a longer burn time and a more consistent burn (which means more even cooking temperatures with less adjustment on your part).
Finding pieces that look like they’re part of furniture or a house is definitely acceptable — these are some of the sustainable sources of charcoal since saw mills that make these pieces will pretty much always have some waste pieces.
To use them as charcoal for cooking instead of just throwing them in a landfill is excellent for the greater good (and your wallet).
Where Is My Charcoal Sourced From? Is It Sustainable?
You’ve probably noticed a few different ways the above lump charcoal options are sourced.
One specifically mentioned not cutting down living trees. By harvesting only from fallen trees, instead of cutting down living trees, you’re letting nature do what it needs to do, and you’re also getting wood that was closer to dried out carbon in the first place, so it’s less processed than others.
If you can find sustainably sourced lump charcoal, this means the manufacturer is finding ways to protect our forests and rainforests. This not only helps the Earth but helps ensure that we’ll never see a day when lump charcoal doesn’t exist (shudder).
Does The Species Make A Difference In Flavor?
Absolutely, the species makes all the difference in the flavor! Pecan wood lump charcoal will lend a pecan (i.e. nutty) flavor to your finished meat, whereas something like cherry offers a more sweet but mellow flavor.
Choose the right wood for smoking meat based on what you want your final product to taste like.
Should I Get A Single Species Or A Mixed Hardwoods Lump Charcoal?
This really comes down to flavor preference first, but don’t forget to consider burn time/heat.
Some hardwoods will burn faster than others, and some will lend more flavor than others.
You’ll have an easier time finding good options for lump charcoal if you go with mixed hardwood lump charcoal, but if you’re dead set on a single-species option, be prepared to spend a little more time finding it and a little more money buying it.
Does The Species Make A Difference In Burning Temperatures?
Yes. different species have slightly different densities to their wood, which affects how long as well as how hot they burn.
As a side note, make sure to account for that when you’re buying your charcoal and setting up — you’ll need to plan ahead and also watch your air vents to maintain temperature when you switch wood types.
Should I Buy Bigger Lump Charcoal Or Smaller Lumps?
As they say, bigger is better. Most of the time.
Typically you’ll want larger lump charcoal since it will burn longer as well as burn hotter. if you’re looking for a lower-temp burn and don’t plan to smoke or grill for quite as long (think a low, slow roast), then you might find that smaller chunks are what you need.
When in doubt, go big.
How Should I Store My Lump Charcoal?
The biggest thing to think about when storing any kind of charcoal is to keep it dry. Avoid wet areas, storing it outside, or in very high humidity environments.
If it does get wet, spread it out and lay it in the sun to dry. You don’t want to risk it getting moldy and cooking that off into your food.
Final Thoughts On The Best Lump Charcoal
If you’re new to using charcoal and you want to get the best results right off the bat, you’ll be making a great choice if you go with our first recommendation, the Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal.
Between the solid burn time and the basically ideal storage that the new bag design offers, you’re essentially 100% all set to get grilling, right off the bat. That’s the perfect setup for both beginners and old pros alike!