How to Buy Charcoal

How to Buy Charcoal

There are many options when it comes to buying charcoal. From briquettes to lump charcoal to exotic, how do you know which to buy? Where is the best place to buy charcoal? Do you need a small bag for a tabletop grill or a large quantity for a whole hog underground pit? While charcoal doesn’t dramatically impact the flavor of your food, it does affect the heat and how long your food cooks.

where do you buy charcoal?

Charcoal can be found just about anywhere from hardware to sporting goods stores, online and if you’re looking for large quantities of charcoal, check with your local warehouse stores.

what is the best charcoal to buy?

Charcoal grills use three primary kinds of charcoal; lump charcoal, briquettes and match-start charcoal. Which charcoal you choose can affect both the fire inside your grill and the taste of your food.

Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal looks more like chunks of burnt wood than compressed briquettes. It has irregular shapes and sizes, making it difficult to layer evenly. It’s less ashy and tends to burn hotter and faster, which makes for effective searing but can require the addition of more fuel over time. Some types of lump charcoal are made entirely of a single kind of wood, such as mesquite, oak, pecan, hickory, oak and apple making it ideal for smoking. Grillers who prefer it praise lump charcoal as the more natural charcoal. Lump charcoal is clean-burning and produces high heat, making it the preferred type of charcoal for many grillers. It’s made by burning wood in a kiln with very little oxygen over a long period of time to carbonize it without turning it to ash. Unlike briquette charcoal, lump fuel has no fillers or additives that can give food a charred, oily taste with excessive smoke and unpleasant odors.


Briquette Charcoal

The most common type of charcoal is briquettes, typically made using a combination of fillers including sawdust from woods like hickory and mesquite, coal dust and binders that are compressed into a small pillow shape. The variety of woods used to make briquettes provide subtle differences to complement the classic charcoal taste. Uniform in size and shape, they’re easy to stack and arrange as a smooth bed of hot coals for an even, controlled burn. Briquettes burn a little less hot than lump charcoal and can have a chemical smell from the binders, but it typically doesn’t affect the flavor of the food. Not as clean burning as lump charcoal, briquettes leave messy ash residue behind that will need to be cleaned.


Match-Light Charcoal

Match-light charcoal is a briquette that has been saturated with lighter fluid to make it easier to start the fire. We don’t recommend match-light briquettes or using lighter fluid on any kind of charcoal because the gas used in the fluid infuses a chemical taste in food.


Exotic Charcoal

xotic charcoals are imported through specialty shops and can be purchased online. Generally, imported charcoals are chemical-free and burn longer than domestic charcoal.

  • Binchotan, a white charcoal, is traditionally made in Japan from ubamegashi oak. Although it takes a long time to light, it burns very clean and very hot for a long time.

  • Ogatan charcoal, made from the sawdust of fruit-trees in Southeast Asia, are pressed into hexagonal-shaped briquettes with a hollow center. It produces minimal smoke, reaches high temperatures and can burn for hours.

how much charcoal do i need?

A good rule of thumb is about 30 briquettes for small and portable grills and 50 to 75 briquettes for larger grills like barrel and kettle grills. You’ll need to consider how much food you’re cooking and the weather. If you’re planning to keep the food coming, you’ll need more charcoal to keep the fire burning. You’ll also go through more briquettes on a windy or wet day. For best results, always use fresh charcoal. Old charcoal and charcoal that has been exposed to wet weather won’t light as well as fresh charcoal. We don’t recommend lighter fluid because of the taste and the contaminants. So, resist the temptation to douse it with lighter fluid and grab a fresh bag.

How do I light my charcoal without lighter fluid?

If you’ve never lit your charcoal without lighter fluid, you’ll be glad to know that there are a couple of methods that work just as well without petroleum fumes.

  • Electric Charcoal Starter: Electric charcoal starters have a coil that heats the charcoal until it ignites. Plug it in, turn it on and slide it under your coals and they’ll be ready in no time.

  • Canister Charcoal Chimney: charcoal chimneys can get hot coals in less than 15 minutes without lighter fluid or electricity. Place newspaper or other kindling at the bottom of the chimney. Stack the charcoal in the chimney with space between the coals or lumps to allow air to feed the fire. Set it on the grates and light from the bottom. When the charcoal is burning well, using heat-resistant grilling gloves, pour the coals onto the charcoal grates at the bottom of the grill.

  • Charcoal Manager: A charcoal manager contains charcoal in a line or pattern that makes it easier to position and light coals. The compactness of the manager keeps the coals burning longer and hotter.

why use a charcoal grill?

Charcoal grills are usually the most affordable type of outdoor grill. They’re also more portable than other types of grills. Charcoal grills can cook at temperatures of up to 700°F but lack the precise temperature controls of gas or electric grills. Compared to the more precise settings of other fuel types, grilling over charcoal can require a little more experience and artistry.

how do i choose a charcoal grill?

The three basic types of full-size charcoal grills are kettle grills, barrel grills and kamado grills. While all of them are great for grilling, barbecuing and smoking, each type has different features that will factor into your decision. 


Kettle Grills

A kettle grill is the smallest type of charcoal grill. It has a round shape with a bottom bowl that holds the coals, designed for high heat retention. It's the most portable of the full-size charcoal grills. The smaller grilling surface of kettle charcoal grills makes them ideal for smaller groups and faster cooking times.


Barrel Grills

A barrel grill has a barrel-shaped design that gives it a larger cooking area than most kettle grills, making it more suitable for large groups or grilling different types of food at once. It's also more effective for smoking and slow cooking.


Kamado Grills

Kamado grills have an egg-shaped design for heat retention and regulation. They heat up more quickly and have the flexibility for cooking and smoking many different types of food, including pizza and paella. Here are couple of features to look for when choosing your charcoal grill.

  • The dampers or air vents are designed to release exhaust, let oxygen in and regulate the temperature.

  • Hinged grates or side charcoal doors can make it easier to add more fuel.

  • Removable ash catchers make it easier to clean out the grill.

what is the best charcoal grill to buy?

The best charcoal grill to buy is the one that works best for you. Think about how much space you have for your grill will dictate the size of your new grill. What you plan to cook and how much of it you’ll be grilling will help to determine the cooking area you need.

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