Video: Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes

If you want to ignite an argument among grilling purists, tell them you prefer briquettes over lump charcoal. The resulting lecture, like a slow-burning fuse, will occupy 20 to 30 minutes of your life—just enough time to get that charcoal chimney full of Kingsford fired up and ashed over. I get it. Lump charcoal is great, but as far as I can tell, the best argument for using it is so you can channel your inner hipster and tell everyone how your locally sourced hardwood charcoal was fired by a seventh-generation Appalachian collier you happened upon as you were foraging for ramps.

O.K., I’m kidding. Kind of. Lump charcoal does have its place, and I use it on occasion—typically when I’m using my charcoal grill to smoke something. However, 90 percent of the time, I reach for the briquettes, and here’s why: They’re consistent. Every batch of lump charcoal burns differently and every bag is different in terms of the shape and size of the lumps inside. Each Kingsford briquette is a cookie-cutter of the one next to it, and while burns times vary due to external influences, for the most part I have a pretty good idea of how hot they will get and how long they will last.

This is where the lump advocates will chime in that briquettes are full of all sorts of bad things, like toxic waste or something. They know this for certain because they read it on an Internet forum. My counter is that bags of lump charcoal can contain all sorts of bad things, such as construction waste. I know this for certain because I read it on an Internet forum. Lumpers will also tell you hardwood imparts a better flavor than briquettes—an arbitrary statement that has no backing in science, at least according to this video from ChefSteps.

My point here is there is no right answer when it comes to what type of charcoal is best for grilling. Both have their positives and negatives, and each their advocates. I love my Kingsford, while one of my best friends burns only lump charcoal. Whenever we cook for one another, we both rave about how good each other’s food is. And when it comes to preferred fuel sources, there is one other thing we always agree on—never use instant-light charcoal.