Choosing the right fuel for your BBQ is critical. Not only does it provide the heat source for you to cook your food over, but also imparts a flavour to your food just like any other ingredient.
What is the difference between BBQ Lumpwood Charcoal and Charcoal Briquettes?
Lumpwood charcoal is pure carbon created by heating wood in the absence of oxygen. Heating wood in this environment removes water, gasses and other substances to leave you with dry lumps of carbon. The lumps of carbon, known as ‘Char’ burn hotter and more consistently than simply burning wood making it perfect for cooking on your BBQ.
Charcoal Briquettes are made from the same carbonised wood that is ground down and formed into the famous pillow shaped briquette. This form of fuel is generally bound using natural ingredients such as starch. As they are tightly formed, they burn at a slower rate extending your cook time but still provide enough heat to cook over.
Why Quality Matters
Unfortunately, not all lumpwood charcoal or briquettes are made equal. Some fuels are treated with accelerants to make them “easier to light” however these can taint your food. These products are often labelled ‘Easy light’ but in my experience, a good quality natural product will light easily in a chimney starter so there is no need for these accelerants.
Lumpwood charcoal burns hot and fast for around one hour. Whilst it’s possible to control how quickly lumpwood burns by controlling the airflow, it can be a little difficult to master for long cooks. If you are simply cooking up a couple of steaks or a few burgers then you can’t beat lumpwood. It is generally made from hardwoods such as Acacia or Mahogany but some producers also create fruit wood charcoals. Each different variety of charcoal has its own flavour profile so it’s great to experiment with different food / charcoal combinations. Think of your charcoal as another ingredient and choose your variety accordingly.
Try to aim for a restaurant grade charcoal. This will have been graded both in size and quality to a much higher standard than some of the cheaper, supermarket brands. You should also look out for charcoal that has been sourced from a sustainable source, usually identified with the FSC logo on the bag. These products have to meet certain standards to ensure the forests they are soured from are being managed properly.
If you are cooking for anything over an hour, the easiest way to maintain that temperature inside your BBQ is to use briquettes as they will burn more consistently for a longer period of time. They are all uniform in shape so each briquette should give you the same amount of heat.
They are made to burn for a long time – usually around 2.5-3 hours at a steady temperature. In the end its all about experimenting and understanding that the Charcoal you use is not a commodity but an important ingredient you cannot afford to ignore if you love BBQ.