Well, for starters, I’m going to tell you there are so many different charcoal brands out there, it’s hard to choose the best charcoal for grilling. So, you need to keep in mind a few factors when settling on the best charcoal for grilling your masterpiece.
There are basically two types of charcoal, you’ve got your hardwood lump charcoal and charcoal briquets.
You likely wouldn’t use hard wood because it doesn’t burn hot or long enough for most grilling needs, so it generally not considered the best charcoal for grilling. However, the smoky aroma is an appealing factor when cooking outdoors.
A Review of the Best Charcoal for Grilling
You can always add some wood chips to your fire, but the next best thing to using real wood is using hardwood lump charcoal. It is popular because it has organic properties that many grill masters want. It is made from sawdust, hardwood scraps from sawmills, furniture, and other discarded wood. The wood gets carbonized in different degrees resulting in various sizes. Most imported, more expensive brands are composed of pressed sawdust that is forced into log shapes under pressure then cut into even lump briquettes. While, hardwood lump charcoal isn’t generally considered the best charcoal for grilling, there are pros and cons to using it that you’ll want to consider.
Consideration of Hardwood Lump Charcoal
- Lump can produce a smokier flavor because of some un-carbonized bits of wood remaining in the pieces.
- The bags are lighter because of the various shapes and sizes that leaves more airspace in the bag.
- Considered more natural.
- Comes in more than seventy five brands and can be found in a variety of flavors: coconut shell, cherry, tamarind, and mesquite.
- There aren’t any binders like that of briquettes, which leaves little ash.
- The biggest drawback for me is the price. It is not as readily available as briquette.
- The heat output varies largely with each bag.
- Lump does not burn as hot as charcoal briquettes.
- Many times lump is not carbonized properly, it may have bits of metal, rocks, and many other types of foreign objects that came from the company which worries me that the lump could be from chemically treated wood and there are just too many un knows that I don’t want to cook with.
- Inconsistent results from every bag to bag.
Anyway, give me pure charcoal and I prefer to add my choice of wood to make as much smoke as I want any day! You can call me a control freak if you want to, but I don’t like to leave anything up to chance, it ruins my appetite.
Consideration of Charcoal Briquettes
Next you’ve got the more affordable regularly used Charcoal briquettes. As I have already stated, I like to grill with pure charcoal and add my own hardwood choice to provide that smoke flavor/smell that I love so much.
I have to say if you do not know the history behind the takeoff of the briquette in the 1920’s, you should check it out. The story of sawdust, wood scraps, and car parts (wooden parts if you can believe it) that made back yard barbecue fun and easy makes for some really interesting reading.
Is Kingsford Charcoal the Best Charcoal for Grilling?
Alright, now back to the real reason you are here. You want to know more about the best charcoal for grilling. Well at the top we’ve got The Kingsford Brand.
A little science lesson for you, because I like to know how stuff is made.
They form the briquettes from mixed wood chips from timber mills and sawdust. After the charring process the “char” gets crushed, cooked, and mixed with little amounts of something called anthracite coal which is basically pure carbon, borax, sawdust, starch, sodium nitrate, and mineral charcoal. Those ingredients added to the char are the binders. It makes for easier ignition, steady consistent burning, and more efficient manufacturing.
- Provides a steady reliable heat source. The amount per bag doesn’t vary as it does with the irregular shaped lump. You can easily measure how many briquettes you will need every time you grill, and knowing that saves time and money. For instance I know right off the bat that my Weber chimney holds pretty close to five quarts, well that’s about 80 briquettes. Knowing that I can tell you the heat output is consistent per pound, so in the unpredictable environment of cooking outdoors I prefer the reliability of working with briquettes. This is what I call setting up for success.
- Can be purchased (at a slightly higher cost) in a competition form, which burn hotter, ignite a bit faster, and produce less ash.
- Charcoal briquettes are available from many reliable brands at a significantly lower cost than lump, and although not widely available, but still less expensive is the 100% all natural hardwood briquettes that are made from just char and starch. (Duraflame Real Hardwood Briquets, Royal Oak, and Wicked Good, are some that I’ve used and like.)
- Briquets make more ash than lump.
- Some people say that they can tastes the binding additives in the food. (I cannot)
- Some brands like MatchLight have added mineral spirits to help ignite the charcoal. It is government regulated, but I don’t recommend using it. I believe that unlike the above mentioned brands it smells horrible, can taint the food, and is dangerous.
After choosing the best charcoal for grilling, lighting the grill is the next step.
As you can see, it can be tough to choose the best charcoal for grilling. Once you determine, which charcoal you’ll use, it’s time to learn how to light a charcoal grill. I think the absolute best way to go is to use a chimney for lighting the charcoal briquettes and adding your own wood.
How to Light a Charcoal Grill
Tip #1: When learning how to light a charcoal grill, remember to always start with a clean grill!
The easiest way to light charcoal to me is with a chimney charcoal starter. It is a cylinder shaped device that has a handle and some models actually work with the push of a button to start the fire. There generally are two compartments or sections. The bottom part is where you will place some newspaper. There are vent holes in the bottom part so that the newspaper can burn. The charcoal will steadily burn and heat up the grill consistently.
How to Light a Charcoal Grill: Step by Step Tutorial with Charcoal Chimney Starter
Gather your tools men. You’ll be needing a charcoal grill, chimney charcoal starter, charcoal briquettes, and some old newspaper.
You want to start with new, fresh charcoal. Once you remove the grill cover and the top grate that you will be cooking your food on, then you need to light your chimney.
You are gonna want to crumple some of the newspaper up and place it in the lower part of the chimney starter, the part that is in the bottom and has the vent holes.
Set the chimney starter on the bottom grate in your grill. Using a long match or a utility lighter you want to light only the newspaper by sticking the flame from the lighter or match through one of the vent holes.
Let the flames in the lower part of the chimney ignite the coals. Once the smoke has cleared and you see that the top of the coals are lit. Make sure to put on an oven mitt, then you can grab the handle and turn over the chimney. If you see that the chimney has gotten so hot that it is red, just wait until it cools down before you try to turn it over.
Pour the hot coals onto the grate and distribute evenly by spreading them evenly on that bottom grate. Replace your top grill to start cooking. Set the chimney somewhere out of reach to cool before messing with it again.
Another way to light your charcoal takes a little more creativity, but can be done by using things around the house.
You should start by placing your kindling (crumpled newspaper or wood tinder) along the bottom of the brazier or kettle.
You need to make sure to lay enough down so that it will burn for a while, but not too thick that there isn’t enough airspace for the flames to build and grow.
It’s easy to get an evenly distributed fire going by dropping matching on top of the pile of kindling in various places, using long matches, or a long utility lighter.
Once you have gotten a nice little fire going after a few minutes put down a layer of charcoal, not too much to stifle the flames. Slowly build upon the layers of coal according to the amount of food or length of time you’ll be needing to keep the heat going for your barbecue.
Remember when lighting your grill using newspaper as kindling, the newspaper could spark and you should take precaution not to catch your house on fire! Be aware of your surroundings, do not have your grill under low hanging branches or leafy plants.
If that thought is worrisome to you, like you wouldn’t believe how many insurance claims there are for fires that reportedly started by backyard barbecue disasters every year. Try a few napkins sprinkled with cooking oil and surrounded by your charcoal instead or take a bunch (twelve or so briquettes) of charcoal in a cardboard egg carton, light that and voila’ you’re good to go.
Some Final Tips on How to Light a Charcoal Grill
The only alternative to the two previous methods that I mentioned before are either using self-igniting charcoal such as Match Light brand. Always keep in mind with any method you choose, it’s important that your grill is on a flat surface. Have a bucket of water handy, and be mindful of children and pets. Always remove any hot items and find a heat resistant place to put them out of the way while cooling. Make sure that you also utilize protective gear like oven mitts and tongues to prevent burns.
Now there are two other ways that many people who do not care about the horrible smell and are not bothered by the potential dangers of these methods use to light their charcoal: By using an accelerant such as lighter fluid, gasoline, or mineral spirits. A friend of mine recently suffered third degree burns from a fire that caught on while he was cutting his grass, the lawnmower sparked igniting a blazing fire that engulfed him. Before he knew it he was being life transported to the nearest burn unit, what does that have to do with me you say? Well I’d just feel better if you didn’t tempt fate, that’s all I’m saying.
I do not think it is wise to light a grill using any chemical solvents, so please do not use that method. That being said there are easy igniting brands of charcoal like Match Light for example. You simply open the bag or bags depending on the amount of briquettes you’ll be needing for your barbecue, place them along the bottom grate a top the opened bag, lining them up in a pyramid or cone shape and simply light the bag with the utility lighter or long matches.
Clearly, I am not a fan of using brands like Match Light. I don’t like the chemical solvent smell they produce, even if it doesn’t taint or effect the taste of the food the smell ruins my appetite. I think the most effective way to light the charcoal is using the chimney starter, it is by far the safest, most predictable way to get the grill going. I would never try to light my grill using gasoline or kerosene or any other such nonsense. I want you to learn what works best for you, always be safe, and go forth producing some awesome smoky flavored gorgeous BBQ that’s tasty enough to have the neighbors lining up to see what’s cooking. That’s why learning how to light a charcoal grill is critical.
I personally think charcoal’s one true purpose is for providing heat, not flavor. You should focus more on the quality of the food you are cooking with and the meat more than the charcoal. Once you’ve got good meat and you season it well, then you’re cooking. I can tell you the award winning guy’s that I have asked tend to all have the same response. Either like me, they buy whatever’s on sale, or they use which ever brand is being sponsored for free that day in the competition. (Usually Kingsford on both counts). Thats why so many consider Kingsford the best charcoal for grilling: price and performance.
Take over the cooking in your house for a week. Practice working with some of the products I’ve mentioned above. The point is the main objective here is to find whatever you are most comfortable working with so that you can master your craft and barbecue like a pro!