Choosing The Right Charcoal For Smoking Meat.

Lit charocal

If you have ever walked the isles at your local Walmart, you will quickly be overwhelmed with the amount of different charcoal on the market. With so many choices, how can you make sure you are choosing the right one?

What is the best type of charcoal for smoking?

Kingsford Original briquets are long lasting, produce an even and steady fire, and are consistent from batch to batch making them the best charcoal for beginners and those looking to smoke low and slow. For the more advanced pitmaster’s, lump charcoal is great for smoking hot and adding a unique flavor.

Kingsford Original

What Is The Difference Between Lump Charcoal And Charcoal Briquettes?

Charcoal has long been a go to for grilling and BBQ. It offers a good heat source and imparts a good flavor into the meat. But with so many different options available, it is important to understand the different types of charcoal. Charcoal is one area where you want to make sure you are getting a quality brand. There are two types of charcoal that are used when smoking meat, lump charcoal, and charcoal briquettes.

What are Charcoal Briquettes?

Charcoal briquettes are made from sawdust, wood by-products, and additives which act as binders to hold the briquette together. The mixture is then compressed into the pillow shaped briquettes we see, and heated to remove the moisture. Then end product is uniformly shaped charcoal briquettes.

Advantages of using charcoal briquettes.


One of the biggest pros of using charcoal briquettes is that you are going to get a consistent fire each time. Each briquette is similar in size, weight, and composition meaning they are going to burn roughly the same. This makes it incredibly easy for you to control your fire. This also means that you are going to get a uniform heat source around you pit.

Stable Temperature Output:

This tags along with the above, but when you buy charcoal briquettes from a reputable brand, the consistency in product results in an even burning fire. This makes it much easier to maintain your temperature as you don’t have to worry about temperature spikes.

Burns/lasts Longer:

Because of the additives used in the briquettes, they are going to burn much longer than lump charcoal. This is incredibly useful when you have a long smoke a head of you. An 18lb bag of Kingsford original can last upwards of 12-14 hours in good conditions.


Charcoal briquettes are much cheaper than lump charcoal. Also because briquettes last longer than lump, You are going to get more for your money when you decide to use charcoal briquettes. Kingsford original can be found at your local retailers or here on Amazon.

Disadvantages of using Charcoal Briquettes

Leaves behind more ash:

Because of the additives used in charcoal briquettes, it is not going to burn as clean and will leave behind more ash.

Chemical Smell/Taste:

When buying charcoal, it is extremely important to buy from a reputable brand and read the packaging to understand what you are getting. Many companies use chemicals as binders and add accelerants to help the charcoal light. These can impart a chemically and unpleasant flavor into the meat you are smoking. look for charcoal without chemical binding agents and accelerants.

They don’t burn as hot:

Because smoking meat is normally done low and slow, this generally isn’t an issue we have to worry about; However, if you wanted to smoke meat hot and fast, lump charcoal might be the way to go.

What is Lump charcoal:

Lump charcoal is created through the careful process of setting wood on fire in an controlled environment to carbonize it, then cutting the fire off before it can turn the wood to ash. This removes all the impurities, sap, and water from the wood leaving behind a great fuel source for BBQ. Lump charcoal is generally made from oak or hickory.

Advantages of using lump Charcoal

No Additives:

Because we are using pure wood with no additives, you are going to get a much cleaner burn than when using charcoal Briquettes. Lump charcoal is as natural as you can get.

Less Ash:

Because there are no additives in lump charcoal, it is going to light much faster and produce less ash.

Better Flavor:

Lump charcoal is whole pieces of wood that have been carbonized. They are generally made from oak or hickory and can impart a better flavor into the meat.

Burns Hot:

When smoking meat, we are generally concerned about low and slow, but there are times when you can benefit from hotter coals. Chicken wings and steaks cook well over lump charcoal.

Disadvantages of using Lump Charcoal.

Temperature spikes:

Lump charcoal comes in uneven sizes, shapes, and densities which can cause uneven heating. There will be areas in your smoker that are hotter than other areas and you will have to deal with temperature spikes.

Burns Faster: Lump charcoal does not burn as efficiently as the briquettes do so you will use more. You may also need to add more through the smoke if doing a longer smoke.

More expensive:

Not only is lump charcoal more expensive than charcoal briquettes per pound, but because lump charcoal burns faster, you will use more. These two combined makes using lump charcoal more expensive.

So, Which Should I Use?

Both lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes have their pros and cons. Either choice is going to allow you to create some awesome BBQ. There is no one better than the other. Which charcoal you use is going to personal preference and what you are smoking. If you are a beginner or you are looking for a steady fire, charcoal briquettes are the way to go.  The consistency it offers is great for learning how to control a fire and allows you to cook low and slow for hours. Once you are more comfortable, give lump charcoal a shot and make your own decision. Whatever you choose, just make sure that it doesn’t have any accelerants or chemicals that will give your food an off taste.

Commonly Asked Questions About Charcoal
Does Charcoal Go Bad?

Charcoal that is properly stored will last indefinitely; However, charcoal can go bad if it collects moisture. Charcoal is extremely porous and absorbs moisture from the rain and humidity. Just as wet wood will not light, charcoal that has absorbed too much water will not light. Some charcoals contain additives and accelerants to help start the charcoal on fire. Over time the accelerant will evaporate. While we strongly urge you to stay away from charcoal with these accelerants, you can expect these types of charcoal to last for 1-2 years.  

How To Properly Store Charcoal.

Because moisture is the enemy of charcoal, it is imperative that you store charcoal in a cool dry place. The garage is a great place to store your charcoal to keep it out of the elements. If you are leaving you charcoal outside, it is best to leave it inside a covered trash can or container. You want something that will keep the rain or humidity out.

How To Properly Light Your Charcoal.

An extremely common mistake that new pitmaster’s make is starting their charcoal with lighter fluid. While some lighter fluids are safe for cooking, they can alter the taste of your BBQ. No on one wants a chemically tasting brisket so it is best to light it using nontoxic fire starter cubes or paper. I also highly recommend picking up a chimney starter. They are affordable and will make it much easier to start your fire. Choose a chimney starter with plenty of holes to allow for sufficient air flow.

Step 1: Fill up your chimney starter with charcoal. If you are smoking low and slow only fill the chimney up halfway with charcoal (approximately 15-20 briquettes.

Chimney Starter

Step 2: Place two fire starter cubes underneath the chimney starter or fill up the lower chamber with newspaper and light it. Then place the chimney starter over top of the flame.

Step 3: Allow the charcoal to catch fire and ember over. After about 15 minutes your charcoal will turn white indicating they are ready to be placed in the fire chamber.

Chimney starter

Step 4: Place lit coals on top of more unlit coals. For longer cooks you can use the minion method or the snake method to slowly expand the fire giving you many hours of cooking time.

Minion method
Can you leave a bag of charcoal in a hot car.

Yes. Charcoal has an autoignition temperature (the lowest possible temperature at which a substance could ignite without an external source such as a spark or flame) of 660° Fahrenheit. Even on the hottest of days, your car’s internal temperature would never come close to 660° F meaning you can safely leave a bag of charcoal in your car.

Michael W.

Half of my family lives in Texas and we would visit them often. As a food lover, naturally I fell in love with smoked meat. Smoked brisket and peach cobbler is a staple around where my family grew up and quickly became a favorite of mine. Unfortunately we didn't have good BBQ where I grew up. After enough years, I finally decided to get a smoker so I didn't have to wait for good BBQ until I went to Texas. Getting into a new hobby can be overwhelming. When I first started smoking meat, there was so much conflicting information and so many different styles and techniques that I didn't know where to start. I started this website to help people BBQ better and learn the ropes by sharing my knowledge and experiences.

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