Holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics, loves traveling and learning new languages. Fluent in Spanish, is learning French and Czech at the moment. Enjoys exploring national cuisines every time he visits new countries.
Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous online and offline grilling masterclasses runs his own BBQ accessories shop.
Last updated: May 18, 2021
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Who doesn’t know that the whole point of smoking your barbecue and steaks is to have that deep smoky flavor of the charcoal to get into your food? The right kind of charcoal is the secret ingredient for a tasteful barbecue, which is why selecting it carefully is essential for a mouthwatering smoked meal. You can find two charcoal kinds that work best for smoking, the ones made from either briquette charcoal or lumber charcoal.
To save you from the exhausting trial and error period before you finally land upon the best charcoal for smoking, we have made your job easier by short-listing the top-rated options you can buy.
We carefully considered some important features like the type of charcoal and what it is made of because both factors determine the weight, burning time, and temperature. We also checked each product’s weight because it will help users pick charcoal according to personal preferences.
Made from: hand-picks and hand-cuts dense South American hardwoods
Bag weight: 20 lbs.
Max temperature: over 1,000°F
More features: more than 3 hours of burn time in open grills and over 12 hours in smokers or Kamados, produces low ash with little to no sparks or pops, water-resistant, re-sealable packaging with carry handle
This lump charcoal is an excellent choice for smoking your food to perfection, with the flavor-enhancing chunks that burn hotter and longer than regular charcoal. You will get about 3-12 hours of burn time, depending on your grill, and a maximum temperature of over 1,000°F.
You will not find better quality and purer product for smoking than the Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal because it is ultra-dense and free of chemicals, fillers, and scrap. This 100% pure lump charcoal is made from hand-picked and hand-cut dense South American hardwoods. A bag of Jealous Devil weighs 20lbs.
What are its best features? Our favorite thing about this charcoal is that it produces minimum ash, and therefore, it is an efficient source of energy. With little to no sparks, pops, and snaps, this charcoal makes for a flare-free and safe pick for fueling your smoker or grill. We absolutely love that it is waterproof and adds a mild smoky flavor to your food without overpowering the taste! It also comes in reusable packaging with a user-friendly handle for easy carrying.
What could be improved? The only downside of this charcoal is that the chunks are not as big as some grillers might prefer.
This charcoal for smoking is one of the best options out there, with its artisan-crafted extra-large blocks that are perhaps the biggest you will find. The lump charcoal blocks are all-natural as the title promises, made from a blend of three kinds of heavy and big hardwood pieces of Guayacan, Guayaibi, and Quebracho.
The high density of these wood chunks allows them to burn slowly but for longer periods. The purity of this charcoal makes it light easily and quickly. The Kamado Joe charcoal can reach a maximum temperature of 750°F, and the bag weighs 20 lbs.
Why is it special? The best feature of this product is the large charcoal size and burn time of 16-18 hours, making it perfect for commercial use. It also burns cleaner than regular lump charcoal, producing better tasting smoke. The high density of these lumps makes them reusable, making for an efficient, fuel-saving, and long-lasting product.
What are the flaws? Unfortunately, a few users reported that they received this charcoal with damaged packaging. Still, this was a rare issue.
This premium-quality lump charcoal for smoking is made from hand-picked and large blocks of dense American hardwoods that bring out a unique and delicious flavor in your barbecue. The 35lb bag contains large chunks of lump charcoal that lights quickly and burns for long. On top of that, the product has excellent burning properties that aid your cooking experience, such as a high burning temperature, reaching a maximum of 600°F, which remains constant.
What makes it stand out? The unique oaky flavor of smoked hardwood makes your meals taste as good as restaurant-quality food, and the excellent burning properties make for a user-friendly product. It takes a mere 15 minutes to be ready for smoking your food to perfection. Additionally, the bag is heavy and contains more charcoal for less money. It produces no sparks, which makes it safe.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind? The only downside of this lump charcoal for smoking is that the chunks can be too big for small grills and need to be broken down before use, which is difficult with hardwood charcoal.
This is yet another all-natural lump charcoal made from a blend of different woods to give your food the perfect smoky flavor. The 20lbs bag goes a long way because you can reuse the charcoal. One of the best qualities of this charcoal is that it is great for camping and long hours of grilling because it lights quickly even in cold temperatures and outdoors and burns hotter than regular lumps. It is free of tars, which considerably improves user experience.
What are its best features? Apart from the mouthwatering smoky flavor it gives your food, what we liked most about this charcoal is that it is an efficient fuel for your Kamado style grills and smokers because a single load can be used multiple times.
What could be improved? The only thing that could improve buyer experience is specifying the maximum heating temperature of these lumps because most people follow specific recipes that require a certain burning temperature.
One of the best things about this lump charcoal is that it is pure, made from all-natural woods. The product is made from a blend of oak, hickory, and maple hardwoods, which give a distinct smoky flavor that is free of any chemical aftertastes like coals with additives. Each bag of the Cowboy Hardwood Lump Charcoal weighs 8.8lbs. One of the users’ favorite things about this charcoal is that it is easy to clean your smoker after cooking with it because it causes a minimum mess.
Why is it special? We really liked how this charcoal is versatile in terms of flavor, making it perfect for cooking a variety of meats and types of barbecues. It has the ability to influence flavor quickly, reducing smoking time, and helps your food retain its moisture.
Its natural properties also enable it to light quickly and heat up for cooking within 15 minutes. The temperature of this charcoal remains constant and burns for a long time, even in cold weather, making it perfect for chilly evenings and camp-side grilling.
What are the flaws? One problem people might face while using this charcoal is that the altered meat aroma might be not to everyone’s taste.
This charcoal for smoking is popular among users for its superior performance, such as fast lighting and consistent temperature maintenance. With the main ingredients like 100% natural North American real wood, this charcoal is organic and free of chemical flavors. The natural wood properties of this charcoal enable it to heat up within 15 minutes for cooking, proving to be excellent for a fast and easy barbecue fix. One bag of these long-burning briquettes weighs 7.7lbs.
What makes it stand out? We really liked that this charcoal has a natural composition, even though it is briquette. Therefore, it has no extra chemical ingredients that might affect the flavor of your meat adversely. It is shaped with grooves and edges that enable it to light faster and transfer the heat to all briquettes evenly. These briquettes retain their shape, creating almost no mess. The affordable price of this product is another plus point.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind? One downside of this briquette charcoal for smoking is that it requires a lighter fluid to light, which can result in some unpleasant notes to the flavor of your meat.
This is Thai-style briquette charcoal in log form, made from orchard grown rambutan fruitwood, which is a budget-friendly alternative to pricey Japanese binchotan. One of the best properties of Thai charcoal is that it burns at a high temperature (400°F) consistently but doesn’t compromise on the burn time for foods like bacon that require slow grilling. The 22lb pack lasts for a long time due to the long-burning properties of these charcoal logs.
What are our favorite features? This product is environmentally friendly, and it produces less ash, saving you time because you won’t have to spend a lot of it on cleaning the smoker. The fruity notes of this charcoal add a unique and exquisite flavor to fish and other meats.
What could be better? One con of this product is that the packaging is not durable enough. A few customers reported that they received the charcoal with many broken logs.
This lump charcoal is one-of-a-kind, made to produce no irritating smoke when it burns in the grill, saving you from watery. This feature makes the Original Natural Charcoal Hardwood Lump Charcoal particularly suitable for people who are sensitive to smoke.
Made from a blend of apple, cherry, and oak tree wood, this lump charcoal is free of all chemicals and additives that often produce a bad aftertaste. It is ideal for foods like fish and poultry that require a high cooking temperature for smoking because this charcoal can go up to a maximum temperature of 1115 °F. Each bag of these hot burning lumps weighs 17.6 lbs.
What do we love it for? This is a sustainable and eco-friendly product, and the trees are simply pruned instead of chopped down for making this charcoal. It doesn’t produce any smoke and also has no sparks! On top of that, the fast shipping of this product makes it popular among buyers.
What were we disappointed with? The high temperature needs careful and expert cooking skills because it burns up quickly, causing the food to have a sharp and strong smell.
This is natural briquette charcoal in log form made from natural hardwood sawdust, and it is free of all artificial chemicals and flavor enhancers. The natural properties of the CHARBLOX Ultra Premium Long-Lasting Charcoal allow it to burn for long periods, making it perfect for foods that require slow smoking, such as bacon. Next, a box of these dense charcoal logs weighs 11 lbs. With a maximum heating temperature of 800°F, this charcoal classifies as a hot burning alternative to regular briquettes.
What do we love it for? Our favorite thing about these logs is that they heat up quickly and have a high burning temperature. They are also eco-friendly and free of any harmful toxins that may harm your food or the environment. You can cook at different temperatures using these logs, making them suitable for a variety of foods.
What were we disappointed with? One downside of these logs is that they are only a one-time use product, and you cannot reuse them.
This natural lump charcoal for smoking burns fast, hot, and long to aid you when cooking outdoors. Made from natural hardwood, these lumps produce little to no ash, and the chemical-free composition makes it safe and has better tasting results. The 20lb bag of the Mali gourmet charcoal contains pieces that you can reuse multiple times, making for a long-lasting product. But the maximum temperature that these lumps can reach is not specified.
What stands out? These are great for ceramic Kamado grills and smokers because they are binder and chemical-free. Also, these lumps are the best for cooking foods that require low temperatures, and it makes it simpler to control the process. They have a mild smoke and ensure no sparks or pops.
What cons did we manage to find? One thing that can be improved in this charcoal is the size of the lumps. The pack has only a few large pieces and mostly medium or small-sized pieces.
Things to Consider
Grilling is not just an extra step to make the food taste better – it is a hobby for some people who like to experiment and explore new tastes and ways of smoking meat. In order to get the best tasting results, you need to check all the must-haves of a great grilling experience, which includes the right kinds of charcoal for smoking. It might seem simple, but finding just the proper smoky flavor and favorable cooking properties in charcoal can be a difficult task. But once you find the perfect charcoal for smoking, there is no going back to a regular one that only achieves a mediocre smoky flavor!
Lump charcoal vs. briquettes
Charcoal for smoking can come in two types that are best for this job – lump charcoal and briquette charcoal, which can be further broken down into log form. Lump charcoal is usually made by burning wood, while briquette charcoal is made from the byproducts of burnt wood and may have some additives as well.
Lump charcoal is usually dry and rich in carbon, which is why it burns cleaner than briquettes. Briquette charcoal, on the other hand, is made from leftover wood and some filler that enable manufacturers to give it a uniform shape, which can sometimes look like logs.
Briquette charcoal is less pure, which makes it cheaper than lump charcoal but less tasteful. The artificial additives allow briquette charcoal to burn longer, but lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes.
Ingredients like sawdust allow briquettes charcoal to maintain a steady hot temperature, and the small particles make them denser. The even shape of briquette charcoal may hinder the fire to grow, which is why they need to be strategically stacked in a pyramid shape.
Due to the purity of lump charcoal, it is always better for a more authentic smoky flavor.
How to pick the best charcoal for smoking?
The best way to look for charcoal for smoking is to make sure it has all-natural properties and burns clean. You should look for some basic features like density, composition, and burning properties, including fast heating, high maximum temperature, and long burning time.
It’s important to avoid any additives and artificial ingredients because they not only alter the taste of your food but also make the charcoal burn out quickly and cannot be added during cooking due to the lighter fluid needed for preparation. Try to look for natural options that are eco-friendly.
What is it made from?
Charcoal for smoking is usually made from different kinds of hardwoods, like oak, maple, and other natural hardwoods that give it the woody smokiness for a perfectly grilled barbecue. According to experts, Mangrove and Mallee are the best woods to use for making charcoal for smoking because of their low smoke production.
You can either make briquette or lump charcoal from natural materials like hardwood. But you should be careful of any extra chemicals, artificial additives, and fillers because they can change the taste of your food. For example, the Original Natural Charcoal Hardwood Lump Charcoal is a fantastic eco-friendly option. A rule of thumb is to avoid charcoals that require lighter fluids to start because they leave a nasty aftertaste.
Density does not just mean weight. Dense charcoal means that they have a higher composition of charcoal, which translates to better quality. The greater biomass in each piece allows dense pieces to burn for a longer time and at higher temperatures, such as seen with the Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal, compared to lighter and less concentrated lumps.
One way to determine the density of the charcoal is to look at the lump or chunk size. Larger lumps are less dense, making the density and particle size inversely proportional. Smaller charcoal particles will be more tightly packed and dense, so they burn longer and hotter.
Packaging and bag weight
The packaging is an important consideration, especially for big bags, because it directly affects how easily storable they will be.
Since charcoal absorbs water well, you need to make sure that the bag they are kept in is airtight and waterproof, or at least, you should store it in a dry place.
To save yourself from the hassle of storing your charcoal in an airtight container, you can look for a product that comes in a user-friendly bag that has a handle for easy handling, a re-sealable opening for effective storage, and a water-resistant bag to keep the charcoal dry and safe. The Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal is a great example here that comes in a re-sealable bag.
Another important thing to consider is whether the bag can be recycled and if it’s eco-friendly or not, because sustainable and environmentally-conscious shopping is always the better choice. The weight of the bag determines how much charcoal you are paying for.
The temperature is a make or break factor when it comes to smoking and grilling food. It determines how well cooked your meat will turn out to be, so it is definitely one of the most important features to consider in the charcoal you buy. Some modern grills allow you to control the temperature with an adjustable chute, but it is still a tricky job because various products have different burning properties that can take some time to get accustomed to.
It is best to know how quickly, how hot, and for how long charcoal tends to burn before using so that you cook and set your grills accordingly. This is also important to consider if you are buying charcoal to cook some specific kinds of meat, like fish or poultry, which usually require high cooking temperatures. For instance, the Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal can achieve 600°F and maintain it consistently.
The charcoal’s calorie output tells you a lot about the kind of smoking fuel it will make because it directly affects the energy output of the charcoal. Low-calorie charcoal can be used as well, but they are not the best for smoking. Charcoal with a high-calorie output translates into better and more relaxed burning, which can be seen in the better results of your food. For example, the CHARBLOX Ultra Premium Long-Lasting Charcoal offers over 7300 kcal/g.
Manufacturers may feel inclined to add chemicals and additives that increase the calorie output. This may adversely affect the aroma, as well as the taste, which is why it is best to get charcoal made from hardwoods that naturally produce a high-calorie output.
This feature is important to consider because it affects the user experience. More ash means more mess and more cleaning to do after smoking your food. And frankly, no one likes the clean-up part of grilling. In fact, most people dread this part.
The prices of smoking charcoal can vary depending on the type, materials, and shipping. Lump charcoal is usually more expensive than briquette because it is made from all-natural hardwood and no artificial chemicals. You can find the likes of the Kamado Joe All Natural Big Block Argentinian XL Premium Charcoal at about $40 per bag. As for the briquettes, the Kingsford Original product can be found at $25. The features like bag weight, sourcing, and rare wood ingredients can all contribute towards the price.
Charcoals can last from 5 to 12 hours after you ignite them. But charcoals can burn out quickly when used in a smoker. Generally, charcoals tend to burn out within 2 hours when used in a smoker or a grill. Well-smoked meals require slow, steady, and long cooking, which is why some charcoals specifically made for this purpose, such as the Kamado Joe All Natural Big Block Argentinian XL Premium Charcoal, can last up to 18 hours.
If the charcoal you purchase does not come in a re-sealable and water-resistant bag, you can store it in an airtight bag or an empty trash can with a lid. Since you have to keep the charcoal for smoking dry, you need to store it in a way to prevent moisture from entering the container. Keeping the charcoal in a garage or a plastic bag can dampen it from the moisture in the air and result in a harsh and sharp flavor when used, so make sure to keep it in dry and dark areas.
The problem of harmful chemicals and additives is common in briquette charcoal since it is made from sawdust and ash, mixed with filler that helps it retain the solid and uniform shape. These binders and filler can be vegetable-based or chemical-based. Vegetable binders, usually cornstarch, are natural and harmless.
They do not produce any harmful fumes and smoke. But they can considerably affect other burning properties of the charcoal, which includes burning time. Chemical binders, on the other hand, can be more dangerous since they are made from sodium nitrate and petroleum, which release fumes that can be dangerous to inhale in large quantities, irritate the eyes, and give your food an unpleasant aftertaste.
The charcoal you use for smoking your food determines the end result – a delicious smoky flavor that doesn’t overpower the taste of the meat or an unpleasant sharp flavor. Even though we strongly recommend every single item on our list, if we were to pick our top choice, this would be the Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal because of its excellent all-around properties and superior performance.