What more can we say about fuel? Gas prices are higher than they’ve been in years. We constantly worry about the quality of the fuel that we’re pumping into our vehicles or pumping into gas cans. We are being warned that the fuel that gets used in the mowers, trimmers, edgers and other small engine power tools that help drive our businesses is being blended inconsistently and has varying levels of ethanol and other additives that could lead to engine or carburetor damage. We’ve need to burn through it and not let it sit long because it breaks down very quickly these days.

We’ve answered many questions, written several articles, consulted one on one with many of our customers on what to do and even dedicated a lunch and learn day where the main topic of discussion was “How Today’s Fuels are Affecting the Landscaping Industy.” It isn’t a topic that is going away soon, but can we agree for one month to shift our focus to a different type of fuel?

Charcoal Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal

There may not be a more highly debated topic among competitive grillers or back yard BBQ enthusiasts than what fuel to use to create the heat needed to cook the awesomeness on the grill. We won’t even get into the discussion of stick wood or pellet driven fuels. Let’s concentrate on the fuel that most of our customers ask us about. We are asked almost daily why lump charcoal is better than basic briquettes.

In order to get at the answer, we need to understand exactly what charcoal is. Wikipedia tells us that charcoal is produced by slowly heating wood in the absence of oxygen. You can take different types of wood to create different types of lump charcoal. That’s it. That is why most lump charcoals say that they are “All Natural.” There are no other additives that get mixed in the process. It comes down to the type of wood initially used.  Since the lump charcoal is light and porous, it lights faster, burns hotter, and produces less ash than standard briquettes. Because of these qualities, you can control the fire’s temperature much easier and more precisely by adjusting the air flow (oxygen) in your grill or smoker.

This is one of the basic questions that first time Big Green Egg users learn to address. There are tons of tutorials created by EggHeads online that help explain how to properly adjust the air vents on your grill to get the desired temperature based upon the specific cooking style. If you aren’t watching your temperature closely, you can burn lump charcoal very quickly.

Charcoal briquettes are manufactured by compressing charcoal, typically made from sawdust and other wood by-products, with a binder and other additives. The binder is usually a starch. In addition, there are normally other additives that help with ignition or chemicals that yield a more consistent burning temperature over longer periods of time.

The anti-briquette crowd will tell you that when briquettes burn, they can leave a chemical smell and taste in the food.  Briquette proponents will argue that if you allow enough time you can burn off the additives or at least lessen the chemical presence with ash. The most popular brand of charcoal briquette is Kingsford. The Website NakedWhiz seems to be the trusted gospel of charcoal online. They have a huge database of lump charcoals that have been reviewed for cost, taste, temperature and performance,  They list the ingredients in a bag of basic Kingsford charcoal briquettes:

  • Wood Char (Heat Source)
  • Mineral Char (Heat Source)
  • Mineral Carbon (Heat Source)
  • Limestone (Uniform Visual Ashing)
  • Starch (Binder)
  • Borax (Press Release)
  • Sodium Nitrate (Ignition Aid)
  • Sawdust (Ignition Aid)

Further Editorial by Naked Whiz:

If you hang out on any of the barbecue forums on the internet, you will find lots of folks complaining about the borax and coal and limestone. You don’t often hear of people complaining about the mineral char. What is mineral char? “A soft, brownish-black coal in which the alteration of vegetable matter has proceeded further than in peat but not as far as in bituminous coal. Also called brown coal. Has empyreumatic smell.” What is an empyreumatic smell? “The peculiar smell and taste arising from products of decomposition of animal or vegetable substances when burnt in close vessels.” Nuff said?

Well, I guess you can see why we’re passionate about the lump charcoal we sell. We quickly sell through pallets of Big Green Egg lump charcoal and have to restock. We also sell a competitive brand of  lump charcoal called Cowboy Charcoal. Both are excellent products. In our experience, once the customer tries lump charcoal instead of a regular bag of briquettes, they rarely go back. Even if they are using an old Weber charcoal grill or going to the park to cook on a community grill, they rave about the flavor of the food being better than before.

It is difficult to believe that we’re on the front edge of spring. While there is still a chance of colder weather, February normally brings folks in our store getting ready for the outdoors. We have the best deals on power equipment during the month of February. Landscape professionals and homeowners both are preparing for the coming season. This spring and summer, don’t work too hard.  Make sure to set aside time to get outdoors and relax by the grill. Enjoy time with family and friends. Get to know your neighbors. Fuel up on some good food.

Whether you need a good grill, a bag of charcoal or other grilling accessory we’ve got you covered.