The 9 Best Charcoal Briquettes
This wiki has been updated 18 times since it was first published in February of 2017. When the summer heats up, you know barbecue season is here. Once you have the grill set up, you may be wondering what the best charcoal for the job might be. Briquettes are a top choice for all skill levels, thanks to their ability to burn slowly and evenly. Plus, they maintain a consistent temperature to help you achieve a mouthwatering flavor in all your favorite foods. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
February 01, 2021:
We often lean towards natural products when making our recommendations, as long as the performance is up to par of course, and it was no different with charcoal briquettes. You'll notice that the majority of our top choices are comprised solely of hardwood and some kind of natural binder, such as vegetable starch. In some cases though, such as with Kingsford Match Light Mesquite, we have made exceptions in the name of convenience. This is a perfect choice for someone that wants something that ignites easily and comes to a cooking temperature very quickly. That being said, if you keep a chimney starter on hand, you'll find that even the most stubborn charcoal becomes relatively hassle-free to light.
July 08, 2019:
Grilling aficionados know that all charcoal is not created equal. You want a fuel that is easy to light and that burns evenly and consistently so that an unpredictable burn doesn't ruin your favorite grilled food. Some people swear by lump charcoals, but others prefer the uniformity and efficiency of briquettes. Why efficiency? Because they're less likely to break inside the bag during transport, so you can use 100% of the contents.
In this update, we assessed our selections based on the characteristics above, and also looked for products that leave food tasting they way you intend it to. Added HDA Applewood because of its integrated apple wood splinters that should help provide that sweet, smoky taste. Removed an item due to concerns about its availability, and added Coco BBQ in one of our top slots for those of you who like your cooking low and slow.
How The Charcoal Briquette Came To Be
Ford, never one to miss an opportunity, realized he could increase profits by producing the lumber himself.
People have been producing charcoal since ancient times. The charcoal briquette however, is a much more recent innovation. The first true, machine-pressed charcoal briquettes akin to what we use today were created by Ellsworth B.A. Zwoyer, who patented his invention in 1897. After World War I, he built several plants to manufacture briquettes, but he never managed to successfully market them to the public.
It would be Henry Ford who would go on to bring charcoal briquettes to the mainstream consumer. By 1919, Americans were purchasing one million model T automobiles a year, and each vehicle required over 100 feet of board. Ford, never one to miss an opportunity, realized he could increase profits by producing the lumber himself. With the help of Edward G. Kingsford, his cousin's husband who also happened to be a real estate agent, he purchased 313,000 acres of timberland in Michigan. On this land, he built a sawmill and a parts plant.
During production of the Model T's hardwood parts, a large amount of waste in the form of branches, stumps, and sawdust was also produced. Ford, looking for a way to utilize the leftovers, heard about a briquetting process created by Orin Stafford, a University of Oregon chemist who had figured out how to make pillow-shaped lumps of coal from the combination of sawdust and other mill waste, water, cornstarch, and tar.
Ford employed his friend Thomas Edison to design a briquette factory that utilized Stafford's process and, with Kingsford acting as the manager, it wasn't long before it was producing over 600 pounds of briquettes for every 2,000 pounds of mill scrap. Ford branded the bags of charcoal briquettes with his signature logo and started selling them directly to consumers from his car dealerships. By the time the 1930s rolled around, he was selling picnic kits that included portable grills and the briquettes. Barbecuing with charcoal briquettes instead of wood caught on with the public and, the rest, as the say, is history.
Charcoal Versus Gas Grilling
The debate over whether it is better to grill with charcoal or gas is a hot topic that has lead to more than a few arguments at backyard BBQs. Charcoal supporters swear that it imparts a better flavor than can be had using propane as a fuel source. They claim that it gives food a subtle smokey flavor that gas just can't. The truth though, is that charcoal briquettes are actually designed to give off minimal smoke when properly ignited. The majority of the smoke you see coming off a charcoal grill is actually from the food drippings hitting the hot surface of the coals and vaporizing. The same thing happens on gas grills when the food drippings hit the metal plates covering the burners. This means that gas and charcoal grills give off essentially the same amount of smoke when set up properly. In addition, with the short amount of time most cuts of meat are cooked on a direct-heat grill, the smoke rarely has enough time to penetrate it enough to alter its flavor. Of course, there are many ways to give your food that lip-smacking smokey flavor, such as using a indirect-heat smoker or adding moist wood chips to your grill.
The same thing happens on gas grills when the food drippings hit the metal plates covering the burners.
Does this mean we are saying that both sides of the debate have no idea what they are taking about and there is no taste difference between the two grilling methods? Absolutely not. It's just that it doesn't come from where most people think it does. It isn't related to the amount of smoke, but rather the amount of heat. The true reason that charcoal imparts food with a different flavor is because a charcoal grill gets hotter than a typical gas grill. The average home gas grill usually only reaches temperatures ranging from 450 to 650 degrees Fahrenheit. Charcoal grills can reach upwards of 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
Higher heat allows you to get a nice sear on your meat giving it that satisfying, slightly crunchy texture most of us look for in grilled food. It also produces the Malliard reaction and helps to caramelize the compounds on the meat's surface, resulting in the rich and complex flavor BBQs are known for. Except for those expensive, high-end gas grills, it will be nearly impossible for you to replicate the kind of sear charcoal provides using propane.
Barbecuing Safety Tips
As much fun as barbecuing is, it can also be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. In fact, every year thousands of American are injured while grilling in their backyard. By following a few simple safety tips, you can ensure your backyard BBQs and family feasts go off without a hitch.
If the flare up is too large and dangerous to close the lid or remove the food, well that is why you have that fire extinguisher handy.
Always remember to place your grill a minimum of 10 feet away from your home or any other structure. This includes overhangs. So no matter how tempting it may be to grill under your awning when it is raining out, don't do it. A flare up could happen at any time, igniting that awning and potentially anything it is attached to. You should always keep a fire extinguisher nearby when grilling, as well.
It is also important to regularly clean your grill. Fat, grease, and food particles build up on the grate, walls, and bottom of BBQs. If you are cooking an exceptionally juicy or fatty piece of meat that is causing a lot of flare ups, all of that built up grease could ignite, resulting in a dangerously high fire that is difficult to extinguish. Built up grease is actually one of the most common causes of uncontrolled grill fires.
If you do experience a flare up, don't spray it with a water bottle. Despite what you may have heard, this is a very bad idea. Water actually makes grease fires worse. Instead, remove your food from the grill to prevent it from releasing any more drippings and adding fuel to the fire. Next close the lid to diminish the amount of air it has. If the flare up is too large and dangerous to close the lid or remove the food, well that is why you have that fire extinguisher handy.