The 10 Best Lump Charcoals
10. Char-Broil Center Cut
- makes cleanup easy
- have to keep dry during storage
- burns extremely quickly
|Rating||3.8 / 5.0|
9. Mangrove Hardwood
- gets extremely hot
- need to keep rearranging briquettes
- very difficult to light
|Rating||3.7 / 5.0|
8. Big Green Egg CP
- a little goes a long way
- doesn't need other wood for flavor
- expensive for what you get
|Brand||Big Green Egg|
|Rating||3.6 / 5.0|
7. Royal Oak
- can be lit with newspaper
- maintains excellent temperature
- not the most long-lasting option
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
6. Cowboy 24220
- no lighter fluid required
- good value for the price
- lots of smaller pieces and dust
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
5. Grill Dome CCL-20 Choice
- hot and clean burn
- heat grills to hundreds of degrees
- lumps too big for smaller grills
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
2. Jealous Devil
- leaves little ash behind
- creates long-lasting heat
- extremely easy to light
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
1. Kamado Joe
- box also makes storage easy
- made from argentinian trees
- ideal for ceramic grills
|Rating||5.0 / 5.0|
A Brief History Of Charcoal
Charcoal, a form of half-burnt wood that burns hotter and more slowly than regular logs, has been in use since at least 4000 B.C.E. Originating in Asia, early versions were made by covering wood with moist dirt and lighting the whole thing on fire.
These charred blocks soon became extremely important parts of everyday life. They were used for cooking in huts and homes, as they produced less smoke than other forms of fuel. In addition, blacksmiths used them to melt copper and tin in order to create bronze.
As a result, the creation of charcoal became a full-time job for thousands of people, known as colliers. Their product was so in-demand that entire forests in central Europe were decimated to provide colliers with the raw materials needed to do their jobs, and even today deforestation due to charcoal production is a major environmental concern.
Both the creation and use of charcoal would remain largely unchanged until the 1920s, when an American businessman by the name of Henry Ford found himself with an unusual dilemma. Ford's Model T's were sweeping the nation, and each car required about 100 board feet of hardwood to make. Cutting and shaping all that wood meant that there was plenty of scrap left over — and to Ford, that meant that he was wasting lots of money.
Ford commissioned a chemist from the University of Oregon to devise a way to turn that lumber into dense lumps of charcoal. He then tapped his cousin — a Michigan real estate agent named Edward Kingsford — to run a factory devoted to turning Ford's scrap into flammable gold.
By the 1930s, Ford dealerships were also selling portable grills and bags of charcoal. Unfortunately, the Great Depression put a damper on sales, and barbecuing took a backseat to survival. After WWII, however, there was plenty of disposable income and leisure time to go around, and the charcoal grill became a hit.
Today, over one million tons of wood scrap gets converted to charcoal every year, and it's used in everything from art and medicine to metallurgy and horticulture. Grilling is still its most famous use, however, and charcoal smoke can lend rich flavors to meat that propane could never hope to match.
The Best Way To Light A Charcoal Grill
Telling someone how to operate their grill is a sensitive subject, and may even be illegal in Texas. However, there are a few common mistakes people make when lighting their fires — some of which can completely defeat the purpose of using charcoal.
The most egregious party foul is going crazy with the lighter fluid. If you absolutely soak your briquettes, that will affect the taste of the meat — and very few people enjoy burgers that taste like gasoline. Some brands come pre-soaked, and if you use those you shouldn't have to add any extra fluid. You should note, however, that you don't even need to use lighter fluid. You can start a great fire with just a few crumpled-up newspapers and a chimney starter.
Don't start grilling until your coals are good and hot, either. You want them glowing red and covered with a thin layer of ash. Once they've gotten to that point, you can take them out of the starter and arrange them inside the grill.
If you expect that it will take a few hours to grill your meat, you should have some additional coals ready, as your original ones will likely burn out after sixty minutes or so. This is another reason to invest in a chimney starter, as you can have your second-string briquettes smoldering while you wait.
In fact, once your guests see you adding more coals to the fire, they may just elect you Grillmaster-for-Life (it's the highest elected office in Texas).
More Charcoal Grilling Tips
Getting your fire started is only the first step to a successful barbecue, of course. Once you add some meat to the equation, the risk of screwing something up increases exponentially. Luckily, I'm here to prevent that from happening.
It may not seem like much, but the manner in which you arrange your coals can make-or-break your cookout. Some meats, like hamburgers, can stand higher heat, and so you'll want to build a charcoal pyramid that brings the fire close to the grill.
Other foods, like brisket, benefit from a low-and-slow approach. This means cooking them over indirect heat, which requires you to arrange your coals so that the meat isn't being constantly assaulted by the fire. Figure out how much heat your food can handle before you begin, and set up your coals accordingly.
Learn how to use the vents on your grill, as well. These are usually located on the cover and/or the bottom of the grill, and regulate how much air flow the coals receive. If you keep them completely open, your coals will burn extremely hot — but they also won't last long. Conversely, if you close them, you'll trap a lot of smoke inside (until the fire dies from lack of oxygen, that is).
Likewise, don't lift the lid any more than is absolutely necessary. Yes, the fear of burning the food is powerful, but lifting the lid actually increases the likelihood of that happening, as you're just feeding the fire. Only take the cover off to flip the food, and to occasionally check how done the meat is (using a thermometer, of course).
Once you're done cooking, pour some water on the coals and stir them gently. Let them sit for a day or so, then place them in a non-flammable container and throw them in the trash. Or, if you use a natural lump charcoal, you can feed it to your plants, as it makes an excellent fertilizer.