Grillers want to know: Lump charcoal or briquettes?

SAN ANTONIO – For backyard grillers, the burning question is: Should I use briquettes or lump charcoal?

“Briquettes are primarily made of sawdust and each piece has a consistent shape so that they all burn more uniformly,” said Dan Wroclawski, with Consumer Reports. “Lump charcoal is charred wood pieces of different sizes and shapes. The labels often claim it burns hotter and longer than briquettes.”

Consumer Reports set out to settle the great grilling debate using science.

Consumer Reports testers burned 3 pounds each of briquettes and lump coal in two very different grills -- an 18-inch Weber kettle and a Big Green Egg. Then they placed thermocouples on the grates to collect the precise temperature for each grill. That information went into a computer to create a heat distribution map. 

Overall, the lump charcoal burned about 40 to 50 degrees hotter than the briquettes. In the test for evenness, the lump charcoal in the Weber kettle got only a fair rating, but it got a very good rating when used in the Big Green Egg.

In the duration test, the lump charcoal in the Big Green Egg maintained a low temperature of 250 degrees for 11 hours versus just four hours for the briquettes.

The briquettes got excellent scores for evenness in both grills, and they burned evenly throughout.

So which should you use?

Testers found that lump charcoal is best for when you want a hot sear on a steak and a smoky flavor that comes from real wood. It’s also best for cooking “low and slow.” Briquettes are easier to stack, light and control, and because they are a lot cheaper, they won’t burn a hole in your wallet.

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