The 11 Best Charcoals for Grilling for 2022

No matter what type of grilling or smoking you do, you’ll find a charcoal that fits your needs.

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Best Charcoals for Grilling
Courtesy of Amazon

Charcoal is just burnt wood, and it doesn't matter what you use, right? While that may have been the case in the past when there were only a few brands and varieties on the market. Today, we have numerous choices, and everyone has their favorite type, like Katsuji Tanabe, the executive chef of a'Verde in Cary, N.C. "I never use briquettes. I always look for hardwood," he says. "I look for a specific type of wood, such as hickory or oak, because I want the flavor of charcoal to increase the flavor of my food." We also spoke with Tanabe and Duane Nutter, chef and partner of Southern National in Atlanta, to shape this list of the best charcoal for grilling and smoking. Read on for our top picks, from high-end Binchō-tan to the best value briquettes.

Our Top Picks

Best Briquettes: Royal Oak Premium

Royal Oak Ridge Premium Charcoal Briquets
Courtesy of Walmart

Royal Oak gets high marks for consistent quality, versatility, and value. Because of its composition, which is more hardwood than other brands, independent tests show that it burns hotter and longer than many of its peers. Rather than the pillow-shaped design that most briquettes sport, these larger pieces have a groove down the center of the top and bottom surfaces, enhancing airflow to achieve higher temperatures and burn time. That airflow also makes these briquettes easier to start than many.

Price at time of publish: $25

Best Hardwood Lump Charcoal: Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Courtesy of Amazon

Known for its purity, Jealous Devil's lump charcoal is made from South American hardwoods that are 30 percent denser than oak. This leads to clean, efficient burning with minimal smoke and total combustion, leaving just clean ash to dispose of later. Though it gets intensely hot, it won't spark or pop. The hardwood flavor can stand up to bolder ingredients like beef but won't overwhelm fish or poultry. The price is higher than many of its competitors, but with its powerful heat and clean burning, you can use less of it. Because you'll use less charcoal, the bag's design affords longer storage time and shelf life. It's water resistant, resealable, and has a carry handle for convenience.

Price at time of publish: $40

Best for Smoking: Cowboy Brand Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Cowboy All Natural Lump Charcoal
Courtesy of Lowes

Made from a blend of hardwoods, Cowboy charcoal burns hot and clean and has a distinctive wood flavor. Cowboy is ideal for those who like to taste the wood in their barbecue but not the smoke. Full disclosure: I've used this charcoal for smoking for the better part of 10 years at home and in my restaurants because I like its wood flavor. Should you want a bit more smoke taste, nothing says you can't throw a hardwood log or some chips on the charcoal. The clean, hot burn of this lump charcoal leaves minimal ash for you to clean at the end of the day, which is always nice. It skews towards the expensive side, but the results justify the extra cost.

Price at time of publish: $15

Best Splurge Charcoal: IPPINKA Kishu Binchotan BBQ Charcoal

IPPINKA Binchotan BBQ Lump Charcoal from Kishu, Japan, Pro Grade
Courtesy of Amazon

Binchō-tan is a charcoal style developed several hundred years ago in Japan by subjecting white oak wood to intense heat. Its original intent was to burn in kamado-style pots for a clean, incredibly hot fire. It gained popularity in the U.S. over the last decade for its thermal capabilities, almost smokeless fire, and lack of flame when burning. This is the charcoal to reach for when you want to sear, cook the best yakitori, grill wagyu, or experiment with your food. It's a small pack, but the charcoal is reusable, provided you extinguish it by cutting off its air supply rather than dousing it with water. Similar to geographic denominators for wine regions, the Kishu in the name indicates its origin.

Price at time of publish: $99

Best for Beginners: Kingsford Match Light Charcoal

Kingsford Match Light Instant Charcoal Briquettes, BBQ Charcoal for Grilling
Courtesy of Amazon

Nutter paused for a moment when I asked him about the best beginner's charcoal. As if reading my mind, he decided on Kingsford Match Light. We recommend Match Light because it's easy, unintimidating, and gives excellent results for those just starting out in grilling. All you have to do is lay the charcoal out, light two or three briquettes, and the pre-treated charcoal does the rest of the lighting work for you. No lighter fluid or advanced paper folding is necessary. It's easy to find and use, and you have coals ready to cook in 20 minutes or so with no fuss.

Price at time of publish: $10

Best for Ceramic Grills: FOGO Super Premium Lump Charcoal

FOGO Super Premium Lump Charcoal
Courtesy of Amazon

FOGO Super Premium could fit into many categories mentioned here. It's incredibly versatile and has the usual lump characteristics of burning clean and hot. It shines best, though, when used in a ceramic grill where only a few large chunks are needed to keep the grill rolling for hours. It provides even heat and a slow burn, allowing the ceramic to heat evenly and do what it does best. It can also provide ample heat for searing or other high-heat cooking.

Price at time of publish: $35

Best Large Lump Charcoal: Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal

Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
Courtesy of Amazon

Kamado-style grills work best with large pieces of charcoal, but that's not the only use for these larger pieces. They work well in any charcoal grill, providing long-lasting, high heat for searing or quick cooking or equally well for slow cooking methods. The Big Block charcoal comes from South American hardwoods that offer longevity and temperature and bring a mild but distinctive flavor to the party, accenting your rubs and marinades.

Price at time of publish: $25

Best Binchō-tan: Jealous Devil ONYX Binchotan Charcoal

Jealous Devil ONYX Binchotan Charcoal
Courtesy of Amazon

Made from obscure South American hardwoods like Jealous Devil's lump offerings, the Onyx line gives charcoal the Binchotan treatment of curing the wood at over 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. This process allows the charcoal to burn at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit with little, if no, smoke and no visible flame. The result is an infrared heat that cooks the food evenly from the inside out while providing an intense sear. The only downside is the dry quality of the heat – though best for quick cooking, it will rob your food of moisture over time in slow cooking methods.

Price at time of publish: $50

Best for Flavor: B&B Charcoal Oak Lump Charcoal

B&B Charcoal Oak Lump Charcoal
Courtesy of Ace

B&B carries a pronounced oak flavor that will add character to your grilled or smoked food. With no filler wood, the charcoal provides long-burn times, low smoke, and hot temperatures. The manufacturing is as environmentally friendly as possible, which is always a plus. As with most oak wood, it can be assertive or delicate in flavor, depending on how you apply it and pairs well with anything from beef to cheeses.

Price at time of publish: $20

Best Value Briquettes: Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes

Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
Courtesy of Amazon

Great for entry-level grillers, Kingsford is fine, even-burning charcoal that provides high heat when needed, or you can bank it for slow cooking. The briquette design allows even airflow and ignition. You may have smelt Kingsford burning in parks and picnic areas before, and its distinct, somewhat divisive aroma will make it into your food. It's easy to use and burns well, in addition to being readily available and well-priced.

Price at time of publish: $10

Best Value Lump Charcoal: Royal Oak Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Royal Oak Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Courtesy of Walmart

When looking at value to dollars spent, it makes sense to look at the lower end of the scale, as charcoal is impermanent. As Tanabe says, "I don't like to buy expensive charcoal because I am literally burning it. I found inexpensive hardwood charcoal works almost as good as the expensive stuff. The only big drawback is sometimes the inexpensive charcoal has uneven pieces." When buying lump charcoal, Nutter likes to feel the bag to see how many small pieces have fallen to the bottom to ensure it's not the end of the production run.

Royal Oak does an excellent job of producing clean-burning, easy-to-use lump charcoal at a reasonable price without sacrificing the quality of the lump wood. It's a little smokier and burns a little faster than the more expensive brands, but for what it brings to the table at a low price, it's money well spent.

Price at time of publish: $15

Factors to Consider

Briquettes vs. Lump Charcoal

Briquettes are faster-lighting and burn longer, but while they burn longer, they don't burn as hot as lump. Briquettes are smokier than lump and have a distinctive flavor that permeates the food, largely from the binders and fillers added.

Lump can be difficult to light, but it burns with a clean smoke. While it imbues your food with flavor – I use lump for my barbecue – it doesn't assert itself like the flavor of briquettes.

Burn Time

Many charcoals reviewed here tout long burn times, and some are intended for reuse when finished grilling. This adds to the value of the bag of charcoal by extending its useful lifespan. Others are manufactured with the intent of burning fast and quick, easy disposal. The longer-lived charcoal can be beneficial if you're grilling at home, but if you're camping or at a picnic, you might want the shorter-burning varieties.

Flavor

Most of the charcoals mentioned here carry a flavor. You might want the bold flavor of oak or the distinctive flavor of Kingston. Either way, consider what you're cooking and what flavor the charcoal brings before purchasing.

Grill Size

When buying charcoal, consider the size of your grill. A 16-inch portable grill with low clearance between the charcoal and grill may be too small for large lump charcoal. Likewise, a larger grill will quickly burn through small pieces of hardwood charcoal, leaving you scrambling to find hot spots to cook on.

Pro Panel Q+A

How is lump charcoal made?

Lump charcoal is made by heating hardwood near 750 degrees Fahrenheit in a low-oxygen environment. The lack of oxygen prevents the wood that would otherwise catch fire in the process from flaming, while the heat extracts water, sap, and other liquid compounds from the wood. The result is super-dehydrated wood, charred but not burnt to ash, which we know as charcoal.

How do you light lump charcoal?

You can light lump charcoal with a handful of methods, including electric lighters, roofing torches, or building a small fire of tinder and kindling. A chimney starter is a reliable and easy way to start your fire, and you can ignite it with paper and vegetable oil, according to Tanabe. Nutter takes another approach: "I like those wax cubes you get from the Green Egg store. I like them better than the electric lighters. Sparks don't fly and I can walk away for a few minutes and prep stuff," he says.

How are charcoal briquettes made?

Charcoal briquettes are a mixture of ground charcoal, sawdust, sometimes coal, a binder like starch, an adjunct like lime or even sand (which increases the burn time), and an accelerant, usually petro-chemicals if the briquettes are self-lighting. This mixture gets fed to a press at temperatures intended to remove residual moisture and come out as the familiar pillow shape.

How do you light charcoal briquettes?

Nutter's preferred method is to use a chimney lighter or "chute with newspaper," as he refers to it. Whichever name you choose, this method is one of the cleaner methods of lighting briquettes. You can always use lighter fluid, but allow it to burn off completely before adding food. Also, best practices say to apply the lighter fluid to the charcoal and allow it to soak in for three to four minutes before lighting so that you're not just burning the fluid from the surface without creating burning coals.

Can you mix lump charcoal with briquettes?

Absolutely. "Sometimes, [for] the nostalgia of what my uncles and all those guys used to do, I mix them both. I can get that old-school flavor of the Kingsford [briquettes] that my uncle used to love and some of that wood that I've grown to love as a cheffy person," Nutter says.

Our Expertise

Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with decades of experience in the food industry. For this piece, he interviewed chefs Katsuji Tanabe and Duane Nutter to find out what the pros look for when they buy charcoal. He then used their insights and his own expertise combined with market research to curate this list.

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