When smoking, your main objective is to have that delicious smoky flavor reach deep into your food. You achieve that with your fuel (and smoke) source – your charcoal. It significantly affects the quality of your BBQ. But what charcoal is best for smoking? To get excellent results in smoking your BBQ, you need not only the proper equipment but also good quality lump charcoal or briquettes.
There are lots of brands in the market, but once you get the composition, properties, energy production, and burn time down to a science, you can choose the best charcoal for smoking in no time. To simplify your selection process, we’ve rounded up the top five brands for you.
Top-rated Charcoal for Smoking Comparison Table
We’ve put together a shortlist of the most-recommended lump charcoal for smoking, along with the highest-grade briquettes.
1. Kingsford Briquettes
Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes come in their Easy Light Bag, meaning there’s no prep and lighter fluid needed for it to start lighting up. It is made to light instantly with a simple strike of a match, and just like that, you’ll be up and grilling in no time.
These briquettes are also 100% natural ingredients and real, North American wood. This composition should give you the certainty that the authentic smoky flavor you’re looking for is there.
It’s also nice for traveling due to the bag’s 2.8 lb. size, and on top of that, the briquettes burn for quite a long time so you don’t need much for a long cook.
Kingsford briquettes are ideal for traveling and for small charcoal smokers. When you light it up, it may take a while to see the flames, but when you finally get that fire going, it’s going to last a long time.
2. Duraflame Cowboy Brand Natural Hardwood Briquettes
With the Duraflame Cowboy 26014, you can get a light on your grill within seconds. These briquettes also quickly and evenly heat due to their unique pillow shape.
Its hardwood blend ensures that you get a noticeable authentic woody flavor in all your food. The briquettes are all-natural, made of 95% hardwood coal and 5% vegetable binder – there’s no added coal or fillers. Meaning, you only need a small amount to start cooking because a little goes a long way.
You won’t have a hard time because it burns cleaner, decreasing ash production. Another great thing about it is that it’s made for use on all outdoor cooking appliances like kettle-style BBQ, barrel grills and smokers, and kamado-style ceramic cookers.
This premium hardwood lump charcoal comes in a 14 lb. packaging. That’s enough for multiple uses. It’s also better to use a single packaging for a lot of product because it means you’ll be disposing of less wrapping waste when you’ve consumed all 14 lbs. Save the environment!
Duraflame Cowboy 26014, although hard to find in stores, is a hardwood charcoal that’s very much worth it when you get your hands on it. Many people love its unmistakable smoky flavor that every outdoor cook is aiming to bring out in all their dishes. What makes it unique is its pillow shape, claimed to make a quick and even heat once it’s on.
3. Kingsford Original Briquettes
For those of you who like a fast and easy BBQ, Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes will never let you down.
It’s USA-made with 100% natural ingredients, which means you’re going to get a great smoky flavor every time because it’s so pure.
Kingsford also claims that this burns longer than the typical nationally available charcoal brands in the USA, meaning you’re getting longer smoking times, not needing a lot.
To help the coals light faster, the Kingsford Original designed Sure Fire Grooves. These grooves make sure that the heat would quickly transfer throughout the coals.
Their packaging varies from 4 lb. bags to 2×20 lb. bags, giving you the freedom to choose depending on your needs.
Kingsford Original Briquettes is one of the best charcoal brands out there, because of its pure, natural composition and long burn time. It’s also effective at getting rid of unwanted odors in your fridge or any damp, closed space according to some user reviews.
4. Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood
With Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal, you not only get large chunks but also a longer and hotter burn (twice as hot and three times as long as traditional charcoal, respectively).
These lumps are on the more significant and denser side. “Pure as heaven,” as Jealous Devil claims, may sound pretty contradictory at first, given its brand name. But hear us out, because it’s apparently “hotter than hell” too when you consider its high heat production that reaches up to a thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
The ultra-dense, 100% natural hardwood, is their main reason for a hotter and longer burn, 7000 cal/g of energy to be exact.
It might be Jealous, but at least it comes clean. It won’t cause any sparks, pops, snaps, or flare-ups when lighting: just a pure, consistent burn. It also “kicks ash,” which translates to not causing a big ash and soot mess, meaning you can get the most fuel out of a small amount of product.
Of course, the delicious smoky, woody flavor should always be present when looking for charcoal for smoking. Jealous Devil adds the perfect amount of smoky flavor without overpowering the naturally delicious taste of your food that’s already there.
It’s available in 20 lb. and 35 lb. heavy-duty kraft paper bags.
Jealous Devil All Natural is an established smoking essential. It has a lot of promising features, one of which is high heat production and is overall a relatively affordable choice, a great choice for outdoor cooks. It is also incredibly easy to light, whether by a chimney starter, charcoal starter, or whatever you prefer.
5. Kamado Joe KJ-Char Hardwood XL
Kamado Joe, a famous contender of Big Green Egg (the leading kamado smoker brand), also offers exceptional lump charcoal aside from their iconic red kamado cookers.
Kamado Joe KJ-Char Hardwood Extra Large Lump Charcoal labels itself the “world’s largest big block premium lump charcoal.”
Kamado Joe states that they worked with Argentinian masters to create a mix of three hardwoods they called Axe-breakers: Guayacan, Guayaibi, and Mistal and White Quebracho. Then, they roasted in ovens to create Kamado Joe KJ-Char Hardwood Extra Large.
Kamado Joe Big Block is made from a blend of dense, Argentinian hardwood that produced big, dense lumps that burn longer, therefore smoke better. It can be reused up to three times, justifying its price.
Known for its size, Kamado Joe KJ-Char Hardwood XL is your perfect choice if you prefer bigger pieces of lumps. These can be used multiple times due to their density, therefore maximized energy, so that you end up saving money in the long term.
What is Better for Smoking Lump Charcoal or Briquettes?
Charcoal exists in two types: briquettes and lump charcoal. The latter is typically made by burning wood, while the former consist of byproducts and remnants from burning said wood plus additives.
When you burn wood without oxygen for a certain amount of time until you eliminate all water and other plant juices from it, you end up with lump charcoal. This carbon-rich material has no other ingredients added to it, so it burns cleaner than briquettes, which contain additives.
Charcoal briquettes, besides leftover wood, consist of a lot of fillers to hold their uniform shape, and sometimes lighter fluid to make lighting easier. Because it contains less wood, it’s cheaper than lump charcoal.
These, although not capable of reaching very high heat, burn longer and more consistently than lump charcoal. Unlike its rival, briquettes burn at a steady temperature.
Weigh your options
Which is better for smoking? Lump charcoal or briquettes?
If you want a cheaper option, you’re better off using briquettes. While they are less pure than the competition, that doesn’t mean they’re entirely off the table. Briquettes are also extremely useful for long, slow cooks due to their ability to burn longer.
Since briquettes have a lot of extra ingredients, you’re going to end up with more ash after burning than if you use the purer form that is the lump. You should also brace yourself for a very slight taste of the additives, but don’t worry too much as long as you buy a reliable brand like Kingsford or Duraflame Cowboy.
If you want a natural, smoky flavor, you can count on lump charcoal. It might be more expensive, but you’re bound to have easier temperature control. It’s ideal for short but hot cooks (like thin and small pieces of meat) thanks to the high potential energy content of the pure wood producing a lot of heat.
It’s worth the extra cost if you want to go all-natural.
What to Look for When Buying Charcoal to Use For Smoking?
To get the best cooking experience, you also need to keep an eye on a lot of factors that determine the quality of the charcoal you’re going to buy. Here are some of them:
A denser product equates to higher quality. Why? Concentration. You can get a longer burn time and reach higher temperatures due to more biomass being present. Usually, particle size is a good indicator of density: the two are inversely proportional. Smaller particle sizes mean that the material is dense and compact.
There are a lot of woods used to make charcoal. Experts say two of the best are Mangrove and Mallee root due to their toned-down production of smoke upon burning. Other commonly used wood used are Dakama, Wallaba, Hickory, Apple, Mesquite, and Hardwood.
The smoke coming from the combustion of wood is responsible for whatever particular smoky flavor seeps into your food. Which type of wood depends on your taste.
If you have time to spare, looking at the caloric value of the charcoal can tell you a lot about its energy output. A high-calorie content means that it is more relaxed and overall better to burn.
Ash is the mineral content of the charcoal. It can typically correspond to compounds like silica, clay, calcium, and magnesium oxides. These are naturally occurring compounds present in a living plant and the soil. Ash content can vary from 0.5 to more than 5%. Ash content of 3% is a good enough amount to look for in quality charcoal.
Ideally, charcoal should contain anywhere between 10 to 18% moisture, so that it catches fire more easily. If it includes a lot of moisture, it will take longer to light, giving you a hard time. If it contains too little, it is prone to breaking up into smaller pieces. The moisture content depends on the feedstock species.
Since the moisture content is one of the essential markers in the quality of your charcoal, you need to make sure your charcoal does not exhibit hygroscopic properties. You should keep it safe from water, mainly if it contains binders, most of which are water-soluble. Fifty percent lignite and 50% bituminous coal is the perfect balance of water-resistance and mechanical strength of briquettes.
Usually, wood charcoal on its own is not a very active adsorptive material due to its structure filling with tarry residues. However, the coconut shell kind is what makes for sufficient gas and vapor adsorption.
Some charcoal may contain sawdust. The presence of sawdust does not mean they lack in quality, for sawdust is present to help start ignition because it burns quickly.
Choosing charcoal – in the end, it all boils down to you. What you want in a fire, in your smoke, in your food, because, to be honest, it’s not that simple. We’ve done our best to educate you about charcoal and give you suggestions (which are the best out there) on which brands are great to use in smoking. All five of our recommendations are equally high in quality and will surely give your outdoor cooking experience a boost.
I spent most of my life fascinated by food, and the outdoors. I can’t think of a more fitting combo that leads to mastering the art of BBQ one day. I ended up decent enough to grill the perfect burger and choose the best equipment after years of improvement. I create this website for outdoor cooking enthusiasts, who are fueled by interest but lacking in help, feel educated when they leave because I see my past clueless self in them.