2018 Buyer’s Guide – The Best Charcoal for Smoking

If you have a smoker then it is essential to use charcoal to get that brisk, mesquite, smoky flavor.

So, when deciding what kind of charcoal to use it is important to consider the key aspects and options of charcoal.

From lump charcoal to briquettes there are multiple affects charcoal can have on your meat when smoking it, all depending on the type you get.

In this article, we will help you find the perfect charcoal for your smoking needs.

We will evaluate the best brands, highlight the differences between briquettes and lump charcoal, and present key qualities and aspects you need to look out for, all in order to guide you to your best possible purchase.

Best Charcoal for Smoking Comparison Chart

Why is Charcoal Needed for Smoking?

Using charcoal is one of the most popular fuel sources for smoking meat. It tends to be preferable as opposed to other forms of smoking, like wood logs, because of its many pros.

People who need to grill for longer periods of time and want to accomplish that authentic crisp smoky flavor tend to pick charcoal over wood.

Unlike other smoking methods, charcoal tends to last longer, get hotter faster, and create less smoke and more steam and flavor.

For the aesthetic griller it also allows a golden brown sear to be created around the meat and often has a juicer result in the end result.

Considerations When Buying Charcoal for Smoking

When it comes to picking which type of charcoal is best for you and your smoker, there are a couple of key aspects every buyer should be aware of before making a purchase.

Time

Depending on how much time you want to spend on smoking your meats is going to be a huge factor in which type of charcoal. Some charcoals heat fast while others take time to even catch fire.

Some charcoals can cook meat in just 30 minutes, while others can take up a significant amount of time. So make sure whatever charcoal you use fits well into your time frame for cooking.

Beware of Additives

Cheaper brands of charcoal will often times add additives, like lighter fluid, to their lumps.

Not only will this create a chemical flavor in your food, but it’s also bad for the environment.

These additives will add more time to your cooking because you’ll have to wait for the fluid to burn out before you start cooking.

Temperature

Temperature is a huge factor in determining the way your meat turns out. Luckily if you know how to use your air vents you should be able to regulate it, but there are still some frustrations you could run into.

Some charcoal can get too hot too fast, while others will reach their heat quickly but just minutes after will begin to drop in temperature drastically.

If you don’t know how to work your vents that well, it’s best that you choose a charcoal that will keep the temperature consistent.

Briquettes vs. Lump Charcoal - What’s the Difference?

There are two main types of charcoal: briquettes and lump charcoal. Both have their pros and cons, and similarities and differences. It is essential to know which will be best for your smoking experience.

Briquettes

Briquettes are a great choice for your smoker, lasting longer and maintaining a steady hot temperature. They are typically made from saw dust and often contain other ingredients like coal.

This type of charcoal also tends to be significantly cheaper than lump charcoal, but this may mean that additives like lighter fluid are in them.

Briquettes are usually compacted into smaller sized and consistent shapes making it easier to lay them flat in your smoker so no holes that could let fire through form.

This means that there is a chance of less smoke. However, briquettes usually take longer to light and create more ash production than lump charcoal.

Briquettes

VS

Lump Charcoal

Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal is sometimes viewed as being more advanced than briquettes. It is made out of hardwood and all natural ingredients, allowing your meat to get more of that authentic and crisp smoke flavor.

Unlike briquettes, lump charcoal burns longer so you can use less of it. However, this also means that once it reaches its hottest temperature it will begin to descend back down to medium heat.

Lump charcoal burns cleaner than briquettes, but it also burns hotter which can be a problem if you don’t know how to adjust your air vents on your smoker.

Willy's Top Picks - Best Charcoal for Smoking

Review of the Best Charcoal for Smoking

Let’s now get started on our list of best charcoal brands to used for smoking.

1. Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes in an Easy Light Bag

These charcoal briquettes are easy to use and all natural. They are made with real wood, have zero additives, and you don’t need to spend extra money on lighter fluid because it doesn’t require any. This is because they have Sure Fire Grooves made for easy lighting.

The Kingsford charcoal briquettes also are great at keeping heat in your smoker consistent, and don’t burn out too quickly.

These briquettes are perfect for getting a crisp smoky flavor in your meats without being too overwhelmingly powerful.

However, some have found trouble using this charcoal because the directions can be confusing to people new to smoking.

Kingsford also catches fire so quickly that the fire can get up to 12 inches in height instantly.

But, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem so long as you are experienced with your smoker. Sometimes this charcoal when burning has distinct odor that some might find unappealing.

Despite having zero additives some people have reported tasting and smelling chemicals in their food when using this charcoal.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • All Natural
  • Easy Lighting
  • Smoky Flavor
  • Consistent Heat

Cons

  • Strong odor
  • High Flames
  • Learning curves vary with directions 
  • Some costumers have reported the flames take time to die down

Bottom Line

This product is inexpensive and it is easy to light the charcoals. However, the flames can get too high and will take time to get under control if you don’t know how to use the air vents on your smoker.

2. Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes

Just like the other Kingsford Briquettes these are designed to be easy to light, have natural ingredients, and that great smoky flavor.

However, these ones are ready for cooking in just under 15 minutes after lighting, whereas other briquettes you’ll have to wait an extended period of time.

Unlike other charcoals, this one is known for staying together, instead of falling apart upon cooking, making for less clean up.

However, for the best flavor it is recommended you use lighter fluid. It is also recommended to stack the briquettes in a pyramid which will take a significant amount of them to do so.

Many costumers have also recommended to buy this brand in store due to having problems with shipping, some even saying the briquettes get crushed to dust by the time it arrives.

Despite people not liking having to use lighter fluid for these briquettes, many have found a good substitute by using a chimney starter, that way you can keep the pure flavor the charcoal would naturally give off.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Smokey flavor
  • Natural ingredients
  • Ready to cook after 15 minutes
  • Little ash, and coals stay together

Cons

  • Customers have reported shipping and handling problems
  • Lighter fluid recommended, which can cause a bad flavor in your meat
  • Some customers find it hard to light without lighter fluid, despite designed to be easy to light

Botom Line

These briquettes are fast working and allow for little cleanup after you’re done, however you’ll need lighter fluid or some other sort of way to get the coals lit.

3. Wicked Good Charcoal

This hardwood lump charcoal is great for all your smoking needs. This charcoal is hot-burning, low-ash, and burns for hours.

Not only do they use all natural ingredients but the manufacturer process is eco-friendly as well.

The amount of chips and dust when the charcoal arrives is very low, so you can be sure your money will be well spent on this.

The smell is slightly smoky but also has a perfume aroma, making it stand out from other brands. Once you are able to light the charcoal, the fire will spread quickly.

There tends to be no size control on the lumps, varying from small pieces to big pieces. This charcoal also produces a little too much smoke when you first light it and there seems to be no way to calm it down until it burns out.

This charcoal also tends to take a while to get lit, and it is essential to have proper airflow to stay hot-burning.

However, this charcoals biggest advantage tends to be how well it can maintain low temperatures, and it’s lack of sparking and popping.

Pros

  • Long burning
  • Quickly spreading
  • Burns hot with proper airflow
  • Low amount of chips, dust, and ash
  • Great at maintaining low temperatures

Cons

  • Hard to light
  • Only slightly smoky flavor
  • Varying shapes and sizes of lumps

Bottom Line

In conclusion, this charcoal will burn long and hot and is great at maintaining lower temperature.

However, it’s hard to light and doesn’t give your meat that strong smoky flavor all the while producing too much smoke.

4. Best Lump Charcoal: Fogo Super Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal

This lump charcoal is our first choice for various reasons.

Not only does this charcoal have a delicious hardwood smoky flavor, but each piece of charcoal is hand-picked so you get the best quality. Fogo lights quickly, and burns hotter and longer than other brands of charcoal.

You don’t need to use lighter fluid at all to get this charcoal to start burning, and it’s all natural and great tasting.

This charcoal is also perfect for both slow cooking and fast cooking, making it ideal for all types of meat.

When lighting this charcoal you’ll find no sparks will form, and that the smoke will be minimal but will still form lots of steam as your meat drips onto the lumps, adding to the flavor.

However, some may find that the size of the charcoal to be troubling to their smoking, especially because this brand tends to leave copious amounts of ash.

This charcoal also tends to run more expensive than some others, but honestly it’s worth the price.

Pros

  • No Sparks
  • All Natural
  • Smokey Flavor
  • Burns Hotter and Longer

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Coals may sometimes be too big

Bottom Line

Overall, this product is all natural and gives you the best flavor and works for all your smoking needs. However, it’s more expensive than other brands and might not be best for beginners.

Conclusion

No matter if you’re new to smoking or as experienced as they come, the type of charcoal you pick can affect your entire meal.

We recommend for the best quality and for achieving that rich smoky flavor to go with Fogo Super Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal, but if you would rather use charcoal briquettes then we recommend Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes in an easy light bag.

All of the options listed above are great picks and will be sure to give you little to no trouble, making your smoking experience easy while still giving you the best possible results in taste.

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