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How to Choose the Best Charcoal for Your Grill or Smoker

How to Choose the Best Charcoal for Your Grill or Smoker

Choosing the right charcoal is crucial for any grilling or smoking enthusiast. It affects not just the heat and efficiency of your cooking but also the taste and aroma of your food. In this guide, we will delve into the types of charcoal available and discuss how to select the best one for your needs, along with providing insights into charcoal's production, composition, lighting methods, and storage practices.

What is Charcoal?

Charcoal is a lightweight, black residue, consisting of carbon and ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from plant materials. Unlike the raw wood, charcoal can burn at higher temperatures, produce less smoke and is easier to control, making it an ideal fuel source for grilling and smoking.

How is Charcoal Made?

The production of charcoal is an ancient practice that transforms wood into a more efficient fuel source through a process known as pyrolysis. This involves burning wood in the absence of oxygen, which allows it to decompose into charcoal rather than turning entirely into ash. The result is a stable fuel that ignites quicker and burns hotter than raw wood, perfect for cooking applications.

Understanding the Basics

In the world of barbecue, the choice often boils down to two main types of charcoal: lump charcoal and briquettes.

  • Lump Charcoal: Created by burning wood in the absence of oxygen, lump charcoal is prized for its purity and ability to impart a smoky flavor to foods.
  • Briquettes: These are made by compressing charcoal dust mixed with a binding agent and often additives for consistent burning. They are favored for their uniformity and longer burning time.

Consider Your Cooking Style

  • High-Heat Grilling: Lump charcoal is preferable for its high-heat properties.

  • Low and Slow Smoking: Briquettes excel in providing consistent, prolonged heat.

How to Light Charcoal Without Lighter Fluid?

Lighter fluid can impart an unpleasant taste to your food and is not the most environmentally friendly option. Here are alternative methods:

  • Chimney Starter: This is a cylindrical device that allows you to start your charcoal with just a few sheets of newspaper and a match. The design of the chimney ensures that the flame is drawn upwards, evenly igniting the charcoal. This method speeds up the lighting process.
  • Electric Charcoal Starter: Place this device beneath your charcoal pile; it uses a hot coil to ignite the coals. The Looft lighter offers a cutting-edge, electric alternative to traditional lighting methods. By inserting the electric starter's element into the charcoal and activating it, you achieve an efficient, flameless ignition. This method is particularly suitable for grillers seeking convenience and safety, eliminating open flames and reducing the risk of burns. 
  • Natural Fire Starters: Items like wax cubes, wood shavings, or even egg cartons can ignite coals without chemicals. Our friends at Fogo Charcoal offer natural, premium fire starters, perfect for an effortless and eco-friendly lighting experience. These FOGOstarters, are crafted from all-natural materials, providing a clean, potent burn without any harmful chemicals.

Flavor Matters

  • Choice of Wood: The wood used in lump charcoal affects flavor, with options like hickory, mesquite, or oak offering distinct profiles.

  • Flavored Briquettes: Be cautious of additives that can influence taste and health.

Environmental Considerations

Opting for charcoal made from sustainably sourced wood and with minimal additives is better for the environment and your health.

Fogo Charcoal stands out for its commitment to sustainability and quality. By partnering with coffee plantations, Fogo Charcoal utilizes the scrap wood from essential pruning processes, ensuring that this wood is not wasted but rather upcycled into top-notch lump charcoal. This innovative approach not only supports environmental stewardship but also results in producing some of the finest lump charcoal available.

How to Store Charcoal?

Proper storage ensures your charcoal remains dry and effective:

  • Keep it Dry: Store charcoal in a cool, dry place away from moisture.
  • Airtight Containers: Consider storing charcoal in containers with tight-fitting lids to protect it from humidity.
  • Elevate: Keep the charcoal off the floor to prevent moisture absorption.

Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

While lump charcoal is renowned for its superior flavor and ability to reach higher temperatures, it typically comes with a steeper price tag and tends to burn through more quickly than its counterpart, briquettes. Briquettes, on the other hand, offer a more economical option with their extended burn times, albeit without achieving the intense heat that lump charcoal can provide.

In our practices, we have a strong preference for lump charcoal due to its distinct advantages in flavor and heat. However, there are instances, particularly during prolonged cooking sessions in our 22” Weber grill outfitted with the Slow 'N Sear, where we opt for briquettes. This choice is driven by the need for less frequent refueling, offering greater convenience despite a noticeable trade-off in taste. While briquettes do not match lump charcoal's performance in our experience, they still hold value for their utility in longer cooks, providing a reliable and steady heat source.

What is the best charcoal?

Choosing the best charcoal is a highly subjective matter, with numerous variables influencing the decision. At Kookio, our preference leans towards lump charcoal for its flavor qualities, particularly the FOGO lump charcoal. The Inga wood, from which this charcoal is made, lends a subtle and sweet taste to foods, a pleasant departure from the intense smoky flavors other woods can impart. Additionally, FOGO offers versatility with its XL and medium lump sizes, catering to different cooking needs. For quick grilling tasks like making burgers, we opt for FOGO Premium Black, while for longer smoking sessions, FOGO Super Premium Gold is our choice. This blend of convenience, exceptional flavor, and commitment to sustainability is why FOGO is our top pick for lump charcoal.

Trial and Error

Ultimately, finding the best charcoal for your grill or smoker may come down to personal preference and experimentation. Trying out different brands and types of charcoal can help you discover the perfect match for your cooking style and flavor preferences.

In conclusion, choosing the right charcoal involves considering your cooking needs, desired flavors, environmental impact, and budget. Whether you prefer the high heat of lump charcoal or the consistent burn of briquettes, selecting the right product will enhance your grilling or smoking experience, leading to delicious and flavorful dishes.

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