Getting Started in BBQ: Charcoal and Briquettes

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What is the difference between Charcoal and Briquettes

In its most basic form, lumpwood charcoal is almost pure carbon created by heating wood in the absence of oxygen. Heating wood in this environment removes water, gasses and other substances to leave you with dry lumps of carbon. The lumps of carbon, known as ‘Char’ burn hotter and more consistently than simply burning wood. This makes it perfect for cooking on your BBQ. It is the closest you will get to cooking on the embers from a hardwood fire.

Charcoal Briquettes are made from the same carbonised wood that is ground down and formed into the famous pillow-shaped briquette. This form of fuel is generally bound using natural ingredients such as starch. As they are tightly formed, they burn at a slower rate extending your cook time. However, they still provide enough heat to cook over.

Why quality matters

Unfortunately, not all lumpwood charcoal or briquettes are made equal. Some fuels are treated with accelerants to make them ‘easier to light’ however these can taint your food. These products will often recommend not using the charcoal until it is completely covered in a layer of white ash, at which point most of the accelerants should have burned off. If you open a bag of charcoal or briquettes and all you can smell is lighter fluid, I would avoid them. These products are often labelled ‘Easy light’ but in my experience, a good quality natural product will light easily in a chimney starter so there is no need for these accelerants.

Everyone has their own preferred fuel choice so I’m not trying to tell you what brand to buy. Try out some of the more reputable brands such as Weber, Aussie Heat Beads or some of the great local British charcoal brands. Once you find a brand you are happy with, stick with it. Learning how your fuel burns in your BBQ and how to achieve your desired temperature will make your life a lot easier.

Different brands of lumpwood or briquettes will burn differently. Being consistent with your fuel choice will help you learn the best way to set up your BBQ.

Deciding which fuel to use

Lumpwood charcoal burns hot and fast for around one hour. Whilst it’s possible to control how quickly lumpwood burns by controlling the airflow, it can be a little difficult to master for long cooks. If you are simply cooking up a couple of steaks or a few burgers then you can’t beat lumpwood. However, if you are cooking for anything over an hour, the easiest way to maintain that temperature inside your BBQ is to use briquettes as they will burn more consistently for a longer period of time.

One other thing I would add when you are starting out briquettes can be a great place to start. They are a consistent size so each time you cook with them you will get the same consistent heat. Lumpwood will vary in size so will give varying results.

Briquettes are great to cook with on my Weber Go Anywhere portable, mainly due to the fact I get really consistent results every time.

I don’t think one is better than the other. I always have both stocked at home. Depending on the situation and what I am cooking will determine whether I use charcoal or briquettes.

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