Best Charcoal Briquettes Buying Guide – Top Products On The Market

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Pile of burning charcoal briquettes
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If you want to learn about what is in a charcoal briquette, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will take a closer look at the ingredients inside a briquette. Are those additives really toxic for you? Why do we need them if they are bad?

But first, I’ll show you my evaluation of some of the best charcoal briquettes on the market.

Then I’ll cover the history of charcoal briquettes. You might be surprised to find out who actually invented them. You will also learn about the process of making briquettes and why some grillers prefer them. The detailed breakdown of their ingredients will be after that.

Next is what to look for when shopping for charcoal briquettes. I also list their alternatives, besides lump charcoal, along with a few frequently asked questions.

Hopefully, you will know a thing or two about briquettes by the end of this article.

In A Hurry? The Top 5 Best Charcoal Briquettes

  • Kingsford Original “Blue Bag” Charcoal Briquets
  • Kingsford Professional Hottest Burning Charcoal Briquettes
  • Royal Oak Classic Charcoal Ridge Briquets
  • Weber 100% All Natural Hardwood Charcoal Briquettes
  • Komodo Kamado KK Coconut Shell Charcoal

Notice: The links above will direct you to Amazon for more details and the latest information on the products.

Best Charcoal Briquettes Reviewed – Evaluation of The Top 5 

These are the reviews of some of the best charcoal briquettes on the market. I’ll go into detail about their performance and how they stack up against one another. I’ll also list the pros and cons of each brand below their review. 

Stubb’s All-natural Bar-B-Q Briquets have been discontinued. It was one of the best in the past. Duraflame makes Stubb’s. It also makes Cowboy Charcoal. There is a rumor that Duraflame rebranded Stubb’s as Cowboy All-natural Hardwood Briquets. They may or may not be the same quality. For that reason, I decided not to include it until further research. If you happen to know anything about the quality of Cowboy Briquets vs Stubb’s, please comment below. Thank you!

Kingsford Original “Blue Bag” Charcoal Briquets

Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquets, a.k.a Kingsford Blue Bag or KBB, is the best-selling charcoal briquettes in North America. The most distinctive feature of the KBB is its K-shaped groove imprinted on one side of the briquette.

Over the years, the KBB has changed its formula and design several times. The first and second one was in 2006 and 2010. The recent change was in 2015. With every change, Kingsford was adding more wood charcoal while reducing the amount of coal in its formula. The purpose is to cut down the weight as well as the ash content generated by each briquette.

In terms of design, Kingsford added a set of channels, called “Sure Fire Grooves”, running across on the opposite side of the K imprint. It is to help the KBB light faster and improve airflow by creating more edges. Throughout the changes, Kingsford makes the grooves and the K imprint deeper. This also results in a reduction in weight, therefore the amount of ash. One thing to note is that the Sure Fire Grooves started to run diagonally instead of straight across after 2010 and remained the same ever since.

The current KBB briquettes burn slightly hotter and produce less ash than their previous versions. However, their ash volume is still larger than other competitors’. They also burn quicker than before. According to some, the burn time for low n slow smoking has decreased from 18 – 20 hours to 14 – 16 hours, though you can regulate this by carefully adjusting your smoker’s vents.

Now, the most important concern about the Kingsford Original is its ingredients. Even though Kingsford has increased the wood char while reducing the coal throughout the years, we don’t know if they also cut down on the “other stuff” such as borax, limestone, or mineral charcoal. Some folks are still against these while some really don’t mind them at all. One thing we know for sure that the Kingsford Original doesn’t have any lighter fluid in it and everything is made in the US with North American ingredients. 

All in all, Kingsford Original has stood the test of time and still remains the most popular charcoal briquettes in North America. It might not have all the natural ingredients or perform the same as other superior briquettes but it always gets the job done, whether it’s grilling or barbecuing. The KBB is all about the consistency and reliability. It’s available everywhere and affordable, even better during holiday sales such as Fourth of July.

Kingsford also makes other briquette varieties such as Kingsford Cherrywood Charcoal, Kingsford Charcoal With Pecan, etc. But the most notable of them all is the Kingsford Professional Briquettes which will be reviewed next. 

GOOD

  • More wood char and less coal than previous versions
  • Burns hotter and less ash
  • Made in the US
  • Consistent and reliable charcoal briquettes
  • Best-selling charcoal in North America

BAD

  • Burns quicker than before
  • Questionable ingredients

>> CHECK ON AMAZON <<

Kingsford Professional Hottest Burning Charcoal Briquettes

Formerly known as the Kingsford Competition, Kingsford Professional Charcoal is the company’s answer to customers’ concerns regarding the “unnatural” ingredients in the Kingsford Original.

According to Kingsford, the Professional is made with 100% natural ingredients and high-quality wood charcoal. Now, they didn’t specify any of the ingredients but, through some trusted sources, the Professional Briquettes contain mainly wood charcoal, starch binder, and borax. 

Starch is natural while borax is debatable. Some still don’t consider borax as natural. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier in this article, the amount of borax used in the briquette mix is usually tiny so that shouldn’t be a worry.

The Professional briquette is slightly smaller and lighter than the Original due to having no limestone. Performance-wise, the Professional lights faster and burns hotter than the Original as well as some of the briquettes on this list. It also doesn’t have the typical chemical smell when first igniting even though some grillers reported heavy smoke.

The Professional produces a lower amount of ash than its competitors, including the Original. Because of that, Kingsford claims that the Professional is suitable for ceramic cookers and smokers. However, there are mixed reviews about this. 

In terms of price, the Kingsford Professional is expensive. If you don’t mind the cost and are willing to pay extra for fewer ingredients, it is a great alternative to the regular Kingsford Original. Otherwise, we still have other brands, which contain relatively better ingredients, to consider. 

GOOD

  • 100% natural ingredients and high-quality wood char
  • Lights faster and burns hotter
  • Doesn’t have typical chemical smell
  • Lower amount of ash than competitors

BAD

  • Heavy smoke when first lit
  • Expensive

>> CHECK ON AMAZON <<

Royal Oak Classic Charcoal Ridge Briquets

Similar to its lump, Royal Oak Classic briquettes are made in the US using American hardwood charcoal. They also contain coal, natural binder, and other additives.

The most unique feature of the Royal Oak Classic is the Patented Fast-start Ridge Design, which is essentially a big groove in the middle of the briquette. The ridge increases the surface area of the briquette which helps it light faster as a result.

Comparing to the Kingsford Original or Blue Bag, the Royal Oak Classic briquette burns longer and hotter. It has less chemical smell when first igniting and produces no off-taste on your foods after cooking. Its ash content is smaller but more sandy than the Kingsford Original’s.

Royal Oak also makes briquettes for other companies such as Embers for Home Depot and Expert Grill for Walmart. These briquettes perform the same as the Royal Oak Classic and they work well in both grills and smokers. 

Besides the Classic, Royal Oak also has the Chef’s Select which is for restaurants and similar establishments. Its briquette is a bit bigger than the Classic and made from natural ingredients with no additives. The quality is comparable to Stubb’s All Natural briquettes. 

Another product is the Royal Oak All Natural Hardwood Briquettes. The company actually uses the small pieces (anything less than an inch) of the popular Royal Oak lump charcoal to make these. They then add only vegetable-based binder to the mix. Because of that, these briquettes have a neutral flavor and burn cleaner with minimal ash. Royal Oak says that you can use these in kamado grills.

Great selection of briquets from a fine company. Available in most big-box stores as well as online.

GOOD

  • Buns longer and hotter than Kingsford Original
  • Ash content is smaller as well
  • Big groove in the middle for airflow and better ignition
  • Less chemical smell and no off-taste on food

BAD

  • Ash is sandy than Kingsford Original
  • Contains some coal and other additives

>> CHECK ON AMAZON <<

Weber 100% All Natural Hardwood Charcoal Briquettes

We’re all familiar with Weber, maker of excellent gas and charcoal grills. They also manufacture charcoal briquettes. But are their briquettes as good?

Weber claims that their briquettes come from 100% natural hardwood without added chemicals. When first lit, they don’t produce an acrid smoke like Kingsford Original does. One noticeable feature of the Weber briquette is that it doesn’t have any groove for easy lighting and better airflow.

However, it burns longer and hotter than Kingsford Original and Royal Oak Classic. Weber briquette is also bigger, heavier, and denser so you use less every cook. According to several tests on the Internet, Weber briquettes produce the same amount of ash as Kingsford Original though. 

Another thing worth mentioning is the packaging. Weber uses a plastic bag with resealable Ziploc. It’s great to keep the briquettes away from moisture but it’s also difficult to dump them out because of the small, restrictive opening. Good idea but poor application in this case.

Similar to their grills, Weber charcoal briquettes are expensive. But you get what you pay for – a premium product from a veteran of the barbecue industry. A few extra bucks for quality and a peace of mind. 

GOOD

  • 100% natural hardwood charcoal with no chemicals
  • From a trusted brand in the BBQ industry
  • Briquettes are bigger, heavier, and denser than competitors’
  • Burns longer and hotter than Kingsford and Royal Oak

BAD

  • Expensive
  • Poor application on bag design
  • Same amount of ash like Kingsford Original
  • No grooves for easy ignition

>> CHECK ON AMAZON <<

Komodo Kamado KK Coconut Shell Charcoal

The last entry of this list is Komodo Kamado (KK) Coconut Shell Charcoal. They aren’t your typical briquettes that are made from wood. Instead, they are made from coconut shells. 

Komodo Kamado only uses 100% pure coconut charcoal fines without any chemicals, fillers, or additives. Their charcoal is virtually smokeless, meaning that they impart little to no flavor to your food. As a result, you have full control of the flavor by adding wood and sauces to the mix. 

The KK Coconut Charcoal burns longer and hotter than all the briquettes on this list. Their peak temperature can get up to 1000F which is perfect for searing steaks. They are also suitable for low n slow smoking but require careful adjustment and attentive supervision. Either way, this charcoal is very efficient.

Being denser than other briquettes, the KK Coconut Charcoal holds its shape very well. That means the unburnt pieces remain intact and can be reused for later. It also produces very little ash so you can use it in your kamado grill. 

This charcoal, however, has three downsides. First, it is 9 inches in length which is difficult to fit into any grill or smoker’s firebox. Though you can easily break it up with an axe. Second, it will take a while to light this charcoal. Coconut shells are harder substance compared to traditional hardwood. Therefore, please be patient in the beginning.

The last downside is the expensive shipping. The company, Komodo Kamado, is located in Indonesia and owned by Dennis Linkletter (If you’re into ceramic cookers, you probably know of Dennis and his exceptional Komodo Kamado product line). Now, Dennis don’t sell single box of KK Charcoal because the shipping fee will cost more than the box. He suggests buying in bulk to reduce the fee, even better if he can ship to a business address. Another way around is to buy in group via forum such as Komodo Kamado or Big Green Egg. Regardless, you can directly contact Dennis to work something out. He is known for his customer service. 

GOOD

  • 100% pure coconut charcoal
  • Smokeless with neutral flavor
  • Peak temperature is up to 1000F
  • Holds shape very well so reusable

BAD

  • Too long
  • Takes a while to light
  • Expensive shipping cost

For more information, please visit Komodo Kamado website via the link below.

>> CHECK ON AMAZON <<

History Of Charcoal Briquettes

A briquette or briquet is a small, pillow-shaped block of ground charcoal plus other additives. It is used as cooking fuel for grilling and barbecuing. The first and most well-known brand is Kingsford which is started by Henry Ford. Now, did Ford actually invent the Kingsford briquette?

Not quite…

In 1919, the automobile tycoon was very interested in a vast area of forestland in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan known as the Iron Mountain. The purpose was to have his own supply of wood for the popular Model T.

Ford’s cousin, Mary Francis “Minnie” Flaherty, was living there with her husband, Edward G. Kingsford, who happened to be a real estate agent. Kingsford ended up helping Ford purchase over thousands of acres of land to build a sawmill and car parts plant in the Iron Mountain.

The Model T continued to be a great success for Henry Ford. Though he ran into a problem at his new facilities – too much sawdust and scrap wood laying around. Henry Ford had to figure something out because he hated wasting stuff.

At that time, a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon named Orin Stafford had an obsession with charcoal. He designed a new way of making charcoal using sawdust instead of wood. Yet, the final product was too fine and chalky to be of any use.

To fix this, he mixed the charcoal powder with other binders such as starch, water, and tar. He then baked the slurry at 700F. The resulting product was these small, flammable, pillow-shaped blocks or briquettes we use today. Orin patented his creation in 1923.

The idea of mixing charcoal with other ingredients in a briquette form was actually first patented by Ellsworth B.A. Zwoyer in 1897. However, Ellsworth wasn’t the one who popularized the charcoal briquettes as a commercial product. Henry Ford did.

When Ford found out about Orin’s method, he knew he had the answer to his problem. Orin Stafford, along with Thomas Edison, helped Ford establish his briquette business. Ford shortened the French word “briquettes” to a more Americanized version “briquets”. And he started selling them as picnic or camping fuel at his dealerships across the US. This was to encourage the public to use Ford cars for their weekend picnics or getaways. The Ford Charcoal Briquets was a success. The company sold over 600 pounds of charcoal for every ton of wood scrap.

Briquettes and briquets are used interchangeably. Either spelling is correct.

In the 1950s, when Ford Motor Company started producing cars with steel, they sold the briquette company. The new owner renamed it after E.G. Kingsford – the Kingsford Chemical Company. In 1972, The Clorox Company bought the brand and it has been Kingsford Charcoal ever since. Today, Kingsford is the biggest producer in the briquette industry, followed by Royal Oak.

In short, neither Henry Ford nor Edward G. Kingsford “invented” the Kingsford briquette. Though they did start the Kingsford company and helped promote it successfully. Orin Stafford was actually the one who invented the Kingsford briquette. 

How Do You Make Charcoal Briquettes?

There are two methods of making charcoal briquettes. They are both similar except for the first step, which is how manufacturers carbonize the wood or turn it into charcoal.

To carbonize wood is to burn them in an oxygen-poor environment until all the volatile particulates evaporate from wood. In the end, what you have is lightweight, burnable carbon or charcoal.

The first method is called the kiln or batch method. Manufacturers would collect wood leftover from timber mills. They would burn them in concrete kilns lined with refractory, called the Missouri kiln, for two days. After that, they would let the whole thing cool down for seven days.

The resulting product is lump charcoal in the shape of the wood it once was. Anything is less than an inch will be ground into charcoal fines. Manufacturers then sell the fines to intermediary operations, like the Uhlman Company, who process it into charcoal briquettes.

With this method, the wood is carbonized first before crushed into particle size. The downside of it is the long wait time for the charcoal to cool down.

The second method is called the retort or continuous method. This one was invented by Orin Stafford and fixed the drawback of the previous method. Manufacturers would collect wood scraps and sawdust from sawmills. They would first crush the wood into sawdust then carbonize the combining sawdust. This would reduce the cooking and cooling time because of the increased surface area (sawdust > wood).

After the grinding, the sawdust passes through a series of continuous steps.

  • Drying – The sawdust goes through a large drum dryer to get down from 50% to 25% moisture content.
  • Baking – the dry sawdust is then fed into a five-story, oxygen-controlled silo or retort, where it is baked at each level at different temp (from 525F to 1200F). Through the whole process, the combustible gases are driven off which leaves charcoal fines at the end.
  • Mixing – workers mix the charcoal fines with other additives such as coal, starch, and limestone.
  • Briquetting – the mixture is pressed into briquette form.
  • Second drying – the briquettes are still damp so they will be dried for 3 to 4 hours to get down to 5% moisture content. At that rate, briquettes harden and are ready for bagging and later shipping.

Check out this video if you want a visual presentation of the whole process.

The retort method produces charcoal briquettes with great precision and efficiency. It’s also cost-effective where manufacturers can reuse the released combustible gases to heat the dryers and run parts of the system.

The kiln method produces significant amounts of particulate emissions or white smoke from burning the wood. This requires smoke burners to reduce the emission or the manufacturers will be fined by the authority. The cost of installing smoke burners is also relatively high. Therefore, the kiln method is not widely used for charcoal briquettes.

That said, both methods offer an eco-friendly way for sawmills to get rid of their waste products which can become a potential fire hazard. The charcoal briquette industry and sawmill operators somehow sustain one another. 

Why Do Some Grillers Prefer Charcoal Briquettes?

The marketing of charcoal briquettes has been done so well that every time people mention charcoal, they immediately think of briquettes. The image of a small, combustible block of charcoal has successfully ingrained in people’s minds.

It isn’t the case with lump charcoal. Though lump has been making a comeback in recent years, briquettes are still a dominant force in the charcoal industry.

Lump charcoal is pure carbon resulted from burning wood whereas briquettes are an engineered product of combining charcoal and other additives. Lump is considered more natural or “organic” than briquettes.

So what makes these briquettes special that many grillers prefer them over lump charcoal?

First is their uniform size and shape. Because of that, briquettes are dependable and consistent from bag to bag. They give out the same amount of heat every time so you always know what you’re getting. You can also fit briquettes easily into a chimney starter, not to mention the ease of stacking to arrange different burning setups such as the Minion Method or the Snake. They don’t have odd shapes like lump charcoal.

Secondly, briquettes are a dense and compressed product. Therefore, they don’t get crushed and leave less dust in a bag than lump.

Another advantage is that briquettes burn longer. The reason is that they slowly burn from the outside in. Whereas lump charcoal combusts altogether at once (lump is porous, meaning more surface area) so it will burn hotter yet quicker than briquettes. Because of the long burn time, briquettes are great for smoking meat.

Finally, briquettes are available everywhere and easier to get than lump. Price-wise, they are also cheaper. Talk about convenience!

That being said, briquettes leave more ash. They take longer to light and aren’t reusable once they fall apart.

But the one drawback of briquettes that get many grillers worked up the most is the additives included in them. Some think they are toxic while some argue they are natural.

Let’s find out what charcoal briquettes are ACTUALLY made of in the next section.

What Is In A Charcoal Briquette?

Before answering that question, I will discuss the reasons why charcoal briquettes need those additives in the first place.

You see, charcoal fines lacks the plasticity, therefore it needs a binding agent to stay in solid form. Every particle of the fines attaches to the binder. Then, pressure is applied to the mixture to create briquettes. Besides the binder, other additives are also mixed in to enhance the combustion and prolong the burning of the briquettes. Keep in mind that the choice of binder and other additives is related to the quality and cost of the briquettes.

These are the typical ingredients in a briquette:

  • Binder
  • Heat source
  • Ignition aid or accelerant
  • Visual ash agent
  • Fillers
  • Press release agent

Let’s take a closer look at each ingredient, shall we?

Binder

The best and most effective binder to make charcoal briquettes is starch. You can find it in many food items such as wheat, rice, and potatoes. These are the stuff that you eat every day so burning it wouldn’t be that bad. The problem is that the starch is expensive so many manufacturers look for other alternatives.

Common substitutes for starch include clay and molasses. Clay is cheap. It doesn’t help the briquettes burn better though. In fact, the more of it, the poorer the briquettes will perform. Molasses, a by-product of sugarcane, does help the briquettes bind. However, it releases an acrid smell when lit.

Manufacturers also use wood tar and pitch for binder. However, burning those to cook foods doesn’t sound very appetizing at all.

In a nutshell, the best charcoal briquettes are made with natural, plant-based binders like corn or potato starch.

Heat Source

This is where you get all the fire. The briquettes burn better if they contain more heat fuel. Manufacturers often use wood charcoal fines and anthracite coal.

Wood charcoal can be either from hardwood or softwood. Hardwood is preferred because it burns better than softwood. Softwood charcoal burns quicker and produces more ash. Some softwood species like pine have a high amount of resin, which creates an unpleasant smoke and could make some people ill.

The source of the woods is important as well. It’s better if the woods come from sawmills and forest thinnings. They are raw and unprocessed. The woods can also be sourced from recycled materials such as varnished construction/furniture scraps. However, these woods are treated with chemicals. You don’t want to coat your foods with preservatives.

Next is anthracite coal. It contains the highest percentage of carbon (86 – 97%) thus generates the highest amount of heat among all the coals. This will help the briquettes burn longer for sure.

Now, coal is a product of plants or dead animals going through underground decaying processes for millions of years. According to some sources, manufacturers actually burn the coal in oxygen-deprived environment to get rid of all the volatile gases before adding it to their briquettes. The same process used for charcoal. Some people consider coal natural and have no problem cooking foods with it.

On the other hand, some folks concern that burning coal will release mercury, which is a dangerous toxin to human health. Coal is fine for stoves but no one cooks over it. Some people might disagree with that though.

The more natural hardwood charcoal fines and the less or zero coal the briquettes contain, the better they are.

Ignition Aid Or Accelerant

Because of their compressed and dense nature, briquettes don’t have the ability to combust quickly. Therefore, manufacturers have to use ignition aids or accelerants to help with that.

The most common one is sodium nitrate, a.k.a “white gold” or “Chilean saltpeter”. It is used in the production of fertilizer and explosives, not to mention preservatives for processed meat like hot dogs. Well, fertilizer and explosives don’t sound very tasty, do they? Though by some accounts, Kingsford removed sodium nitrate from their formula back in 2006.

Sawdust is another ignition aid. It can be hardwood or softwood. Hardwood is obviously a better choice.

Visual Ash Agent

White limestone ash from Kingsford Original briquettes
White Limestone Ash from Kingsford Blue Bag

After igniting, the briquettes will turn to white after a few minutes. This is when they are ready to cook on. The white residue is the visual ash agent.

The most popular is limestone. It is a sedimentary rock that contains calcium carbonate, a chemical often found in baking powder or shellfish. Sounds natural, doesn’t it?

By mixing in limestone, the briquettes are heavier. Though limestone doesn’t add any energy value at all. It actually reduces the burning rate of the briquettes due to the ash it becomes.

Some people argue that limestone makes briquettes a diluted product. A bag of briquettes is heavier than a bag of lump charcoal. Yet, that bag of lump will generate more heat than the bag of briquettes. Some also think that visual ash agent is unnecessary because you know it’s time to cook when the briquettes are hot.

Fillers

Like limestone, fillers don’t add any heat value to the briquettes. It only creates extra ash content. It is a way for manufacturers to decrease cost while maintaining the volume, density, and weight of their briquettes. Yet, too much fillers will reduce the overall quality of the briquettes.

Common fillers are sandy soil, crusher fines, and dirt. High quality charcoal briquettes will have less fillers than the low quality ones.

Press Release Agent

Borax or sodium borate is a floury white mineral used in making cosmetics, detergents, insecticides, and a host of other products. It helps briquettes release from the presses. The amount is often very small. Borax is only necessary if manufacturers are using rapid and high pressure briquetting machines. If they use manual pressing machines, they usually don’t add borax to the mix.

The EU and Canada restricted the use of borax because it can have severe effects on human health. There are no safety regulations regarding borax in the US, however. Only a high dose of borax can be harmful to humans, not with the quantities used in making briquettes.

So Are Charcoal Briquettes Really Bad For You?

Every charcoal briquettes is different. Some have more fillers while others have more borax and limestone. Regardless, the briquettes need some of those additives in order to perform properly. Otherwise, they don’t. 

Now, manufacturers are always changing their formula. Over the past few years, Kingsford alone has changed their recipes several times. Who knows what other companies do to theirs since they rarely tell us anything. Even if they do, you have to take their words with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that there are no federal or international regulations when it comes to the charcoal industry. Sure, they might have environmental restrictions on the white smoke coming off a kiln but not on the ingredients.

And just because the ingredients come out of the ground, it doesn’t mean they are “natural” and safe to consume. The best approach is to do your own research and try different brands of briquettes yourself. That way, you can determine which additives you’re fine cooking with. Everybody is different. To each their own.

With that said, the only briquettes that you should really stay away from is the instant-light ones. They are coated in lighter fluid which is derived from kerosene. Kerosene is a petroleum-based product used as aviation fuel. When burned, this stuff gives off black, oily smoke that can cover your food with an unpleasant odor. Please don’t cook with it. 

What To Look For When Buying Charcoal Briquettes?

We already know what charcoal briquettes are made of. The next step is to discuss what to look for when buying them. Obviously, the first feature is the ingredients.

Ingredients

Briquettes with a balanced ratio between all-natural ingredients and additives will be the best charcoal briquettes for most grillers. That means you get briquettes that contain more lump charcoal fines with fewer additives. They are suitable not only for the health-conscious grillers but also for the ones who don’t mind the extra borax or limestone. 

With that in mind, look for “100% All-Natural Hardwood” on a bag of charcoal briquettes. Hardwood is always better. Also pay attention to the ash. Different briquettes generate different amounts of ash. Less ash means less fillers. The last thing to note is whether your food has any chemical smell after cooking. Unless you’re using instant-light briquettes, which is a no-no, you shouldn’t smell anything funny on your food. Some briquettes do smell when first igniting, but there shouldn’t be anything else after they are lit.

Size, Shape, and Weight

Some brands have bigger briquettes than others. However, bigger doesn’t mean better. It’s debatable. Overall, they all should have uniform size. The uniformity, which is an upside of briquettes, is to help with easy arrangements for different lighting setups as well as produce a long, consistent burn.

They should also have the same pillow shape. It serves a similar purpose as the above. Though one thing to look for is the grooves on either side of the briquette. The reason is to increase airflow during burning. Some brands have them while some don’t.

Two red arrows pointing at Sure Fire Groover and K imprint on two Kingsford briquettes.
The K-shaped Imprint and Sure Fire Groove on Kingsford Original Briquettes

The last thing to pay attention to is the weight between different brands of briquettes. Now, this is my general speculation but I thought I bring it up here. The lighter the briquettes, the more charcoal fines and the less coal and other additives it contains. It might not be true but worth considering.

Availability

Look for brands that are readily available in-store and online. With those, you also get frequent discounts throughout the year. Kingsford is a good example.

You sometimes find smaller brands that make excellent briquettes. If you do, buy in bulk. The problem with these brands is that they tend to have an inconsistent supply. Moreover, if you live far from them, they might not want to ship their briquettes to you. Even if they do, the shipping might cost a fortune.

Other Charcoal Briquettes Alternatives

If you’re still skeptical of the additives that manufacturers include in their briquettes, there are actually other substitutes besides lump charcoal. Let’s explore those options.

Coconut Charcoal Briquettes

The first one is coconut charcoal. Very popular in many Asian countries, it usually comes in long hexagon pieces with a hole in the middle (3″ to 9″ in length). It also comes in block form, beehive square, and traditional briquette form (a bit bigger though).

This charcoal is made from hard, old coconut husks. Manufacturers use the same charring process as for the regular charcoal. They carbonize the coconut in an oxygen-poor environment until there is nothing left but carbon. They then grind the coconut-husk-shaped charcoal into fines, which is mixed with natural binder (tapioca). Next, they extrude the slurry through a hexagonal forming machine.

The resulting charcoal burns long, hot, clean and produces a sweet smell. Its ash volume is low. You can actually reuse the ash as fertilizer for your garden. Truly a green product.

The downside of coconut charcoal is that it is harder to light due to coconut being a harder substance than wood. Additionally, low quality coconut charcoal produces a larger amount of ash while being more expensive than regular briquettes.

If you end up ordering some, shipping will cost a lot since many of them are shipped from Asia. There are brands available in North America but their supply is inconsistent.

All in all, coconut charcoal is a good alternative to traditional briquettes. One of the best brands on the market is Komodo Kamado Coconut Charcoal

Coffee Grounds Briquettes

The next contender is coffee grounds briquettes. Made from used industrial coffee grounds bonded with edible binder, this innovative charcoal burns hotter than conventional briquettes. Better yet, it only takes 10 minutes to ignite so the lighting time is almost the same as lump charcoal.

Now, many people will wonder if this charcoal will create a coffee-like taste to your food. The answer is no. It won’t smell like coffee. It will smell just like normal wood charcoal. There is no mention of coffee briquettes’ ash content but, similar to coconut charcoal, people can reuse their ash to fertilize their garden.

As of this writing, the one US company that sells this charcoal is Coffee Coals although their website seems to be inactive. If you want to read more about this charcoal, please click here and here.

One UK company, Bio Bean, produces coffee grounds-based logs used for warming up home. They said the logs aren’t suitable for barbecues. But, some sources said they’re getting to it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Do Charcoal Briquettes Last?

Charcoal briquettes have an indefinite shelf life. In fact, they won’t get old as long as you store them in a tightly sealed bin, away from moisture. Don’t get charcoal briquettes wet or they won’t ignite or burn properly.

If you happen to get briquettes wet, like in the case of a downpour, there are two possible outcomes. If they crumble, you might as well toss them because they are ruined now. If they don’t, lay them out under the sun for a few days to dry out. When you do use them, light them up along with some fresh briquettes as starters.

Now, there is a myth that wet briquettes might combust by themselves. It is not true. The Naked Whiz debunked it here.

How Long Do Charcoal Briquettes Burn?

Depending on what you’re cooking, charcoal briquettes can burn from as little as 1 hour to over 12 hours. The burn time also depends on what type of setups (2 zones, Minion, Snake, etc.) you’ve got going on.

Keep in mind that different brands use different ingredients, not to mention the size of the individual briquette from brand to brand. That can affect the burn time as well.

Can You Reuse Charcoal Briquettes?

It depends. When you light briquettes, you’ll cook the moisture out of the starch binder. As a result, briquettes often crumble or turn to ash. You can’t really reuse them after that. 

However, if you find them still solid and they don’t fall apart in your hand, it’s a-okay to use them again.

Can I Use Charcoal Briquettes In A Kamado?

Yes, you can but not recommended. Briquettes produce more ash than the kamado grill‘s ash catcher, such as Kamado Joe or Big Green Egg, can handle. You can clean out the ash but that will fluctuate the grill’s internal temperature. Besides, it is a real hassle cleaning out the ash every 30 minutes. Use it at your own discretion.

Will Charcoal Briquettes Absorb Odors?

According to Kingsford, their briquettes aren’t used as a deodorant because they contain other additives besides charcoal. I’d assume the same for other brands. Use activated charcoal if you want to absorb odors.

Activated charcoal is made by heating charcoal in a steam furnace to 1800F. The result is a highly porous form of charcoal, meaning that activated charcoal has more adsorptive surface area than regular charcoal. This is great to trap molecules of contaminants and the like.

Summary

There you have it – everything you need to know about charcoal briquettes. They leave more ash than lump, take longer to light, and aren’t usable once they crumble. But they are a consistent and predictable heat source because of their uniform size and long burn time. 

When you’re deciding which brand of briquettes to buy, there are a few factors to consider – availability, size, shape, and weight. Go for the brand that has the same pillow-shaped briquettes from bag to bag. It should also be easy to purchase that brand in-store and online.

The final and most important factor is the ingredients. For most grillers, the best charcoal briquettes are the one that has a balanced mix between natural ingredients and additives. That means more natural ingredients and less additives. 

Now, if you’re just looking for reliable briquettes, Kingsford Original is the obvious choice, followed by Royal Oak Classic. If health is one of your concerns, I’d recommend Kingsford Professional and Weber Briquettes. For those that want to try something new, besides lump, give Komodo Kamado Coconut Charcoal a shot. You might be thrilled with its performance. 

I hope you find this article helpful. Leave me a comment below if you have any questions. Now get out there and fire up that grill.

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