When people talk about charcoal, they often think of briquettes. Few know about lump. Some think lump and charcoal are two different things. Lump is charcoal and charcoal is lump. Briquettes are a manufactured by-product of lump.
There are many terms for lump charcoal. You can call it lumpwood charcoal, natural charcoal, charwood or simply lump. It’s a great cooking fuel that you should add to your grilling arsenal.
However, choosing the right one isn’t easy. You might want to try a couple of bags before ruling out a brand. It’s your own personal finding. Picking the best lump charcoal also depends on your budget, your tolerance for smoke and dust, your style of cooking and so on.
In this article, I’ll start with six mini-reviews for some of the best charcoal makers out there.
Then I will dive into more details about lump charcoal, how people make it, and how you should store it.
After that, I will discuss why some grillers prefer lump over briquettes, followed by what to look for when buying your lump charcoal. I will finish this section with some common FAQs.
In the end, you will have a better understanding of lump charcoal and how you should pick your favorite.
Let’s get started.
In A Hurry? Here Are My Top 6 Choices For Best Lump Charcoal
- American Hardwood:
- Foreign Hardwood:
Notice: The links above will direct you to either Amazon, BBQ Guys or Home Depot for more details and the latest information on the products.
Best Lump Charcoal Reviewed
These lump charcoals are popular among backyard grillers. They are also widely available, on- and offline, across the US. There are six and I’ve decided to divide them into two groups – those that are made from American hardwood and those that are from foreign sources.
Rockwood Premium All Natural Lumpwood Charcoal
Ranked #1 by readers of the Naked Whiz, Rockwood is made 100% from wild American hardwood (mostly oak, some hickory, pecan, and maple) in Missouri. They claim that their product has no chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides.
The charcoal is more properly carbonized than other brands. Therefore, its smoke is neutral so you have better control over the flavor profile of your food. It also ignites and heats up quickly with a minimal amount of ash and long burn time.
According to users across the country, Rockwood is very consistent from bag to bag. Their bags hardly have any chips and fines with a majority of medium pieces and a few big chunks. This will give you even heat that is great for slow n low cooks.
Their customer service is great. You can talk directly to the owner if you have any questions regarding Rockwood charcoal. As an Egghead himself, he frequents on the Big Green Egg forum regularly. Rockwood is very popular among the Eggheads.
The only downside is that their charcoal sparks a bit at the beginning. Other than that, Rockwood is a solid company.
They only ship within the US for now. They don’t ship to Canada just yet.
- Use 100% all natural American hardwood, no chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides
- More fully charred than other brands
- Little ash, long burn time, ignite and heat up quick
- Consistent from bag to bag
- Spark a bit at the beginning
- Don’t ship to Canada
Royal Oak 100% Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Royal Oak is a family owned business based in Roswell, GA. Similar to Rockwood, their lump charcoal is sourced from American hardwood (oak, hickory and others).
The product line mainly consists of their popular red bag with the “Made in America since 1953” logo printed on it. They also make the XL Cut bag that has bigger lumps than the regular one. The blue bag Star Grill is for the Canadian market.
In the past, Royal Oak did have lump charcoal from South America but their website doesn’t feature any of those at the time of this writing. They also make lump for other companies such as Nature-Glo or our beloved Big Green Egg.
Many customers reported strange odor coming from lit Royal Oak. Some said that there was too much dust as well as occasional foreign objects or “prizes” in the bag.
In spite of their drawbacks, Royal Oak is a good lump charcoal for its low cost. It’s lightweight, fast and hot burning charcoal – a great choice for quick cooks. As far as 100% American hardwood lump is concerned, Royal Oak isn’t in the same league as Rockwood but it is still a decent, best bang for your buck charcoal.
- Good budget 100% American lump charcoal
- Commercially available in many big box stores as well as the Internet
- Great for hot and fast cooks
- A lot of dust
- Occasionally foreign objects in bag
Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal
Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal is made from denser oak in Central America. The first impression is that the bag has more large pieces and a small amount of chips and fines. These pieces take forever to burn so they’re good choices for smoking meat.
The bag doesn’t have foreign objects very often. According to many customers, the Super Premium has an earthy and woody smell and the ash production is low.
The first downside of this charcoal is that it is expensive. The big pieces aren’t easy to fit into a chimney starter. They are also hard to break and slow to ignite.
Super Premium comes in two sizes – 17.6 lbs and 35 lbs. Besides it, Fogo also has a Premium version and other specialty lumps from South America. The Premium has smaller chunks that burn faster than the Super Premium. Fogo states that it is more suitable for smaller, portable grills, and quick everyday grilling.
All in all, Fogo is the Rockwood of foreign sourced hardwood lump charcoal. They are a family business that has been around the block and they deliver great products.
- Big pieces and small amount of fines
- Long burn time
- Good earthy smell
- Low ash
- Experienced company with great product lines
- Hard to light
- Hard to break
Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal
The first thing you will notice about Jealous Devil (JD) is their packaging. Unlike other brands, JD uses plastic vinyl bag with a zip lock rather than paper. They even include a handle on the side of it. Their fonts and colors are very bold compared to the competitors.
The company has been changing their packaging three times since launching. It seems like JD wants to portray itself as an innovative company that has a cool factor to their products. In fact, the owner of JD had a tech company before starting selling charcoal.
Their charcoal is sourced from Paraguay’s quebracho blanco which is one of the densest woods in South America, famously known as “axe-breaker”. As a result, JD charcoal burns long and hot with low ash production. In a bag of JD, there are mostly medium chunks with a small amount of fines.
On their website, JD states that they only use natural wood (no industry scrap wood) from sustainable sources in Paraguay. They also say that Paraguay has the strictest laws on land preservation in that region.
One complaint about JD is that their “axe-breaker” charcoal produces a bitter smoke that is different from American hardwood lump. It might take some time to get used to the flavor from the quebracho blanco.
Price-wise, JD isn’t cheap.
- Good and appealing packaging
- Charcoal made from hard and dense wood that will burn long and hot
- Medium pieces with small amount of chips and fines
- Sourced from sustainable forests
- Bitter smoke that takes some time to get used to
Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
Kamado Joe (KJ) Lump Charcoal is sourced from a blend of Argentinian hardwood, including the “axe-breaker” quebracho blanco. Made by local charcoal makers using the traditional kilns, KJ Lump Charcoal burns long and hot. It is a good choice for low n slow cooks.
Kamado Joe put their charcoal bag inside a box for shipping. The purpose is to prevent the lump from crushing inside due to rough handling. It is also convenient for delivery and storage. You hardly find any foreign objects in a bag of KJ lump but people did report small rocks once in a while.
Like any charcoal made from quebracho blanco, KJ lump does get complaints from users about the bitter smoke. South American trees like quebracho have a high level of tannins and polyphenols. That’s probably what people were smelling when burning the lump.
Still, KJ lump is a decent product from an outstanding company. It isn’t cheap nor expensive. A great alternative to Fogo and JD.
- An alternative to Fogo and Jealous Devil
- Shipped in a box to prevent rough handling. Also convenient for delivery and storage
- Good for low n slow cooks
- Bitter taste just like any quebracho charcoal
Better Burning B&B 100% Oak Lump Charcoal
Better Burning or B&B Lump Charcoal has become increasingly popular in recent years but the brand has been around since 1961. Their most popular product is the B&B Oak Lump Charcoal in a brown bag. They also have Hickory Lump in a green bag and Mesquite Lump in a yellow one.
B&B Oak Lump Charcoal is made from Mexico. The lump burns hot and fast with a mild flavor. A bag of this lump has some good sized pieces but mostly medium to small chunks and some dust. This ratio might change because B&B is inconsistent from bag to bag.
B&B Oak Lump takes some time to ignite and it sparks once lit. According to some, the ash production is high compared to other brands.
Overall, B&B is very similar to Royal Oak in terms of cost and quality. It has good value for its price and makes a great budget foreign sourced hardwood lump charcoal.
- Burns hot and fast with a mild flavor
- Good budget foreign-sourced lump charcoal
- Ash production is high
- Slow to ignite
- Spark once lit
- Inconsistent from bag to bag
What Is Lump Charcoal?
Charcoal is made from the slow pyrolysis of hardwood, softwood, and sometimes animal bones. In layman’s terms, this process means that wood is burned or carbonized in an oxygen-deprived environment for days. Pyrolysis will remove volatile compounds from the wood thus leave us pure carbon in the end.
This pure carbon that looks like charred wood is charcoal or lumpwood charcoal. With some of its components vaporized, lit charcoal doesn’t create a lot of smoke. It also burns hotter than wood.
Don’t confuse charcoal with coal. They might look the same but are different compounds even though both are rich in carbon. Coal is a fossil fuel that is a product of dead animals or plants going through natural decaying processes underground for millions of years.
After its production, any lump charcoal that is less than an inch will be made into ground charcoal or “fines”. Manufacturers will then press the fines, along with other fillers and accelerants, into charcoal briquettes. These additives are there to enhance the binding, ignition and burning of the briquettes.
There is always a heated debate between lump charcoal and briquettes as well as between different brands of lump. A long time ago, people mainly used briquettes because they are everywhere. They are also cheap and easy to make.
However, lump is making a comeback in recent years due to the increasing popularity of the kamado grill and the organic movement. People are starting to question what goes into those briquettes. After all, lump is the most natural, purest form of charcoal.
Besides using charcoal for backyard grilling, people also use it for smelting iron, art, and a variety of other things.
How Do You Make Charcoal?
The process of making charcoal is simple.
Manufacturers would collect wood scraps, those that are crooked and knotty, from timber mills. These scraps have been seasoned or dried out for 3 to 6 months to get down to around 18 – 20% moisture content. Manufacturers collect small roundwood from forest thinnings as well. Keep in mind that the two types of wood are unprocessed or “raw”.
They also use scraps from furniture and flooring materials. This wood tends to be of lesser quality than the others. Some brands claim they don’t use wood from this source.
One thing to mention here is that these wood scraps, both raw and recycled, come in different sizes and shapes. Accordingly, the resulting lump varies in size and shape as well.
After charcoal makers gather all the wood, they would burn them for 24 to 36 hours in kilns or retorts at up to 1500F. It is to get rid of the volatile compounds in the wood. Then they gradually shut off the oxygen and let everything cool down for several days. During that time, the dying fire stops before burning off all the pure carbon or charcoal.
There are two methods of producing charcoal:
- The modern way is to use a complex system of oxygen-controlled ovens or retorts.
- The traditional way is the mound method where you slowly burn wood in a conical mound covered with mud and soil.
The top charcoal producers in the world are from Africa, followed by Asia and South America. Down in South America, they use the traditional method because of the indigenous culture. There might be a lack of regulations in forest conservation in this region. However, charcoal companies, who source their wood from South America, try to work with environmental organizations to protect the woodlands there.
Charcoal making is also popular in Eastern Europe where they use modern retorts. The US only accounts for 2% of the world’s charcoal production. And about 98% of it is from the eastern US, primarily Missouri. That’s why the most common charcoal-producing unit in the US is the Missouri kiln.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulate the charcoal making process in the States. Therefore, most US charcoal makers only use wood from sustainable sources.
You can also make charcoal yourself if you have time, space, and some trees. Be careful though!
How Do You Store Lump Charcoal?
Lump charcoal has an indefinite shelf life if you store it in a tightly sealed bin. A good example is the Kingsford Caddy. Storing your charcoal in one of these will protect it from moisture and other small critters.
What if charcoal gets wet? You put it under the sun and let it dry out for a day or two. Whatever you do, you have to keep charcoal dry or it will be hard to ignite.
There is a myth that wet lump can combust by itself when stored. That is actually not true. Doug Hanthorn or the famous Naked Whiz debunked it here. It’s a myth after all.
Why Do Some Grillers Prefer Lump Charcoal?
Besides being all-natural and 100% free from additives, there are other advantages of using lump charcoal that some grillers really enjoy.
Lump charcoal lights faster than charcoal briquettes. You will have a red hot pile of lump in a few minutes whereas you need at least 20 minutes for briquettes to get ready. If you’re short on time, lump charcoal is the better choice.
Burn Hot & Clean. Less Ash
Being a porous material, a piece of lump will burn 100% altogether once lit. As a result, that will generate more BTUs or lump burns hotter than charcoal briquettes. It also burns cleaner due to having no additives.
Lump doesn’t leave much ash so cleaning up is a piece of cake.
You can’t use briquettes again after the binders or additives burn off. Briquettes will fall apart once that happens. With lump charcoal, you simply dust off the ash and light it again, assuming you didn’t burn it all last cook.
Adaptable With Temp Control
As pure carbon, lump is responsive to oxygen. That explains why lump is very adaptable in regards to temp control with the grill’s vents system. You can do high and fast grilling as well as low and slow smoking using lump charcoal. It is truly a versatile cooking fuel.
Many people say lump gives their food a pleasant smoky taste without adding wood chips. If the wood is fully burned down to carbon, the lump should have a neutral flavor when lit. Oftentimes, a few pieces of lump aren’t completely carbonized so there is still some wood left. The remaining wood catches on fire and produces smoke which adds flavor.
This flavor varies from one cook to another and from bag to bag. You usually get a mixed blend of wood in a commercial bag of lump charcoal. Therefore, you will have a mixture of flavors, not to mention burn time, peak temperature, and ash production.
Many grillers don’t like this because they have no control over the flavor of their food. They actually prefer the aroma from single, specific wood/lump (a bag of lump from just one species of wood). Now, it’s not easy to get those. It depends on the season as well as the region where you’re from.
With that said, the flavor from lump charcoal is mild compared to raw wood. If you want a stronger flavor, raw wood is the way to go. Apple and hickory are very popular among the consumers while the pros prefer pecan and cherry. Raw wood is commercially available in chunks, chips, and pellets.
What To Look For When Buying Lumpwood Charcoal?
Not all lump charcoal are created equal. So what separates the great from the average? A good starting point is to burn through several bags and pay attention to the consistency. Here are a few other things to keep in mind while you’re at it.
The best lump charcoal is made from wood with low sulfur content. This type of wood will yield better grades of lump.
The wood should be hardwood rather than softwood. Some softwood species, such as pine, are resinous. That means if there is still pine left in the lump, its smoke will impart an unpleasant flavor and could make you sick.
Softwood lump tends to be lightweight so it burns quicker with more ash. Hardwood lump burns longer and produces a smaller amount of ash. It also generates less smoke than the softwood kind.
Similarly, scraps from building materials also create a lower quality of lump charcoal. They might retain the chemicals or preservatives used to treat the wood beforehand. It will give your food a funny taste if the lump isn’t fully carbonized.
Look for “100% All Natural”, “Premium All Natural” or ”Hardwood Lump Charcoal” on the bag when you buy.
Deforestation is no joke. It is a major issue in regions such as South America or Africa. Over there, the regulations are lacking compared to the US. Most US companies use sustainable sources for their charcoal. The EPA and DNR always keep their eyes on the US charcoal plants.
If you buy lump from foreign sources, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamp on the bag. FSC is the world’s largest certification of wood products. This is to ensure that the foreign charcoal is made from protected woodlands.
Size Of The Lump
In a perfect world, a good bag of lump would have uniform pieces. In practice, you will find that lump comes in different sizes. High quality lump charcoal has more large and medium chunks than small ones. This ratio will vary from brand to brand, even bag to bag from the same brand.
Now, large chunks don’t mean humongous pieces that are the size of a soccer ball (fist sized lumps are relatively ideal). It’s not easy to fit those into a chimney starter. Oftentimes, they can be hard to light as well. Break them up if you find some.
When you find a few large pieces, a lot of medium ones and little chips and dust in a bag of lump charcoal, you’re golden.
Full carbonization means the wood is completely burned down to carbon or charcoal. Fully carbonized lumps give off little to no smoke. As a result, you will have better control over the flavor of your food by adding spice rubs, sauces, and real wood to the mix.
Properly charred lumps are also brittle. If you drop a piece on a hard surface, it should break into smaller chunks. They also make a metallic ring when two pieces hit one another.
Check out this video below. This is the sound that you should be looking for. It’s Binchotan or white charcoal by the way.
In reality, however, not all lumps are totally carbonized. You will find some pieces that have wood remaining. A superior brand will contain less of these under-charred lumps. Many grillers don’t mind the complementary smoky flavor though. That said, full carbonization is still something to consider when determining the quality of different charcoal makers.
Dust And Foreign Objects
Charcoal dust is useless for grilling. It can also clog up your vents and sparks like hell. Therefore, you want the least amount of dust in a bag of lump.
Dust is unavoidable even with high quality lump charcoal. It is due to careless filtering process at the factory and/or rough handling at the store.
Last thing to consider is foreign objects in the bag such as rocks, nails or a phone (just kidding!). It rarely happens but watch out for those. You never know what kind of “prize” you’re getting.
Frequently Asked Questions
How To Start Lump Charcoal?
There are many ways to start lumpwood. You can use fire starter cubes, chimney starter, propane torch, or Looftlighter.
Whatever you choose, stay away from the lighter fluid. It is a kerosene by-product which gives off black smoke when burned. Being a porous material, lump charcoal will absorb the fluid and won’t get rid of it. Your food will have a nasty taste as a result.
How Long Until Lump Charcoal Is Ready?
It usually takes 10 to 15 minutes for lump to get to high heat. About 25 to 30 minutes to get to medium heat as the lump slowly combusts.
That’s a general rule. Depending on what you’re planning to cook, a good thermometer will be able to tell you when your lump is ready.
Can You Put Out Charcoal With Water?
Yes, you can but not recommended. Too much water can damage your grill due to thermal shock and the steam coming from the hot charcoal can burn you.
If you have no other choices but water, get a long tong to pick up the hot lumps then drop them into a bucket of water. Please wear protective gloves and safety glasses.
Do You Just Let Charcoal Burn Out?
Yes, you should close all the vents and wait for the lump charcoal to die down. Let the grill and the remaining charcoal rest for a few days before cleaning out the ash.
If the unburned lumps are big enough, you can use them again for later cooks. If you end up with small chunks, grind them up into ground charcoal and use it to brush your teeth or as fertilizer for your garden.
Is Ash From Charcoal Good For Plants?
Ash from lump charcoal contains potassium carbonate which is good for some plants but not the ones that crave acids such as azaleas and hydrangeas. The ash can alter the alkalinity of the soil and it can destroy new seedlings as well.
Charcoal fines are good for the soil. The ash is another story. Use it carefully. They are two different things.
So What Is The Best Lump Charcoal?
Not all lump charcoal are created equal. The quality of lump depends on the type of wood and whether it is fully charred. Don’t forget the source that the wood comes from. It should be from sustainable forests. The size of the lump also matters as well as the amount of dust or bizarre objects found in the bag.
There isn’t one best lump charcoal for everyone. The decision is personal. It might take a couple of tries until you find your favorite brand.
Lump will give your food a nice smoky flavor. It lights quicker and burns hotter with less ash. It’s also reactive to temp control if you’re using a kamado or regular charcoal grill. Moreover, you can reuse the remaining charcoal if you don’t burn it all off from your last cook.
I hope you find this article useful. If you have anything interesting to add, feel free to comment down below.
Until next time, keep on grilling!