If you read my introductory guide to charcoal, you already know that I love lump charcoal for grilling and briquettes for smoking.
But Tommy…there are so many brands out there…it’s scary! Which ones should I use?
Fear not, as I am here to tell you which brands of charcoal I think are the best out there. I’m not going to bash any brands here, since I’m all about being positive when it comes to barbecue. This is supposed to be fun!
This is going to be a very short list, as I’m only recommending the stuff that I think is head and shoulders above the rest. There are many, many different brands out there, and most of them fall into the “meh” category for me. I haven’t tried all of them, but I’ll update this if I find something I like better or deserves mentioning. On to the list!
My #1 overall recommendation for charcoal is:
Rockwood Lump Charcoal
You have no idea how much it breaks my heart that Rockwood doesn’t have any sort of an affiliate program. Then again…when you’re good, you’re good…and you don’t need any help. And Rockwood charcoal is very, very good. It’s the best I’ve ever used, and I’ve used a lot of different charcoal brands over the years.
If you asked which charcoal I would pick if I could only ever use one brand for the rest of my life, I would tell you Rockwood. Without hesitation. Without blinking. It’s that good.
They are located in Missouri, and they use 100% Missouri Hardwood (Oak, Hickory and Maple) with no chemicals, no binders, no nuttin’. Just carbonized hardwood.
It lights faster and more easily than most other lump charcoal, it burns hot, and it leaves behind little ash. It also has the best assortment of sizes, with most of the lumps being medium to medium-large. There are minimal small sized chips and very little dust compared to most other brands, and I’ve never had a large unruly piece that wasn’t fully carbonized. It consistently has the most usable amount of charcoal per bag that I’ve found.
I’ve also never come across any “foreign objects” in any of my Rockwood over the years, as lump charcoal is kind of prone to having. I’m not a huge fan of using lump for smoking, but if I was going to use lump for it, I’d use Rockwood.
It gives off a medium strength, pleasant wood smell and flavor to whatever you’re cooking, but not enough to overpower.
Their website has all the information you could want about it, including where you can find it near you (a lot of Ace Hardware stores carry it). It will set you back $28.99 for a 20 pound bag (about $1.45 per pound). You can also buy directly from Rockwood, and if you buy three bags you get free shipping (that’s how I buy it). Seriously…check this stuff out…it’s the best there is, in my opinion:
My #2 recommendation is:
Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal
This is a brand of lump charcoal that’s made in Paraguay, from Quebracho Blanco wood. This wood is referred to as “axe-breaker,” so this is definitely a hard hardwood.
I don’t remember how long ago it was that I had heard about this stuff, but I heard many good things, so I couldn’t wait to try it. I was not disappointed. This is really good stuff.
Much like my #1 recommendation, each bag of Jealous Devil that I’ve used has been very consistent with regard to size. Mostly medium to medium-large sized pieces. Very little waste (chips/dust), and no big hunks that needed to be broken down.
It lights fairly easily, with little popping or sparking, and this stuff burns HOT. This is probably the hottest-burning charcoal that I’ve ever used. I’ve never clocked it with my thermometer, but there is a noticeable difference in heat output with this stuff.
As far as lump goes, it has a great burn time. I find that Rockwood burns a bit longer, although not quite as hot. Jealous Devil also puts out very little ash.
I think the only reason I rank this as #2 and not #1 is the flavor. The smoke and flavor produced by Jealous Devil is a little on the strong side, and it’s quite different than the typical hardwoods that you associate with barbecue. It’s not a bad thing, mind you…just different. I find the smell and flavor to be a bit much for most things.
It does work well for beef, and if you enjoy the smell and flavor, then this might very well be the charcoal for you. I used to go back and forth between this and Rockwood, but eventually Rockwood won me over.
I have never come across Jealous Devil locally, so I’ve only ever bought it online. It typically runs $47.95 per 35 pound bag (about $1.37 per pound), and that’s a lot of charcoal. It also gets some bonus points for having the coolest bag of any lump charcoal. Definitely worth your time and money to check it out:
My #3 recommendation is:
Kingsford Blue Bag Charcoal Briquettes
I didn’t create a separate list for briquettes, since this is already a very short list, and my briquette list is even shorter. Really not even a list now that I think about it. Okay, it’s one brand. And you already know it. You see it every time you go into a store. Kingsford Blue Bag is my top…and only recommendation when it comes to briquettes.
What?! There are soooo many other brands out there…how can this be the only recommendation? The biggest names aren’t always the best, Tommy!
Yeah, yeah…I’ve heard it all before. Everybody’s big on whatever the trendy small-batch thing is out there. Everybody hates the big companies.
Just keep in mind, we’re not talking about your micro-brewed pineapple-banana-orange-whateverthehell fall-winter lager you drink (and, by the way…if you’re that person…I kinda hate you…just a little. Well…maybe more than a little. Like…a lot. Okay, I’m done.). We’re talking about charcoal here folks…don’t over-complicate it!
Also, sometimes there’s a reason the company or the product is big and shows up everywhere. I dunno….like maybe because it’s….good? Did you ever stop to think about that?
I’m here to tell you, Kingsford blue bag is the best charcoal briquette out there, in my opinion. It doesn’t put off any bad smells or flavors (once it’s lit properly), it lights quickly, and it holds a steady heat for a long time. Add to that the fact that it’s readily available pretty much anywhere and it’s cheap, and we have ourselves a winner.
The only negatives I have for it are the same negatives for any briquette, in that it produces a fair amount of ash and it doesn’t burn as hot as lump does. Still, it works very well for grilling or smoking, although I think smoking is where it really shines.
As big a fan as I am of affiliate marketing, I’m not posting any links for Kingsford, because it’s just not worth buying it online. You can hardly step into a grocery store without tripping over a bag of it, and the prices online don’t save you any money. Plus shipping is too much for something as heavy as charcoal.
I’m telling you, skip the generic brands and the store brands and just get the Kingsford. It’s the best bang for your buck out there, and it works great.
If you’re concerned about the additives, binders, etc. used in charcoal briquettes (and seriously, you shouldn’t be), there are brands out there that don’t use any. I’ve never used any of them, but look around and I’m sure you’ll find them.
And there we have it, folks. My top brands of charcoal. I told you it was short, and I did not lie. Since I feel bad about the list being so short, I decided to include some brands for honorable mention that fall short of the list I have here, for different reasons. Here are a couple of brands worth checking out if you want to experiment a bit:
FOGO Super Premium Charcoal
This is a brand that I heard a lot about, so I bought a bunch of it and tried it for a while. Overall, it’s a pretty good charcoal. Maybe even a very good charcoal. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it super-premium, but all-in-all a solid performer.
My main issues with it are inconsistent sized pieces, occasional un-carbonized large pieces, and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to light.
Ash production is middle of the road, and the burn temperature is nothing to get overly-excited about. It does give off a nice aroma and flavor, however, and it has one of the longer burn times of the lump that I’ve tried. It’s also expensive, around $50-$55 for a 35 pound bag (about $1.57 per pound, give or take). I actually like it a lot, but not enough to overtake #1, 2, or 3 on my list. A lot of people love it though, so check it out if you’re so inclined:
Royal Oak Lump Charcoal
This was my go-to for years before I started buying things online. It’s sort of middle-of-the-road in just about every category. It doesn’t burn as hot or for as long as some of the top brands, and the bags are really inconsistent when it comes to the sizes of the pieces.
You’re going to get a lot of big pieces that you need to bust up with a hammer before using, and you’re going to get more chips and dust than you will with better brands.
Why am I even giving it an honorable mention then?
Because even with its shortcomings, it does burn hotter than briquettes. It also gives off a nice aroma and gives a good flavor to your food.
Perhaps it’s biggest advantage, however, is that it’s more readily available than most brands of lump, and it’s also really cheap for lump.
It’s available at most Wal-Mart stores, and a lot of hardware stores carry it too. It typically runs about $10-$12 for a 15.4 pound bag, which makes up for the amount of unusable bits and pieces in there. If you’re looking to try lump for the first time, this is worth a look. You should be able to find it without having to order it online, and it won’t break the bank.
I think that’s that for now. I’ll update this if I think of anything else I’d like to add. Thanks for checking it out, and I hope you enjoyed it.