- Shutterstock/Business Insider
- Although you may think that one bag of charcoal is almost identical to another, there are actually many different types and styles of charcoal to choose from.
- The best charcoal for the average backyard barbecue fan is the 7-pound bag of Royal Oak Ridge Briquettes.
Perhaps nothing signals that summer has started quite like getting the grill going. For many of us, cooking outside for friends and family is a time-honored way to celebrate the season. Besides getting everybody together outside, a good grill gives your food a unique smoky flavor.
There are quite a few different types of grills on the market these days, but the two basic types remain gas grills and charcoal grills. The final word over which one is better has been hotly debated by BBQ junkies for years, but in this guide, we’re focusing on finding the best charcoal for your charcoal grill. If you don’t have a charcoal grill yet, buy one of our top picks for the best charcoal grills here.
Charcoal is a kind of half-burnt wood. It’s made by burning the wood very slowly without much oxygen so that it turns into carbon. People like to cook with charcoal because it burns hotter than wood and produces less smoke.
There are several different kinds of charcoal, including briquettes, lump charcoal, flavored briquettes, and more. The type of charcoal that’s best for you varies by your grilling style and personal preferences. We break down which charcoal is best for different scenarios in our guide.
Here is the best grilling charcoal you can buy in 2019:
- Best charcoal overall: Royal Oak Ridge Briquettes
- Best all-natural charcoal: Weber Natural Hardwood Briquettes
- Best lump charcoal: Fogo All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
- Best charcoal for ceramic grills: Kamado Joe Natural Lump Charcoal
- Best affordable charcoal: Kingsford’s Original Charcoal Briquettes
Updated on 10/24/2019 by Owen Burke: Updated prices, links, and formatting.
The best charcoal for grilling overall
- Royal Oak
The Royal Oak Ridge Briquettes burn beautifully to grill your dinner to perfection.
Royal Oak Enterprises started as the Bradleyville Charcoal Company in Missouri in 1953 but changed to its current name in 1983. Today, the family-owned company is one of the largest charcoal producers in North America. The popular Royal Oak Ridge Briquettes promise to be hot and ready for grilling in 15 minutes. The special ridge shape allows for better airflow and peak performance. The briquettes cost approximately 75 cents a pound.
Around the web, professional reviewers, including found these to be the best overall briquettes for the average backyard barbecue lover. According to The Wirecutter, this charcoal burns hotter and longer than most other charcoal, and it doesn’t leave much ash behind. The charcoal may not be completely additive-free, but it doesn’t leave a strange aftertaste on your food, either.
There are no user reviews on Amazon, but on several other barbecue fan sites, consumers praised the briquettes. “I use this charcoal all of the time! It has a good flavor, and burns hot and clean,” wrote one reviewer on Smoking Meat Forums. “I use RO briquettes all the time. I love them. Can’t beat the price,” wrote another reviewer on BBQ-Brethren.
You really can’t go wrong with this charcoal, and it’ll make your backyard BBQ a hit.
Pros: Burns fast, burns hot, long-lasting, no bad taste imparted to food, affordable
Cons: Contains sawdust
The best all-natural charcoal for grilling
The Weber Natural Hardwood Briquettes burn longer and hotter than lots of other charcoal.
Since 1952, Weber has been one of the country’s preeminent producers of both gas and charcoal grills, as well as grilling accessories. So when Weber introduced its very first briquettes in 2017, the barbecue world buzzed with excitement.
The briquettes are sold in a strong, 20-pound, weather-protected, and re-sealable bag. The hardwood of these all-natural briquettes is ground and pressed to create a super dense structure that is free of binders and chemicals. The most notable thing about these briquettes is their consistently large size. The bigger they are, the fewer you’ll need to use while grilling. This ensures consistent heat, prolongs grilling time, and is cost-effective.
Buyers seem to love this charcoal, too. On Lowe’s’ website, one reviewer wrote: “I have found this Hardwood Charcoal to burn longer and hotter than competitive brands. The briquettes are much denser, slightly larger and have a rich dark color. I would recommend this for charcoal grilling, or smoking with some Cherry Wood.”
The reviewer at Mad Meat Genius, a popular site that regularly reviews grilling products, wrote: “We are very pleased with the performance and longevity of Weber charcoal briquettes. It passed our un-controlled experiment with flying colors. They performed stellar in both of our cooks. We can vouch and would recommend this product.”
If you don’t like additives in your charcoal, Weber’s Briquettes are a great choice for your grill.
Pros: Burns hot, burns fast, large size, has the Weber name behind it
The best lump charcoal for grilling
Fogo’s All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal burns hot and clean to leave your food with the lingering taste of oak wood.
Made from dense Central American hardwood trimmings, only hand-selected pieces make it into every bag of Fogo’s All-natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal. Quick lighting, this large-sized charcoal is ready to grill within 15 minutes. Fogo, which means fire in several languages, is a restaurant-quality charcoal that burns very hot and imparts a mild, smoky flavor to your food. It contains no fillers and no chemicals and is perfect for low and slow cooking.
User reviews on Amazon are mostly positive, with consumers continually touting the large chunks of charcoal that burn slowly. “If charcoal was a car, this would be the Rolls Royce of charcoal,” wrote one reviewer. “This is my go-to charcoal. Large pieces that burn slowly,” wrote another verified buyer. “Fantastic!!! What more can be said, this stuff is truly amazing! Super mellow taste of oak. Super easy to start and maintain and control your heat! All with NO Chemical taste,” wrote another.
Across the web, professional and semi-professional reviewers including those at The Wirecutter and the Naked Whiz, a popular charcoal reviewing site, give good marks to Fogo FHWC35LB 35-Pound All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Bag, too.
If you want to try lump charcoal, there’s none better than Fogo’s.
Pros: Large lumps, burns hot, burns slowly, all-natural, mellow flavor, low ash
Cons: Takes a while to get to achieve a high temperature; sometimes the lumps are so large they are hard to get out of the bag or to manage.
Buy a 35-Pound Bag of Fogo FHWC35LB All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal on Wal-Mart for $55.95
The best charcoal for ceramic grills
- Kamado Joe
The Kamado Joe Natural Lump Charcoal is great for ceramic grills because it produces so little ash.
A growing number of serious barbecue fanatics are eschewing both gas and charcoal grills and turning to a third option. Ceramic grills, basically modern versions of the Indian and Chinese ovens and urns that were used thousands of years ago, allow food to retain its moisture while being cooked at a high temperature. You can vary the temperature, from 225°F to more than 750°F, so a ceramic grill can basically double as an oven or even a smoker. Many of them look like giant eggs. All ceramic grills require lump charcoal, though.
Kamado Joe, based in China, makes well regarded and affordable ceramic grills and other grilling accessories. The highly rated, 100% natural Kamado Joe charcoal is sourced from three dense hardwoods in Argentina. Apparently, the wood is so hard it is called an “ax breaker” by the locals. The wood is then roasted in traditional outdoor ovens.
Around the web, semi-professional barbecue reviewers, including those at the Egghead Forum, a popular site reviewing ceramic grills and accessories, rave about Kamado Joe Natural Lump Charcoal.
User reviews on the Ace Hardware site are highly positive. “Anyone that complains about this product does not know how to use a ceramic grill. I’ve tried multiple brands and Kamado Joe Charcoal blows them all away. Burns longer than all the others and leaves a great smoky taste on all my meats. You’ll never use another after using this once,” wrote a reviewer.
“This charcoal is excellent with a good mixture of different sizes. I recently smoked ribs from 11 am till 6 pm at 225 degrees, then neighbors came over and had steaks so I cranked up temp to 800 and cooked his steaks, and still have enough charcoal for another 3 to 4 hour burn,” wrote another happy customer.
If you have a ceramic grill, this is the charcoal for you.
Pros: Large lumps, burns hot, low ash
Cons: Somewhat pricey
The best affordable charcoal for grilling
Kingsford’s Original Charcoal Briquettes are a backyard grilling classic because they’re cheap, effective, and available everywhere.
Kingsford’s Original Briquettes are probably what your dad uses for every backyard barbeque he’s ever held – at least mine does. Kingsford is a classic grilling charcoal that you can buy just about anywhere for a reasonable price.
On Amazon, you can get two 12.9-pound bags of Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes for less than $35. That much charcoal should keep you grilling for most of the summer. Although Kingsford’s charcoal isn’t fancy or innovative like some of our other picks, it’s made from natural ingredients and real wood.
Each briquette has the company’s Sure Fire Grooves for quick, easy lighting, and Kingsford says you’ll be ready to cook in about 15 minutes. Testers at the Wirecutter write that it’s a good affordable option, but they caution that the briquettes create a lot of ash and burn fairly quickly.
However, buyers on Amazon love these briquettes, and my family always has, too. If you’re not into fancy charcoal and just want to save some money on reliable charcoal for grilling, Kingsford is a good bet. – Malarie Gokey
Pros: Affordable, grills well, classic briquette style, widely available
Cons: Lots of ash, additives, fast-burning
Types of charcoal and how to use it
- Shutterstock/Sean Locke Photography
Types of charcoal for grilling
- Charcoal Briquettes: This is the type of charcoal that Americans are most familiar with. In fact, seared into my mind is the image of a red, white, and blue bag of charcoal that sat by the back door and always accompanied us on our camping trips when I was a child. It was the Kingsford brand, which is still the best-selling charcoal in this country. Briquettes are so popular because they’re affordable, easy to use and readily available. Made of wood, briquettes also contain “binding” ingredients like sawdust, starch, and sodium nitrate, which make it burn better. Compressed into a uniform shape and size, briquettes produce a consistent burn and are ideal for foods that require less cooking time like fish or steak.
- Instant Charcoal Briquettes: In 2017, you are going to find very few people who advocate for using these briquettes, because they have been heavily pre-soaked in lighter fluid. Yes, they are easy to light, but they leave your food with a considerable, chemical aftertaste.
- Hardwood Lump Charcoal: Made from real chunks of charred wood, lump charcoal contains none of the additives found in briquettes. In general, lump costs at least twice as much as briquettes, but it lights easier and burns cleaner, producing the least amount of smoke and ash. As an added bonus, since the chunks are actual wood, they can also impart a nice, smoky flavor to your food. Lump charcoal also burns hotter than briquettes, which is ideal when you want to sear a steak or other meat. One of the downsides is that the heat is not as consistent as briquettes, and it may take you a little while to learn to manage your fire. Serious foodies favor lump charcoal for all these reasons and because it is all natural, it’s been growing in market share over the last decade.
- Flavored Briquettes: Both briquettes and lump charcoal come in flavored versions. The most popular are mesquite, hickory, and Applewood. Many BBQ aficionados suggest that if you are craving these flavors, your best bet is to add flavored wood chips in with your non-flavored briquettes
- Binchotan Also known as white charcoal, this pure charcoal has been made from hard Ubame Oak trees found in Japan for hundreds of years. It not only burns at extremely high temperatures, and produces virtually no smoke or ash, but will last for three to five hours. Enjoying a renaissance in recent years, both in Japan and worldwide, binchotan charcoal is also known for its purifying and deodorizing characteristics. Proponents claim hanging a couple of pieces in your bathroom can prevent mold and mildew; it’s also thought that it can purify water by absorbing toxins like chlorine and mercury. Binchotan is often more difficult to ignite than both lump charcoal and briquettes. Although the price varies widely, it’s almost always more expensive than the other types of charcoal.
- Thai Charcoal: Famed chef Andy Ricker, known for his expertise in northern Thai cuisine, has created his own charcoal that succeeded in capturing the high heat of binchotan without the high cost. Created from orchard-grown rambutan fruit wood, it provides a nice, even heat, although it can be difficult to light. A 5-pound box of Pok Pok Thaan Thai Style Charcoal Logs is available on Amazon for $15.
How to make the most of your charcoal when you grill
If you are new to charcoal grilling there are a number of ways to ensure that your carefully planned backyard barbecue doesn’t go up in flames. Here, Food & Wine outlines five rookie mistakes to avoid when you’re cooking with charcoal.
- Don’t forget to use a chimney starter to light the coals. You may be tempted to use lighter fluid – but don’t. Use a chimney starter to light your coals instead.
- Don’t pour the coals into your grill before they are ready.
- Don’t heat both sides of your grill to the same temperature.
- Don’t forget to preheat the grill before cooking.
- Don’t forget about the vents.
Check out our other grilling guides
Charcoal grills sear meat and veggies to perfection and fill food with that perfect smokey flavor. Of all the grills we researched, the Weber Original Kettle 22-inch grill stands out because of its classic, successful design and excellent price point.
- Best overall: Weber Original Kettle 22-Inch
- Best grill with a smoker: Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker
- Best high-end grill: Broil King Keg 5000
- Best portable grill: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Sportsman
- Best big grill: Char-Broil American Gourmet 840
- Best charcoal and gas grill: Char-Griller Double Play 3 Burner Gas and Charcoal Grill
- Best single-use, disposable, eco-friendly grill: CasusGrill
The gas grill is the centerpiece of your backyard during summertime barbeques, so you should invest in a great one. Our overall favorite gas grill is the Broil King Regal S590 Pro 5 Burner Natural Gas Grill.
- Best overall: Broil King Regal S590 Pro 5 Burner Natural Gas Grill
- Best value: Weber Spirit II E-310 LP Gas Grill
- Best portable grill: Coleman Road Trip Propane Portable Grill LXE
- Best compact grill: Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 3 Burner LP Gas Grill
- Best charcoal and gas grill: Char-Griller Double Play 3 Burner Gas and Charcoal Grill
There’s nothing like food cooked up al fresco and served hot off the grill. But only a thoroughly cleaned grill can properly cook smoky, savory meats and veggies that diners will devour. The Kona 360° Grill Brush is our top choice because its triple coil design allows it to scour large swathes of the grill with each pass, cleaning the surface on top and bottom.
- Best grill brush overall: Kona 360° Grill Brush
- Best grill brush and scraper for stubborn residue: BBQ-Aid Grill Brush and Scraper
- Best low-cost grill brush: Room Essentials Tough Brush
- Best cleaning tool for charcoal grills: Charcoal Companion Safe Scrape Non-Bristle Cleaning Tool
- Best grill cleaning brick: KegWorks Grill Cleaning Brick