Fueling the Fire: Briquets vs. Lump vs. Gas
November 20, 2013
Summer is over, it’s tailgate season… people across the country are starting to think about that big Fall cookout.
You got the meat, you got the disposable kitchenware, you even got a quart of that gawd awful macaroni salad from the store that you continue to buy despite the fact that no one has ever touched it (in fact, perhaps it should be declared the “fruitcake of Fall”, putting it away in the closet until next year or perhaps “re-gifting” it to some lucky recipient).
Now all you need is fuel for your fire. And fuel sources are an often debated subject among outdoor cooks. In its most basic form you have “Gas vs. Charcoal.” In that debate, I as well as most purists would claim charcoal all the way.
Buuuuuuuutttttttt….I’m also willing to state that my name is Clint and I have used gas. That’s right. Not in an addiction kind of way, just a “it’s 8pm on a Tuesday and I need a steak NOW” kind of way.
With that confession out in the open, it’s back to my first and only true love – charcoal. And with charcoal you have another raging debate between lump and briquets.
By way of an introduction, briquets are charred wood (and in some cases additional ingredients such as sawdust and starch are added to provide a more consistent burn while avoiding any undesirable or unnatural additives despite some claims) compressed in to the familiar roundish shape we all know and love.
Lump, on the other hand, is basically charred wood (mainly tree limbs) that hasn’t been compressed into briquets. Which is best? Ultimately that’s a personal opinion but here are my general thoughts on the subject.
Now while I have used both on countless occasions over the years, I have always feared firing up lump charcoal because of the festival of sparks it creates (as captured in the right portion of the image above), threatening to burn little tiny holes in my favorite American Royal t-shirt or worse. Conversely the briquets heat with a nice clean and consistent flame (as seen in the left portion of the picture) throughout the entire cook.
Again, that’s my take away from the two. Frankly, I never knew what was going to fall out of the bag of lump. Sometimes I’d have charred logs bigger than a puppy and other times I’d have a ton of bits and pieces that fell right through my chimney starter. Meanwhile, briquets do what they promise – create a consistent grilling experience each and every time. I know that if I put x amount of briquets in the bottom of my smokers at a barbecue contest, add a few light coals to the center and shut ‘er up, I can go to sleep and wake the next morning to the same smoker temperature I left it (and with more coal to spare after 10 hours or more.) Lump, on the other hand, tends to burn hot and fast, with no real control of temperatures due to the inconsistencies in the product size and I can’t risk any possible margin for error when bragging rights and plastic trophies are on the line!
Now what about flavor? While gas is fast, my love for the smell and taste that charred wood charcoals add to the cooking experience is irreplaceable. Plus the addition of wood chips and chunks such as hickory, apple, cherry and others can really take your flavor profile to new levels.
Lastly, I am aware that ash build up is a concern to all of us and while it’s true that briquets do tend to create more ash due to the nature of how they are made, the amount is not significant in my opinion. Plus, regardless of the fuel source, ash buildup should always be properly monitored and removed in order to maintain proper airflow during the entire cooking process.
So which is better in my not so humble opinion? Well, after experimenting with lump in my upright ceramic cooker (because someone told me that you HAD to use lump or you could ruin the cooker), I gave up and permanently turned to Kingsford Competition all natural briquets due to their predictable, clean burn with none of the threatened repercussions to the cooker. In fact, since it’s basically lump that’s been pressed into a briquet, I’m able to get all of the goodness of lump along with the consistency of the briquet. It’s a true no brainer.
So now that I’ve opened my grilling soul to you fine readers of Grilling.com and placed my vote for briquets, be sure to check out Chris Lilly’s video on the subject below and also be sure to check out more facts on live fire cooking sources here!
- Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Editor