There's a lot of mystery around charcoal briquettes, and unfortunately, reading online comments about it can leave you more confused than before.
Do the leading manufacturers really add weird ingredients to our charcoal such as limestone and glue? Does not "burning off" the briquettes give our meat a chemical flavor?
Many of the charcoal briquettes available in the chain stores do in fact contain additives. According to NakedWhiz.com, an authority on charcoal, one of the leading brands has limestone in it. Some apparently have glue, newspaper, and chemicals in them as well.
It may be debatable which additives are used and exactly what those additives help or harm, but in recent years, more brands are producing 100% all natural hardwood briquettes. Even Kingsford now has a competition briquette which is said to contain only hardwood, a starch binder (to hold the powder together), and borax (to keep the briquette from sticking to the mold after it's made).
When choosing charcoal briquettes, here are the main factors to consider that will make your cooking experience easier and more fun:
- How hot does the charcoal burn?
- How long does the heat last?
- How much ash does it produce?
Longer Burn. In reviews online, one brand of all natural briquette spiked hotter in the beginning and burned out quicker than a briquette with additives from the same brand. These tests were done in an open grill and on a foil pan.
However, in an enclosed grill, the all natural briquette outlasted the other. Royal Oak Chef's Select briquettes have also been proven to burn longer and more consistently than other leading brands of charcoal with additives.
A note about lump charcoal: As a rule, we recommend using lump charcoal for direct heat cooking, such as for burgers and steaks or when cooking anything in a ceramic cooker. If you choose to use briquettes in an open grill for direct heat grilling, the extra burst of heat in the first half hour or so provided by the all natural briquettes are actually an advantage.
We recommend charcoal briquettes for low and slow indirect cooking where you can control the airflow and need long consistent heat.
Less Ash. It's been proven that an all natural briquette will produce less ashes than one with additives. If you're doing a couple of batches of bone-in chicken on a Meadow Creek chicken cooker or tending an offset firebox for hours on end, less ash is a most wonderful thing. As the briquettes burn, the ashes tend to suffocate the fire, so less ash produced makes a significant difference in the burn time and fire maintenance for a long cook.
I know I'm being a bit vague about how much better all natural briquettes really are. That's partly because there are so many variables and different ways of cooking with them. I also don't want you to get bogged down with test results that don't actually make a practical difference for you.
If you're looking for a better performance in your smoker or if you're battling weird flavors in your barbecue, try using 100% hardwood charcoal. It kinda goes without saying, but if you have to "burn off" the charcoal before you put it in your pit or add the meat to your grill, it could be that your charcoal contains questionable ingredients you shouldn't be cooking with.
If you are not able to purchase all natural briquettes locally, then it might make more sense for you to keep using the best of what you can get at your local hardware store. The all natural options are also becoming more common in the chain stores.
Royal Oak Chef's Select 100% Hardwood Briquettes
Here at Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply, we are big fans of Royal Oak Chef's Select 100% Hardwood charcoal briquettes. This is our go-to charcoal briquette, and we stock lots of it both for our own use and for our customers who have come to depend on it.
It comes in 40-pound bags which are handier for high volume users, but not too much for the weekend barbecue enthusiast. Even though Chef's Select briquettes are superior, the cost is similar to the prices at Walmart or your local hardware store.
Did you know we are a one-stop shop for lump and briquette charcoal? Besides Chef's Select briquettes, we also stock 100% hardwood lump charcoal from Big Green Egg, Royal Oak, Nature-Glo, and Blues Hog.
Refine your strategy this barbecue season and start cooking with 100% hardwood charcoal. We promise you'll love it!
About the author: Lavern Gingerich is a writer and the digital marketing manager for Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply.