What's the Best Charcoal for a BBQ Grill

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Published: 10th May 2013
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Does it really make any difference what sort of fuel you use on your charcoal barbecue grill? YES, it can make a big difference. We'll explain why in this article.

You will know that you can use either charcoal or wood on your BBQ grill, although charcoal is by far the most common. However, there are lots of different types of charcoal and wood you can choose. We'll look at the options and outline the advantages and disadvantages of each of them.


Charcoal has been used as fuel for many thousands of years. It's the most popular choice for most barbecue enthusiasts.

The basic techniques for making charcoal haven't changed much since early days, but the technology has. It's manufactured by the slow combustion of wood (generally hardwood) in an atmosphere that's been starved of oxygen. The wood doesn't burn to ash when you do this. It loses its moisture and a variety of different chemical compounds are also vaporized as the burning takes place.

The black substance left behind is pure carbon. When this is broken into smaller lumps and burned it produces a more consistent heat than you would get from burning the original wood, and unlike when you burn wood, you get no smell.


Charcoal briquettes are a more manufactured form of charcoal. Their main component is wood waste and timber off-cuts. They are turned into carbon in the same way as the pure charcoal but the charcoal pieces produced are then crushed into granules, combined with other substances and then compressed and shaped to form briquettes.

The substances added to the charcoal to make the briquettes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but usually always include a petroleum or oil-based product which helps ignite the briquettes in the barbecue grill. Another common additive is borax, which prevents the briquette sticking inside the molds after the have been compressed.

You can find out more about how briquettes are made at http://www.madehow.com/Volume-4/Charcoal-Briquette.html#b.

The first briquettes made (by Henry Ford from wood waste produced during car manufacturing) had petroleum products added to help ignition, but thereís now a wide choice of types of briquettes that use substances such as vegetable oil instead of the rather smelly petroleum products.

Because of the oils added to the briquettes they all give off unpleasant odors when they start burning (even the non-petroleum ones). These odors will spoil the taste of your food, but you can avoid this by letting the briquettes burn for ten minutes or so before you start to use your grill.


Wood is a more difficult fuel to use on a charcoal grill. It's bulky, and difficult to store and transport. Also, if you decide to use wood you'll find it doesn't maintain a consistent temperature during grilling.

However, quite a few people wouldn't use anything other than wood because of the flavor aromas given off by wood whilst it's burning. These are aromas are caused by the chemical compounds that are lost during the manufacture of charcoal from natural wood.

The flavors produced are unique to each type of wood. For example, the smoke from alder is very mild, but the smoke from apple wood very strong and tangy.


We've already mentioned that briquettes are the most popular because they're clean, easy to transport and produce a consistent high temperature during cooking. However, as we've also mentioned there is the initial smell problem with a briquette.

Charcoal also provides a consistent heat source, but it usually takes a little longer to get going (but a chimney starter will help speed the process up).

Good quality charcoal will give off more heat than briquettes, resulting in higher temperatures. You can research the different brands of charcoal and briquettes available using internet sites such http://www.nakedwhiz.com/burntimetest/lumpcompare.htm/

Dry wood burns fiercely on a barbecue grill and can quickly produce very high temperatures (ideal for searing steak). However, a consistent high temperature will be difficult to maintain over a long period without constant attention. Enthusiasts of wood barbecue grills often opt for front -loading grills because they can be replenished with additional wood easily to maintain a reasonably consistent temperature.

It's great fun using wood on a barbecue grill. Try it out once in a while but remember to keep your grill open because burning wood produces lots of smoke as well as those magic and flavorsome aromas. Excess smoke can very easily spoil the taste of your food, and its not very healthy.


We have already mentioned that neither natural charcoal or briquettes contain any of the desirable chemical compounds that can impart attractive and compelling flavors to food cooked on a barbecue grill. You can compensate for this by using barbecue wood chips.

It's very easy and straightforward to use wood chips on a barbecue grill. Soak your chips in water beforehand to prevent them burning up too quickly. Scatter them onto the burning coals (some people wrap them in aluminum foil or put them in a smoke box). They will smolder for a long while before they burn away and as they smolder they will give off their own unique aromas. These aromas penetrate the food and affect its taste.

Vary the taste by different types of wood chip. For example;

- Alder produces a mild smoke and is frequently used for barbecuing salmon
- Pecan & Hickory produce rich dense smoke thatís excellent for beef
- Apple gives off a very tangy smoke thatís good for pork and game
- Oak chips produce a smoke thatís good for beef and lamb

There are lots of types of wood chips to choose from. Check them out at your local BBQ store.


You don't need to decide on just one type of fuel for your barbecue grill. Ring the changes by trying out charcoal, briquettes and wood.

You'll probably settle on one type of fuel as your main one, but it can be fun to try cooking your favorite meals with charcoal, briquettes and wood and noticing the differences in the finished results.

Find out more about how to get the best results from your charcoal grill at http://www.barbecues-for-sale.com/five-key-steps-for-successful-grilling-on-a-charcoal-bbq-grill/

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