How to Pick The Right Charcoal For Your Grill

Unlike gas grills that heat up almost instantly, grilling with charcoal takes a few steps before you can add on the BBQ. Once you've got your type of charcoal, you'll have to figure out which method of lighting you would like to use. There are four different ways to get your grill started.

How To Start a Charcoal Grill

Close up man with gloves chimney starter barbecue grill in open air at country garden house. Flaming hot red yellow charcoal grill on green lawn backgrounds. Concept of country recreation. Copy space

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Lighter Fluid

The easiest method, using lighter fluid is one of the most popular methods people use to start their grills. Place the charcoal in a mound on the grill and spritz the lighter fluid over the form of charcoal. Light a match and throw it on, making sure to stand back. Once the charcoal are white-hot, move them around the grill and get cooking.

Chimney Starter

If you don't want lighter fluid near your outdoor cooking, use a charcoal chimney to get your charcoal nice and hot. Simply crumble newspaper into the bottom of the chimney and top with the charcoal. Light the paper at the bottom and wait about 20 minutes for it to heat. Use high temperature gloves when pouring the coals on the grill.

Electric Starter

If you grill a lot, this electric starter might be the perfect gadget for you. Mound the charcoal in the middle of the grill and using the starter, touch the briquets. It'll light them and help the coal catch.

Strikeable Fire Starter

Perfect for camping, these fire starters are strike-able like a match and burn for about 12 minutes, giving the charcoal an ample amount of time to light.

What is Charcoal Made of?

Charcoal BBQ on a Concrete Patio

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Have you have built a fire and then noticed the blacked pieces of wood left at the bottom of the fireplace. That's charcoal!

Scientifically speaking, "Charcoal is normally obtained from the burning of wood, peat, bones, cellulose, or other carbonaceous substances with little or insufficient air." It is the carbon residue produced from the wood or peat, heated with minimal oxygen to remove all water and volatile compounds.

Unlike wood, charcoal burns at a higher temperature with an almost non-visible flame. However, according to reports, charcoal grills create 3x the amount of greenhouse gases compared to gas grills. Gas grills also have a lower environmental impact according to a report by NPR.

The Difference Between Charcoal and Coal

While they may seem (and sound) similar, charcoal and coal are two totally different things. For one, coal is a natural mineral and charcoal is man-made. The two largest coal mines in the United States can be found in Wyoming, where the coal is mined and used to create electricity. Charcoal on the other hand is created to make yummy burgers.

Types of Charcoal

Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Thought to be superior to briquettes, lump charcoal burn at a higher temperature quicker and provide easy-to-control fires. Lump charcoal is created from burning natural hardwood in an airtight environment, which makes this high-quality charcoal a bit more expensive than briquettes. One thing to note is that this type of charcoal production doesn't have a consistent size so brands can differ in size.

The Best Hardwood Lump Charcoal To Grill With

Royal Oak 100% All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Clean-burning and able to light quickly, this charcoal is made from oak, hickory, maple, and walnut wood taken from sustainable forestry projects. Up to 18 hour burn time and the larger pieces can be reused.

Charcoal Briquettes

Made from sawdust and scrap wood and compressed with binders, charcoal briquettes may be cheaper and more widely available, however, this kind of charcoal is harder to light, burns at lower temperatures, and burns quickly, requiring you to add more in the middle of grilling. The briquettes can also add off-putting flavors to your food as well as add more pollutants to the air.

The Best Charcoal Briquettes To Grill With

Royal Oak Chef's Select Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Briquettes

Made with hardwood and cornstarch, these briquettes are a favorite for chefs and home grillers alike due to its low ash content and natural ingredients.

Coconut Shell Charcoal

Environmentally friendly and made with 100% natural carbonized coconut shells, this is a relatively new charcoal on the US market. Low odor and smokeless, this charcoal is clean long burning and burns at high heat. The only downside is that coconut shell charcoal is expensive and hard to find. Make sure you purchase the briquettes and not the hookah cubes.


Known as white charcoal, this charcoal is one of the most expensive on the market because it is sourced from hard ubame oak trees found in Japan. It burns at very high temperatures with little to no ash, making it the prized cooking fuel for chefs compared to traditional charcoal.

READ MORE: Tootsie Tomanetz: Legendary Texas BBQ Pitmaster and BBQ Hall of Famer

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