Is lump charcoal good for smoking?
Looking for the best lump charcoal for smoking?
Which fuel will set your smoked products apart from the others?
This, of course, is due to the fact that self-lighting briquettes contain lighter fluid which is a petroleum product. Petroleum products can cause your food to have a toxic flavor. Toxic flavors are bad and not what we want in our prime meat.
There are many benefits to smoking with natural lump charcoal (also known as charwood) It is a very clean burning fuel. It has few if any additives, and it burns hotter than briquettes if the grill allows for unrestricted access to oxygen.
Smokers always allow for good control of airflow, and with restricted air, lump charcoal can be controlled so that it burns cooler and longer. As an added bonus, lump charcoal produces little ash, making clean-up much easier.
The most important thing that home smokers can do to boost the smokiness in their food is to add small amounts of hardwood chips on top of the charcoal. This will impart a subtle flavor to the meat.
The technique of smoking food is that the heat is consistent, low, and slow. The function of the charcoal is to provide that heat. There are some grillers who cook with logs instead of charcoal, but it is very difficult to regulate the temperature of burning logs.
Wood gives off all kinds of chemicals in the form of gas when it burns. Many of these volatile chemicals are what give smoked food its nuanced flavor. All of these chemicals are burned off in the production of natural lump charcoal.
This is why smoking with charcoal exclusively will give a smoky flavor to the food. Conversely, smoking with hardwood exclusively can overwhelm the flavor of the food, especially if you are smoking fish.
A mix of charcoal and wood chips is the sweet spot. Lots of smoke, and some nuanced flavor.
The smoke becomes part of the food – the flavor – so you better use the BEST fuel you can find if you want to have the best meat out of the smoker.
Briquettes Vs Lump Charcoal
Charcoal briquettes are made primarily from sawdust and contain fillers and petroleum products. Added ingredients include coal, limestone, borax, and cornstarch.
- Briquettes are more consistent due to a standard size.
- Briquettes produce more ash.
- Briquettes burn cooler, and normally longer.
- Briquettes have additives and binders.
Natural Lump Charcoal is made from pieces of hardwood that have been burned with very little Oxygen to render a product that is almost pure carbon.
- Lump can have huge chunks of coal and near-dust-like coal.
- Lump produces less ash.
- Lump charcoal burns hotter.
- Lump has no additives, at least it shouldn’t.
What to consider when choosing lump charcoal
Here are some things to consider
- What brands are available in your region?
- Are there any additives?
- Are there any foreign bodies in the bag with the charcoal?
- How easy is it to light?
- Is there a chemical smell upon ignition?
- Does it burn hot?
- How long will it burn?
- Does it burn consistently?
- How much ash does it produce?
- How much does it cost?
How to choose fuel for your smoker—the don’ts
While almost all hardwoods that work well with “stick burning” smokers, lump charcoal works, too, and is easier than ever to source. Lump charcoal is a more natural form of coal as well, so it burns cleaner.
Charcoal briquettes can provide a consistent low heat for the amateur smoker, and offers the advantage of lasting for a longer time than its less carbonized counterparts. Natural lump charcoal burns hotter, but if the airflow to the smoker is properly controlled, it too can burn at the relatively cooler temperatures needed for smoking food. Remember, low and slow is the key to really good smoked foods!
- Purchase briquettes without chemicals
When it comes to charcoal, avoid buying brands that have self-starting lighter fluid additives at all costs. The reason should be pretty apparent. These chemicals are smelly and may make your food taste bad: chemical-like. Companies that produce these products claim that if you let all the flammables burn off, you won’t get any bad flavors. This may be true, but ALL petroleum products produce sticky smoke that will adhere to the inside of your smoker including the food grates.
- Avoid Flavored Charcoal
Charcoal, by its very nature, soaks up everything it comes in contact with. It’s best to leave well enough alone and let it produce nothing more than heat and smoke. Don’t be tempted into buying charcoal “enriched” with additives. This includes wood flavorings that may promise a “maple flavor.” Charcoal should be just that—charcoal—and does not need to come in a variety of colors or flavors. And remember that if you are a serious smoker, that you will want to add some hardwood shavings on top of your coals. Gives great flavor to your best meats.
How to choose fuel for your smoker—the dos
The only type of additives you don’t need to worry about in a lump coal for your smoker are sugar-based binding ingredients or anthracite, as these do not impart any flavor to the meat. They do, however, allow for a hotter, longer burn.
True lump charcoal is made from whole pieces of wood, which are as close to wood smoking as possible without actually using wood chips. Lump charcoal does cost a little more than briquettes, but it burns hotter than its cheaper sawdust briquette cousins. Lump charcoal really excels if you are grilling and want a really nice char on your steaks!
As a result of burning hotter, lump charcoal burns faster. You may need more lump charcoal than briquettes if you’re grilling, but not if you’re smoking. Smoking involves a relatively low temperature of 225ºF to 275ºF, give or take. When you restrict airflow to your smoker, it lowers the temperature. As a result, the charcoal burns longer.
When you’re smoking, you will also have wood chunks or logs in the smoker, so your fuel cost may be about the same for lump charcoal or briquettes. Not to muddy the waters, but there are a number of smoking gurus who advocate mixing charcoal briquettes (ones with as few additives as possible) with natural lump charcoal and wood chips. This mitigates the extra cost of the natural lump charcoal and also helps keep a stable temperature.
Remember that lump charcoal only burns hotter and faster if the air flow is unlimited. When you’re using a smoker you’ll have great control over the air flow – you will use the vents and keep them in a mostly-closed position. If you restrict the air flow, then the burn rate will be consistent with the temperature. Hot burns faster, cooler burns slower.
Best Lump Charcoal for Smoking
There are many brands of natural lump charcoal available for sale.
Below are examples of good charcoal that are perfect for the home smoker. I want to stress the importance of using the best lump charcoal on the market. It is so easy to purchase the cheapest and think all lump charcoal is the same, don’t be fooled. The ones mentioned below may not be the only ones that are good, just the ones I recommend to use.
Care of natural wood charcoal
Charcoal absorbs anything in close contact with it, it is easily contaminated. Lump charcoal must always be kept dry. Wet charcoal does not burn properly and can become moldy which will produce a bad flavor on your food.
Lump charcoal has huge benefits and should be a tool used by all smokers to gain that great taste to your favorite meats. Briquettes are an added benefit when used in union with the lump charcoal. Just remember to use a briquette without additives and don’t use lighter fluid to light them.
Enjoy your grilling and smoking experience.
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