The Best Charcoal for Grilling

After a total of 100 combined hours of research, testing, eating, and comparing, Stubb’s 100% All-Natural Briquettes is our best overall pick for charcoal for the second year in a row. It is still a pure burning charcoal with no negative taste characteristics and minimal ash production. The quality of ash is also better and less flaky than the other brands we tested, not as prone to getting whipped up in the wind and onto your food.

Last Updated: September 3, 2014
Fixed a typo: We tested charcoal on the Weber 22.5-inch One-Touch Gold Grill, not 32-inch.
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June 4, 2014: Over 100 hours of combined research and testing has left us with Stubb’s 100% All-Natural Briquettes as our best pick for charcoal for the second year in a row. It burns pure and consistently, leaves no negative taste characteristics, and doesn’t generate much ash to fly into your food.

Stubb's Natural Charcoal Briquettes (15 lbs.)
Stubb’s 100% All-Natural Briquettes burn pure with no negative taste characteristics and generate minimal ash to get blown into your food. Their consistent size and shape translates to consistent temperature performance.
Stubb’s is widely available and puts out sustained high temperatures throughout its cook time, which gives you excellent charring and searing no matter when you throw down your steaks. Since it comes in briquette form and not lump wood (more on this later), its uniform density and size will also allow you the steady temperature control needed for longer, more difficult jobs. Because it’s a “natural” briquette made of 95% hardwood charcoal and 5% corn starch binder, you don’t have to worry about any questionable additives seeping into your food as you cook. It burns long and clean, produces little ash, and is well-priced at around $1.20 per pound.
Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $27.

Royal Oak 195228017 Lump Charcoal, 1/17.6-Pound
If you can’t find Stubb’s, Royal Oak is widely available and nearly as good. They sustained consistent temperatures in our tests, though for not quite as long as our main pick. They produced a bit more ash, as well.
If Stubb’s briquettes are sold out or you can’t find them, we also like Royal Oak’s briquettes. Royal Oak is available at most big box stores (such as Home Depot, Kmart, and Walmart) and burned almost as well as Stubb’s briquettes during our tests, matching the temperature of the Stubb’s for the majority of the time. Royal Oak’s briquettes produced more ash over the same amount of time, though.
Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $15-$45.

Fogo FHWC35LB 35-Pound All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Bag
If you’re the lump wood type, Fogo Premium Hardwood is our favorite. It burns extremely hot and pure with no additives, producing very low amounts of ash. It’s not consistent in size or shape, though, which can make it a pain to predict grilling times.
If you’re specifically looking for lump wood charcoal, our favorite is Fogo Premium Hardwood. We talk more about why you would choose lump wood later on, but it’s a good choice if you want something simple with no additives; what you see is what you get. It’s a pure burning charcoal that burns very hot and produces low amounts of ash. It also has a robust smoke smell that some folks like in their grilled foods, and it’s made from sustainably harvested lump wood. It’s not very uniform in size and shape, however, which can be a pain to deal with while grilling and makes cooking times a little less predictable.

How we picked & tested

We interviewed grilling experts, including Doug Hanthorn of the, John Dawson of, and Dennis Linkletter of, and though they had different recommendations on products, they all told us that consistency is paramount. So we focused on briquettes (read more in Lump charcoal vs. briquettes). Last year, we measured, studied, and burned over 40 pounds of charcoal and lump wood on my roof in controlled testing, testing for burn time, consistent heat, and the amount of ash produced at the end. charcoal_bags_5This time we focused our testing only on charcoal briquettes. Our list of contenders came from researching reviews from Amazon, The Naked Whiz, and PatiodaddioBBQ, stalking recommendations on forums like, and from our own results last year. This left us with 7 main contenders:

I spent a day on my roof, burning through controlled batches of all 7 varieties. As part of our testing this year, we did side-by-side comparisons of individual brands from separate bags to test for uniformity. All brands performed nearly equally. charcoal_grills_1We skipped any self-lighting briquettes because there’s no need to add extra chemicals when a good charcoal chimney will do the job.

Although the fairest way of testing charcoal is to weigh it out into equal piles to ensure uniform amounts of carbon despite differing densities, it’s not the most realistic. It’s our assumption that most people don’t bother to weigh out their own charcoal before using it. Instead, we measured our charcoal by volume, filling up our 250-cubic-inch chimney to the designated “full” line each time like normal people.

Once the top pieces of charcoal were ignited, we poured the coals into one side of a standard 22.5-inch Weber One Touch Gold kettle grill and recorded a range of temperatures along the pile every five minutes using a Fluke Ti32 thermal imager, which Fluke was generous enough to loan to us. Once the charcoal was finished burning, we measured the ash production by volume as well. The grill remained uncovered during the burn with the bottom vents half open. At 60 minutes, if there was still charcoal burning, I gave the grill three solid shakes to see how the briquettes were holding up. At this point, usually the charcoal pile was so small and covered with ash that you probably would have added a new chimney’s worth if you were to continue grilling. For a few brands, this knocking gave new life to the coals, and for others it was pretty much the end of the line.

We also performed a fairly subjective taste test with four friends as ‘food tasters’ and several pounds of near identical pre-made ⅓-lb., all-beef burgers from Western Beef. Our other testing goal (beyond taste) was to see how well done our burgers cooked over each charcoal. To that end we cooked each burger for four minutes on each side, cooking burgers successively over the course of 40 minutes or until they became too raw to eat.

For our tastes, the charcoals that provided the highest searing heat also imparted the best flavor to our burgers overall.

What we observed was that different charcoals really did give off different radiations of heat despite having similar surface temperatures, and that certain charcoals did impart distinct flavors onto the burgers we cooked. For our tastes, the charcoals that provided the highest searing heat also imparted the best flavor to our burgers overall. None of the charcoal we tested gave our food a ‘bad’ or too acrid flavor. How you like your food to taste remains a matter of personal preference, and different cooking techniques will create different results. Specifically, we noted that burgers cooked over Kingsford Original had the most unique flavor and smell, Nature-Glo Old Hickory imbued the sweetest taste, and Stubbs created the strongest seared flavor. Coshell Charcoal, made of coconut husks, had the gentlest radiating heat and mildest (almost nonexistent) grilling flavor, which did allow for a lot more flavor of the burger to stand out.

Our pick

Stubb's Natural Charcoal Briquettes (15 lbs.)
Stubb’s 100% All-Natural Briquettes burn pure with no negative taste characteristics and generate minimal ash to get blown into your food. Their consistent size and shape translates to consistent temperature performance.
Our pick for a good all-around briquette for just about any cooking situation is Stubb’s All-Natural, which is made by Duraflame and costs around $.93 per pound—comparable with Kingsford’s step-up “Competition” all-natural briquettes, but more than three times what you’ll pay for Kingsford Original briquettes per pound. This is partly the price that you pay for ‘all-natural’ charcoal. Stubbs is made up of 95% pure hardwood and 5% vegetable starch binder, with no other additives.

According to our tests (all degrees Fahrenheit), Stubb’s held its high-end surface temp of 1,000 degrees for 45 minutes and only ever bottomed out at 825 degrees. (This differed from our previous testing where Stubb’s held a 1,000 degree temperature for 60 minutes but had a lower limit of 700 degrees. A larger grill with more airflow and a change in grilling conditions may be enough to account for this over the course of an hour. We still found the two tests to be nearly identical overall.)

Despite being an all-natural briquette, Stubb’s didn’t display any of the sparking or popping associated with other all-natural briquettes.
Despite being an all-natural briquette, Stubb’s didn’t display any of the sparking or popping associated with other all-natural briquttes, though it does, without added oxidizers, take a bit longer to light than its competitors—about five to ten minutes longer to light completely by our testing. Stubb’s had relatively few dead zones from ash build-up and a white, slightly-bitter-but-not-unpleasant smoke. This performance occurred while producing only 2.0 cups of ash, which is very good for briquettes. By comparison, Kingsford Original only maintained a 1,000 degree surface temperature for the first 10 minutes of its total 50 minute cook while producing 3.75 cups of ash. While there aren’t many formal reviews of charcoal in general, Stubb’s does remain well-reviewed on BBQ forums. On a poll on BBQ Brethren, one of the larger barbecue forums on the web, Stubb’s bested Kingsford, with many posters praising its long burn and low ash production. It also rated well in a multi-brand comparison on Similarly, Stubb’s briquettes are produced by Cowboy, which is owned by Duraflame. They are compositionally identical to the Duraflame briquettes sold primarily in Canadian markets.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

As some of our readers have pointed out, Stubb’s isn’t perfect. Its smaller briquette size is a definite problem. We too noticed that its comparatively smaller charcoals tended to fall through the grates of our 22.5-inch Weber One Touch grills earlier in the cooking process than other charcoals. This increases the distance from your coals to your food, which is a problem in direct grilling and less so in closed indirect grilling or smoke roasting or with ceramic cookers. We found, however, that even with direct grilling, the high heat Stubbs produced outweighed any increased distance that came about as it slipped lower into our grill.

Stubb’s briquettes right after they were dumped from our chimney. The briquette in the middle was on the very top of the pile and is just starting to light, thus the cold spot.

Stubb’s briquettes right after they were dumped from our chimney. The briquette in the middle was on the very top of the pile and is just starting to light, hence the cold spot.

For some of our commenters and reviewers on Amazon, Stubb’s smokes too much and carries an acrid flavor. After testing multiple bags over the course of a year, I have not experienced this problem. Stubbs seemed to produce no more or less smoke than any charcoal we tested with no strong residual flavors. As with any charcoal, it is important to start it fully before you begin cooking. We burned all our charcoals for roughly twenty minutes in a chimney, until the top charcoals were just beginning to turn, before using it. This ensures that the entire pile is white hot and creating minimal smoke. If briquette size is still a concern, try Royal Oak Briquettes or Nature-Glo Old Hickory instead. Last year we were alarmed to read some negative reviews on Amazon about the Stubbs product. Amazon reviewers have claimed that the Stubb’s briquettes you can buy from Lowe’s are made in America and are vastly superior to the briquettes you can buy on Amazon, which are made in Paraguay. Despite that, though, the bag we were given last year for review and rated so highly was made in Paraguay. It is still the best performing briquette we’ve tested. When we asked them about this issue, a brand manager at Duraflame told us, “For the past four years, all Stubb’s briquets have been made in the US. Before that, they were made and packaged in Paraguay. There are obviously still some Paraguay bags working their way through the market, but there is no real difference between the product. The product made in Paraguay and the product made in the US are manufactured to the same specifications…Also, we did not distribute product to retailers based on origin.” This year both bags of Stubbs we tested were made in the U.S. and performed nearly identically to last year.

Should I upgrade?

The simple fact is that there is no ‘perfect’ charcoal product on the market today. There are too many styles of grilling and smoking, too many grill types, and too many opinions for one charcoal to meet every person’s needs. As Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn has pointed out many times before on, your choice of charcoal is not nearly as important as almost everything else you do before you begin cooking. “Pick one consistent brand of briquet,” says Meathead, “learn it, and stick with it for a year until you have all the other variables under control. The quality of the raw food, seasoning, sauce, cooking temp, and serving temp far outweigh the impact of charcoal on outcome.” That said, if you’re looking for a charcoal that burns hotter, longer, and more evenly than the competition, our pick does that without the other additives often found in other briquettes.


Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $27.

Royal Oak 195228017 Lump Charcoal, 1/17.6-Pound
If you can’t find Stubb’s, Royal Oak is widely available and nearly as good. They sustained consistent temperatures in our tests, though for not quite as long as our main pick. They produced a bit more ash, as well.
If you can’t find Stubb’s or feel like it’s too expensive despite the promise of higher quality, we would recommend Royal Oak. It’s available nearly everywhere; Home Depot, Kmart, Walmart all stock it for about $.75/lb. Royal Oak burned nearly as well as Stubb’s did in our tests; its average temperatures remained comparatively the same for the first 40 minutes of cooking and dropped only slightly below Stubb’s for the remainder of its cook after that. It did produce about a cup more ash in the same overall cooking time, roughly 70 minutes. Royal Oak also has a devoted following online for its consistent quality at a reasonable price. For what it’s worth, it’s also the ‘official’ charcoal of the Kentucky State BBQ Festival. The purists out there should note that the Royal Oak briquettes are not 100% ‘natural;’ they also have added nitrate and/or nitrite. These chemicals act as oxidizers, allowing the charcoal to light faster and burn a bit hotter initially. Incidentally, these are also the same chemicals used by the food industry to cure meat, so while there should be slightly less alarm about their appearing in charcoal, they are there. Royal Oak also produces Chef Select, a food services package, which is indistinguishable from standard consumer packages of Royal Oak.

Our lump wood pick

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $15-$45.

Fogo FHWC35LB 35-Pound All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Bag
If you’re the lump wood type, Fogo Premium Hardwood is our favorite. It burns extremely hot and pure with no additives, producing very low amounts of ash. It’s not consistent in size or shape, though, which can make it a pain to predict grilling times.
The best-performing, best-reviewed lump wood charcoal we looked at is Fogo Premium Hardwood. It costs about $1.20 a pound and comes recommended by The Naked Whiz. In our tests, Fogo held a very high temperature, maxing out our thermometer in the beginning at 1,148 degrees and having a bottom of only 800 degrees. It burned for 95 minutes while producing only ¾ cups ash— it burns very purely. It has a pleasant, robust smoke smell not unlike a cigar. It is also made with sustainably harvested El Salvadorian lump wood, though its lack of uniformity makes it difficult to judge long cooking times and it’s perhaps a bit difficult to handle for most weekend grilling. Remember: grilling is, in the end, as much a kind of showmanship as it is a science; this lump wood looks great in your grill, even as you have to work harder to overcome its inconsistent shape.

Care and maintenance/setup

There are a few things to keep in mind when using and storing charcoal. First, keep your charcoal dry by storing in a cool, dry place. For a detail piece about charcoal storage and the myth about wet charcoal storage and spontaneous combustion, read The Naked Whiz’s ultra-informative piece.

When it comes to lighting charcoal, we recommend you use a simple chimney lighter.
When it comes to lighting charcoal, we recommend you use a simple chimney lighter. A cheap, no-frills one from Kmart shouldn’t cost more than ten dollars. The worst thing, in our opinion, would be to use lighter fluid or (shudder) self-lighting charcoal except in the most desperate Jack Londonesque situations. If you are for some reason compelled to cook food over self-lighting charcoal, at least do yourself a favor and wait until the briquettes are completely white before you begin cooking. Though this will not guarantee that all the chemical starters present have been burned off, it may at least remove some of the most noxious elements in your charcoal. For more on the most practical ways to build and light a charcoal fire for both long and short cooks, we once again lean on the expertise of Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn, who outlines most of the best practical methods.

Lump wood vs. briquettes

Charcoal is a simple residue—the almost pure carbon remainder of any animal or mineral substance that has had all its water and volatile, vaporous elements removed through cooking. Today, briquettes and lump wood are the two most common types of charcoal on the American market. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, though how and what exactly you are going to cook goes a long way in deciding your preference. When most people look at the charcoal aisle at the grocery store, they see bewilderment—you can now find self-lighting briquettes, original briquettes, and all-natural briquettes along with bags of various types of lump woods, which are either mixed or advertised as a single variety of wood like mesquite. But some people look at the same aisle and see a white-hot ideological fire burning at the heart of American grilling. Choosing between lump wood and briquettes can send even the most sensible barbecue fanatic into diatribe.

Lump wood charcoal is just that. It’s lumps of wood turned into charcoal, which is why it’s heralded for its purity and flavor.

Lump wood charcoal is just that. It’s lumps of wood turned into charcoal, which is why it’s heralded for its purity and flavor. You can actually make lump wood charcoal in your backyard if you’re so inclined. To many, lump wood’s simplicity is its primary advantage: there is no vegetable oil or starch binder, nothing you can’t see—just good hardwood char, which carries a lot of flavor while producing minimal ash. But the problem with lump wood, if you see it as a problem, is that it’s not uniform. Because no two pieces of lump wood are shaped the same, no two pieces of lump wood will ever burn the same either. This means that from bag to bag, handful to handful even, your temperature and cooking time can vary wildly.

Briquettes solved that by being shaped into the even little black pucks we know so well. They’re a nearly hundred-year-old invention from the mind of Henry Ford, who saw a way to profit from the scrap timber and sawdust being thrown away from his Model-T production lines. They were designed to bring industrial uniformity to charcoal. A mixture of wood or paper mash is dry heated and mixed with anthracite coal and lime. This is then bound with corn starch and pressure molded into uniform briquette shapes. Briquettes offer you a certain amount of uniformity while you cook. It means that as you get comfortable with your grill and chimney, you can start to gauge how many briquettes equals how many minutes of cooking depending on how you set up your grill. Briquettes are also somewhat denser than the average lump wood alternative, so a pound of charcoal briquette can take up much less space in your grill than a pound of lump.

When it comes to deciding which is “better” however, it really depends on whom you ask. Doug Hanthorn of is one of the stauncher champions of lump wood on the internet, and his site’s forums are home to some very serious lump wood fanatics. As a ceramic grill enthusiast, though, he perhaps values minimal ash production more than your typical grill owner—ceramic grills (like the “Big Green Egg”) are notoriously frustrating to control if their vents get blocked up. When we spoke, he walked me through the various benefits of lump wood, but for Hanthorn, it all comes down to one thing in the end: “Lump wood is 100% pure,” says Doug, “there are none of those Kingsford issues,” referring to the additives present in traditional Kingsford Original briquettes.

On the other side we have John Dawson, competitive BBQ champ, software engineer, maintainer of and staunch briquette advocate. When asked about lump wood, Dawson replied, “Lump is a solution in search of a problem.” He has been a fan of Kingsford since he was a kid, raised on the stuff with his father, who told him not to waste his time with anything else.

“If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” says John. “I think far too much effort, time and energy is put into thinking of charcoal. For me the bottom line is that it doesn’t do me any good to produce the best BBQ in the world if I can’t reproduce the results time in and time out. So it’s all about eliminating variables. Number one out of the gate is to get the fuel nailed.” On the forums, John points out, lump wood charcoal has a cult-like following along the lines of organic and gluten-free foods, which makes sense. The draw of lump woods is the unadulterated purity that they represent. It’s not an accident that the rise in availability of lump wood from store brands like Whole Foods has gone hand in hand with the commercialization of organic food and other “all-natural” movements. “There are world BBQ champions who use 100% Kingsford blue bag all the time,” says John. “So obviously, if there was a flavor or bad taste being given off by these so-called unnatural additives, people would have picked up on it by now.” While we’re not 100% convinced by this write-off of charcoal additives, his point about consistency stands. That’s why we think natural briquettes are the better charcoal for most people because they bridge the gap between purity and consistency, offering the best of both worlds—albeit at a bit of a premium price.

Is charcoal environmentally friendly?

The short answer is no. The party line is that despite charcoal being dirtier it comes from a sustainable resource; usually trees. Gas for gas grills emits less carbon but is derived from non-renewable fossil fuels. (If your charcoal has fossil fuel additives within it, you’ve managed to find the worst of both worlds.) All the science points to the fact that gas grilling has a carbon footprint nearly three times smaller than charcoal grilling. Using a hyper-sustainable charcoal made out of coconut husk might narrow this gap slightly, but I doubt it, once you factor in production and shipping.

Directly grilling food over charcoal is a remarkably inefficient and wasteful, albeit tasty, thing to do.
Learning to slow cook with your charcoal by burning the same amount over two to three hours that would usually be used in one will also help narrow this gap. The simple fact: directly grilling food over charcoal is a remarkably inefficient and wasteful, albeit tasty, thing to do.

Is charcoal grilling healthy for you?

Not according to the National Cancer Institute. Grilling meats over high heat produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals have been linked (in studies on lab animals) to increased rates of cancer. Though it remains unclear if such exposure causes cancer in humans, the NCI report still warns that numerous epidemiologic studies (like this one) have found a correlation between the high consumption of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats and increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. However, another study, published in the Journal of Food Science and cited by The New York Times, found that a barbecuer could reduce the number of HCAs in his or her foods by adding rosemary extract to both sides of a piece of meat as it cooked on a grill. Our best advice: eat moderately, season your food liberally with antioxidant-rich herbs and spices like rosemary and garlic, and don’t burn your food. Better yet, slow roast your food near an indirect heat source within a covered grill and still season liberally. Also, try to stay positive.


Nature-Glo Old Hickory has a charcoal briquette nearly two-thirds larger than the Stubb’s briquette with just slightly lower temperature profiles. This extra size does come with some disadvantages, namely more ash production. Nature-Glo produced a little more than 4 cups of ash vs Stubb’s 2 cups. This ash buildup created a noticeably larger temperature range for the Nature-Glo, producing some considerable dead spots across the pile. In taste comparisons, Nature-Glo also scored very well. Finding it can be difficult, though, and almost always requires shopping online. In the end, this lack of general availability was the deciding factor against recommending Nature-Glo as one of our top picks. It is also worth noting that Nature-Glo Old Hickory is produced by Royal Oak as a food services package separate from Royal Oak’s standard briquette product. Nature-Glo had a slightly sweeter taste, attributed to hickory, than the Royal Oak briquettes, which produced a more smoky flavor. Nature-Glo Old Hickory costs $.37 per lb + shipping on Amazon.

While Kingsford Original briquettes are very cheap…they are also full of additives that you don’t need near your food.

While Kingsford Original briquettes are very cheap, consistent and perfectly adequate for most basic grilling needs, they are also full of additives that you don’t need near your food. Things like mineral char, mineral carbon (coal, to you and me), limestone, borax, sodium nitrate, and sawdust, all of which add up to a lot of ash towards the end of your cook. This won’t hurt if you’re just grilling burgers and hot dogs with the lid off, but you might have reason to think twice before using it for anything that requires you to leave the lid on for extended periods of time. Kingsford is the cheapest charcoal on the market that we could find. It’s sold everywhere; despite the additives, it’s used to win plenty of barbecuing championships around the country every year. It costs roughly $.24 per lb though prices vary; look for your summer sales.

Kingsford Competition was created by Kingsford to compete in the ‘all natural’ briquette market. It directly answers the growing concerns over additives in their original brand briquettes. These briquettes only contain wood char, starch binders, and very small amounts of borax used to release the actual briquettes from the briquette mold during manufacturing. While it burned a bit hotter, initially, than the Kingsford Original, it didn’t burn quite as long. At $.90/lb., it was simply outclassed by other ‘all natural’ briquettes on the market.

While Trader Joe’s won’t officially reveal who bags their charcoal for them, the Original Charcoal Company has no such qualms and confirmed to us that they are the suppliers. The Trader Joe’s briquettes burned nearly as well as both Stubb’s and Royal Oak briquettes in our tests and is reportedly 95% pure hardwood with 5% vegetable binder and no additional additives. However, it is only available at Trader Joe’s locations seasonally from mid-May to whenever supplies run out (usually around August). Rancher briquettes are available year-round in several locations, according to their website, in Georgia and South Carolina. The lack of general availability meant we couldn’t recommend this charcoal as our overall top pick or even runner-up. But if you have a Trader Joe’s near you, priced at $.44/lb., this charcoal is a very strong pick.

Coshell, a brand of briquettes made entirely from coconut shells, burned for an unmatched 85 minutes with temperatures ranging between 1,100 and 600 degrees.  However, we found that meat cooked over Coshell still took much longer than the other briquettes. Despite all charcoals measuring nearly equal temperatures on our thermal imager, burgers initially cooked for four minutes on each side came out well done on the other charcoals while Coshell only cooked them to medium rare. You should expect to nearly double cooking times for hamburgers or hotdogs. The briquettes held up after being knocked and actually seemed to gain extra strength from the reduced ash covering. It did produce 3 cups of very fine, sandy ash, which was frustrating. But more importantly, Coshell briquettes have almost zero smell, which might be a turnoff for cooks looking for a smoky, grilled taste. Many reviewers on Amazon also cite a lack of traditional grill flavor. It’s also relatively expensive, at close to $2 a pound (although it’s currently on sale on Amazon for much less).

Wrapping it up

Stubb’s Charcoal Briquettes burn hot and evenly for a long time, producing less ash than the competitors. It’s still affordable and comes without the additives found in cheaper brands.

(A special thanks to Weber for the donation of three One Touch 26.75” Gold Grills used in testing. They were a snap to put together and performed excellently. They are still our number one pick for best grill.)

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  1. Forum, Barbecue Bible
  2. Fogo Premium Hardwood Charcoal, Naked Whiz, June 2013
  3. Forum, BBQ Brethren
  4. Doug Hanthorn,, Interview
  5. John Dawson,, Interview
  6. Dennis Linkletter,, Interview

Originally published: June 5, 2014

  • John Dawson

    Thanks for the mention, but my name is John Dawson (of Patio Daddio BBQ), not Joe. 😉

    • John Mahoney

      Sorry John! I’ve corrected, and will give Kit 40 lashes.

      • John Dawson

        Ha! Thank you sir, may he have another? 😛

  • Meathead

    The single most important attribute for charcoal is to be consistent from bag to bag. Controlling an outdoor fire is hard enough. The skill an outdoor cook needs most is to be able to get to a target temp and stay there week in and week out, so a consistent fuel is crucial. For this reason I recommend briqs. Lump varies greatly from batch to batch, especially in the amount of smoke it puts out since it is not always carbonized thoroughly.

    You say Kingsford is “full of additives that you probably don’t want going in your food”. Combustion byproducts do not go “in” the food. At most some minute amount might land ON your food. But, as I explain in my article on charcoal (link below) anthracite coal (almost pure carbon), mineral charcoal (a form of charcoal found in coal mines), starch, sodium nitrate (a salt also known as Chile saltpeter), limestone, borax, and sawdust can all be found in nature. I see nothing sinister there.

    Read more about charcoal here

    • sal cangeloso

      Hey, great to see you weighing in. I just moved back to briquettes and didn’t notice any ill effects (partially based on your article). With briquettes I’m getting a much more consistent temperature and obviously saving some money.

      I can’t help liking the idea of lump though — I guess I’m being swayed by the whole “all-natural hardwood” line. I kept thinking I was getting bad bags of lump (fogo, kebroak, etc) but it seems like there is just inherently a fair bit of small bits, charcoal dust, and uneven carbonization no matter who you buy from. I still need to try WGC, which Naked Whiz seems to like a lot, and a few others though.

    • TRN

      Everything they put in cigarettes can be found in nature too, but I suppose the whole “cancer” think is just a hoax ? I often wonder what the alternative to “natural” is. I suppose it’s “super natural”, which implies that there is charcoal out there made with fairy dust and ectoplasm from Ghostbusters.

  • Scott Hughes

    Wow, I usually brag to my friends about how right you guys are… I did not expect to disagree so strongly with one of your recommendations. =) I’ve tried Stubb’s twice and been disappointed with the tiny chunks of charcoal that I get out of it. And about a quarter of the bag was full of charcoal powder.

    My favorite, by a country mile, is Royal Oak. It is by far the most consistent bag of the 8 or 9 varieties I’ve tested, but my local source recently went out of business. I’ve got to find a new source soon or go on a hunt for a replacement. Maybe I’ll try this Fogo brand for now.

  • David Hughes

    I’ve only been grilling over charcoal for a summer now but Stubb’s was merely okay. It produces a relatively acrid smoke and a lot of sparks when reburning. Even as a novice, I prefer the taste lump charcoal gives despite the greater challenge in cooking with it.

    I recently grabbed a bag of 100% Mesquite from my local Sam’s Club branded “Best of the West” from Mexico and was blown away by the flavor I got out of humble plain bratwursts. Plus, at only $8 for a 20lb bag, it’s dirt cheap.

    A tip when buying lump charcoal: feel the bags and try to pick one that has a lot of large chunks, especially at the bottom. If you don’t do that, sometimes you end up with a paltry selection of slivers that fall right through your average chimney.

  • Guest

    I was just reading your article and I noticed the link to is actually pointing to the Just thought you might want to know. Thanks for the article.

  • Jeffrey Michael

    I was just reading your article and I noticed the link to is actually pointing to the Just thought you might want to know. Thanks for the article.

  • Sean

    At my local Lowe’s, Stubb’s 15lb bag is only $8.99

  • Matt

    Am I the only one who hates the flavor of Kingsford charcoal (and most unnatural charcoal)? I usually cook with the lid closed for efficiency, and the smoke from Kingsford makes everything taste burned and smoky, but not good like wood smoke. The first time I tried natural charcoal (can’t remember the brand, whatever was cheapest at the time) the difference was incredible. Almost no smoke, and clean tasting food with a mild wood smoke flavor.

  • OverWhere

    I find the testing methodology is flawed. It repeatedly refers to how hot the charcoal gets as if this is this should be the holy grail of charcoal. Nothing could be further from the truth! Steak and Tandoori must be cooked at high temp, this is referred to as ‘grilling’. All other meats should be cooked on low or medium temp.

    Most BBQ aficionados would bristle at the suggestion BBQ refers to ‘grilling’. The real BBQ cooks look for lump charcoal that can maintain a steady low temperature and provide lots of flavours.

    One brand I used to favour for ribs had a high ash content and a low burning temperature. Of necessity it would have failed your test, but my guests taste buds is a better indicator in my opinion.

    • Michael Zhao

      That’s a fair point, but it’s also worth noting that if you can get a charcoal that burns consistently hotter for longer, you can do more with it. If you want less heat, you can use less. However, with a cooler charcoal that doesn’t burn as long, you’re limited to only low heat.

      • OverWhere

        In theory this sounds good. But what if you
        have to BBQ a tough cut of meat with a high collagen content which typically requires
        4-24 hours (or more) on the BBQ? (Ribs, pork butt, pork shoulder, brisket etc…).
        My target temperature on these is 150-160f.

        My experience is that even with a good quality Kamodo type BBQ which tightly control combustion air; it is very difficult to control a hot burning coal. Putting a smaller amount means you will have to keep an eye on the process and keep adding coals on a regular
        interval. Not an ideal situation as it defeats the goal of maintaining a steady temp, since when you open the lid to do so, you initially experience a temperature drop then a temperature spike as combustion air re-ignite steady state coals. Not to mention fly-ash & coal dust on your food during the reloading process.

        The ideal charcoal for this would have to be slow & steady burning. The aforementioned lump charcoal in my previous
        post has a very high ash content (ash = minerals and other inert un-burnable material). However, I can fully load my Kamado and let it go for at least 12 hours. Which is ideal for that specific purpose.

        Ultimately, BBQ charcoal is a very subjective topic and I was surprised to see it here with those testing parameters.

        You might enjoy these 2 links since they refer 1) a consumer based charcoal testing site and 2) an industry paper on
        testing charcoal.

        • Kit Dillon

          Good links, OverWhere. We worked pretty closely with Doug Hanthorn of the Naked Whiz while researching the article. I (like Doug) would also recommend using a lump wood, if you have a high-end piece of ceramic equipment like a Komodo Kamodo or a Big Green Egg. Lump wood usually produces less ash, burns longer, and can be easier to control with good vents and proper temperature measurements.

          But our testing was primarily focused on your average weekend griller. Someone who was cooking burgers and sausages etc. on a kettle grill who also wanted a charcoal that was flexible enough for longer / slower cooks if they were feeling adventurous.

          Of course, there are all types of charcoals and types for all sorts of cooking. I’ll paraphrase a thought from Meathead again and say that if *you* like a specific charcoal and enjoy the way it has worked for your type of cooking over time then that is more important than anyone’s individual recommendation or review.

          Maybe one day in the future we’ll look at ceramic grills more closely. They are pretty exciting pieces of equipment and definitely becoming a more common sight on people’s back porches. They also make lovely lovely ribs. I never turn down ribs.

  • AdalineBrashier

    How to find the name for the Charcoal?

  • greg roland

    Their are way too many hypocrisies and inconsistencies in this article, enough to discredit the findings. Their are too many to even list. Fact is the sources listed are subjective opinions and it seems you are pulling all your info from a few reviews online disregarding the majority. You also clearly have not done much retail research for yourself again pulling info from others.

  • J Khalaf

    I live in the UK, what alternative would you recommend to Stubb’s? We don’t have that here.

    • tony kaye

      Normally we would say the Royal Oak but the prices are outrageous. Can you find it in the UK for less? Or is it not available? Looking into stock woes at the moment!

    • Kit Dillon

      Hi J,

      I lived in the UK (Aberdeen, Scotland — precisely) for 6 or so years. Getting charcoal there, outside of the summer months, was ridiculously tough! But I remember using BigK successfully for some slow cooks. Also, there are many small wood colliers in Britain making charcoal. I can’t recommend them all without looking more closely at what they’re making. But there’s a list of some here based on region:

      Best bet though, is to go with a brand that’s consistently available and stock up for the winter months if you’re going to BBQ year round.

      Good luck! Let us know how it goes.