Nothing says summertime like the happy smell of a backyard barbecue. Sure, grilling with charcoal takes a little more TLC than grilling with gas, but the upside is that one-of-a-kind smoky flavor you just can’t get from propane. And that flavor comes from lump charcoal, which is made from hardwood such as oak or hickory and typically comes in large bags, many of which can be burned once they're empty.
The type of charcoal you choose might depend on the grill you have, your budget, or, quite simply, the kind of flavor you want. Different charcoals impart different flavors, and they imbue your food with the complex smokiness and rich aroma quintessential to barbecue. It's that uniquely deep, woody, smoky flavor that you can’t quite replicate with anything else. The charcoal makes a difference.
Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Love: No fillers, high maximum temperature, minimal ash
What We Don't Love: Pricey
The Jealous Devil folk select the densest South American hardwood called quebracho blanco and use a unique small-batch carbonization process to transform hardwood into this lump charcoal. The result? Longer burns with no sparking or popping, minimal ash, and a subtle flavor-enhancing aroma sought out by barbecue pros. Able to heat to more than 1,100 degrees, these cleaner burns can handle however hot you want to go. Whether it's a caveman-style reverse sear on a marinated steak or a low-and-slow cook on juicy brisket, chefs love the sweet flavor that manages not to overpower.
The resealable bag is a bit of a financial investment, but you’re paying for details like the specially designed bag that protects the charcoal in shipping. That protection keeps the large pieces intact and prevents dust and residue. Jealous Devil's charcoal has absolutely no fillers, and it's available in multiple sizes, from 8 to 35 pounds.
Wood Type: Quebracho blanco hardwood | Wood Origin: Paraguay | Sizes Available: 8 pounds, 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 35 pounds
Price at time of publish: $48
Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Love: No chemicals, eco-friendly, affordable
What We Don't Love: Inconsistent size and quality
Rockwood’s lump charcoal comes from premium Missouri oak, hickory, pecan, and maple woods sourced from leftover timber milling, so it’s eco-friendly and grilling-friendly. (Fun fact: Missouri is the number one producer of charcoal in the United States.)
The charcoal, which is available in 20-pound bags, is free from chemicals, fillers, binders, and other impurities. Rockwood’s rich wood aroma complements the natural flavor of fish, meats, and poultry, and some barbecue champions swear by the relatively affordable brand’s long, clean burn. The pieces can be of inconsistent size and quality, which is a sacrifice for a lower price tag.
Price at time of publish: $40
Wood Type: Oak, hickory, pecan, and maple | Wood Origin: Missouri | Sizes Available: 20 pounds
Harder Charcoal 100 Percent Natural XL Restaurant Style Barbecue Grilling Lump Charcoal
What We Love: Burns reliably hot, great for kamado grills, eco-friendly
What We Don't Love: Inconsistent size
Harder Charcoal is handmade from 100 percent quebracho wood, called the "axe breaker" in South America. It’s that dense hardness that makes Harder Charcoal one of the hottest burning lump charcoals around, and reliably so. It’s also made with the environment in mind—Harder Charcoal is harvested without cutting down a single tree. You’ll get long-lasting heat without an excessive amount of smoke or lots of pesky sparks.
Harder Charcoal is great for any charcoal grill but especially ideal for kamado-style grills, like the Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, and others that retain heat for low-and-slow cooking as well as high heat and searing. This is available in 33-pound bags. Some users remarked that the charcoal tends to be inconsistently sized.
Price at time of publish: $50
Wood Type: Quebracho blanco hardwood | Wood Origin: Paraguay | Sizes Available: 33 pounds
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Best for Big Green Egg
Big Green Egg Natural Oak and Hickory Lump Charcoal
What We Love: No fillers, treated wood, or petroleum products; great flavor; eco-friendly
What We Don't Love: Hard to light
There's something to be said for buying the recommended fuel to go with your Big Green Egg to maximize your experience. It's no surprise, then, that many chefs consider Big Green Egg charcoal a secret ingredient that contributes to great flavor.
Made in the U.S. with American oak and hickory hardwood, Big Green Egg sources its natural charcoal to ensure that it contains no fillers, nitrates, chemicals, anthracite coal, limestone, treated wood, or petroleum products, so it’s pretty darn pure. This eco-friendly fuel can be a bit challenging to light, but it’s a more than fair trade-off for the quality of the fuel and the fantastic flavor it imparts. It's available in 20-pound bags.
Price at time of publish: $65
Wood Type: Oak and hickory hardwood | Wood Origin: United States | Sizes Available: 20 pounds
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Best for Smoking
Royal Oak All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Love: Quick to light, minimal ash, sustainably sourced
What We Don't Love: Inconsistent quality
Royal Oak’s all-American, sustainably sourced natural hardwood is made from oak, hickory, and maple and contains absolutely no additives or chemicals. These coals are quick to light—you’ll be ready to start cooking in about 15 minutes.
What makes Royal Oak ideal for slow smoking is that the coals stay lit for hours. They also leave an impressively small amount of ash, which means you won’t need to empty your smoker’s ash drawer so often. The only downside is that some reviewers felt the quality was a bit inconsistent. However, using Royal Oak, which is available in 8-pound and 15-pound bags, reduces the frequency with which you’ll need to swap coals, while also keeping your smoker clean. Smoking success!
Price at time of publish: $15
Wood Type: Oak and hickory hardwood | Wood Origin: United States | Sizes Available: 15.4 pounds
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Best Mild Flavor
Cowboy All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Love: Subtle flavor, affordable, great for everyday grilling
What We Don't Love: Inconsistent size
Sometimes you just want your food to taste like what it is, without too much of a pronounced smoky flavor. Cowboy Lump Charcoal uses a carefully formulated mix of oak, hickory, and maple that will give a long, clean burn without imparting much flavor to your cooking and definitely steering clear of any bitter off-notes.
The downside is that some bags come with a bunch of inconsistently sized pieces; the upsides include the great price and the fact that this charcoal is perfect for everyday grilling. This is available in 20-pound bags.
Price at time of publish: $43
Wood Type: Oak, hickory, and mesquite hardwood | Wood Origin: Mexico, United States | Sizes Available: 20 pounds
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Best for Bold Flavor
B&B Charcoal Oak Lump Charcoal
What We Love: Lots of flavor, affordable, no chemicals or fillers added
What We Don't Love: Unsure of sourcing
In contrast with Cowboy Lump Charcoal, B&B Charcoal Oak Lump Charcoal is packed with plenty of robust oak flavor. Your grilled steak, ribs, or chicken take on a woodsy aroma (think campfire).
Although its sourcing isn't clear, this Texas-based company has been in the business for more than half a century, and it doesn't add any chemicals or fillers to its affordable, 20-pound bags of charcoal. The density of the hardwood oak used here makes B&B Charcoal Oak Lump Charcoal perfect for long burns without adding more bags of extra charcoal as you go.
Price at time of publish: $40
Wood Type: Oak | Wood Origin: Unclear | Sizes Available: 20 pounds
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Best for Beginners
Fogo FB17 Charcoal, Black
What We Love: Easy to light, long-lasting heat, excellent smoky flavor
What We Don't Love: Inconsistently sized pieces
Relative to other charcoals, Fogo Lump Charcoal lights up easily and quickly, allowing you to reach searing temperatures pretty fast. This attribute makes Fogo perfect for beginners—and grillers without a ton of patience. Its medium and large-sized pieces are ideal for long-lasting, consistent fires.
The “restaurant quality” claim is more than just marketing. The all-natural Inga hardwood (a type of tree found in Central America), provides a fantastic traditional smoky flavor. It's a versatile choice for grilling or smoking. Its 17-pound bags, however, seem to have some inconsistently sized pieces, which might mean you're sorting through the bag to find the perfect bits.
Price at time of publish: $30
Wood Type: Inga hardwood | Wood Origin: Central America | Sizes Available: 17.6 pounds, 35 pounds
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Best for Sustainability
The Good Charcoal Company Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Love: Sustainable, affordable, consistently sized pieces
What We Don't Love: Not as widely available
A relative newcomer to the charcoal world, the Good Charcoal Company makes affordable charcoal from sustainably harvested acacia wood, and they claim they are the only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-approved charcoal in the United States. The wood comes from Namibia, and its removal helps responsibly reduce the overgrowth of acacia bush from the grasslands there. The Good Charcoal Company's mission also involves feeding Americans facing food insecurity by partnering with food pantries.
Grillers like the fact that there are a lot of similarly-sized chunks that burned clearly, easily, and very hot—for hours on end. Because the Good Charcoal Company uses only one wood type and not mixed hardwoods, the charcoal burns consistently, which can be especially helpful if you are smoking.
The one caveat? Because this brand is fairly new in comparison to many of the other companies featured here, it isn't as widely available as others—but it's an option that's worth seeking out.
Price at time of publish: $20
Wood Type: Acacia hardwood | Wood Origin: Namibia | Sizes Available: 8 pounds, 15.4 pounds
With its lack of fillers, ability to burn hot, and easy cleanup, Jealous Devil Hardwood Lump Charcoal will work no matter what your menu is. If you're looking for eco-friendly charcoal at a great price, look no further than Rockwood Hardwood Lump Charcoal.
What to Look for When Buying Lump Charcoal
Type of Wood
When she shops for lump charcoals, Cathy Asapahu, pastry chef at Ayara Thai in Los Angeles, says her biggest focus is going natural. "You don't want anything with lighter fuel in it! This will cause food to have a taste more akin to the gas, as opposed to the warm, smoky notes of the wood being used," she says. "Hardwood adds a deliciously subtle flavor, and, depending on the hardwood used, there are a variety of tastes and unique flavors to work with.” The varieties of wood commonly used for lump charcoal that impart excellent flavor include oak, maple, hickory, and pecan.
Lump charcoal typically comes in large paper bags that are safe to burn, so it’s easy to dispose of them when the charcoal runs out. The bags on our list come in sizes ranging from 8 pounds to 35 pounds, so users can pick up a package that suits their particular needs. Some brands, like Jealous Devil, make resealable bags, which offer an extra level of insurance to anyone concerned about spillage in transit.
What is lump charcoal?
Lump charcoal refers to charred wood, usually made from tree limbs or logs, which is burned in a kiln without oxygen for purification. Water, volatile alcohol, and oil in the wood vaporize as smoke, leaving behind black carbon—voila, charcoal. Without any additives or fillers, lump charcoal is a totally natural fuel for grilling, and that's one of the reasons it’s a favorite choice for grills and smokers.
What's the difference between charcoal and lump charcoal?
Lump charcoal lights quickly and easily, burns hot, and produces less ash than briquettes, which are pressed and often contain additives or fibers. Look for bags labeled “hardwood lump charcoal” or “all-natural” to make sure you’re buying legit charcoal, not briquettes. When it comes to the lumps themselves, bigger is better. You can also expect to pay more for lump charcoal than briquettes.
Do you need a chimney starter to light lump charcoal?
A chimney starter isn’t strictly necessary to light lump charcoal. "To light it effortlessly, put [charcoal] in a charcoal chimney and start it on a propane camp stove," Asapahu says. "You'll be fired up in no time, and your dish will taste incredible." If you don’t have access to a charcoal chimney, you can ignite the charcoal by placing it on a grate, putting balls of paper (like crumpled paper bags or newspaper) beneath the grate, and lighting the paper.
How do you properly dispose of burned charcoal?
Before you attempt to dispose of your burnt charcoal, make sure that the ash and any residual charcoal bits have completely cooled, as hot (or even warm) charcoal residue could potentially ignite and cause destruction. Once the charcoal is fully cooled, you can wrap it in a heat-resistant material (like aluminum foil) and throw it in the garbage can. However, ash from hardwood charcoal can function as an effective fertilizer, so if you have a garden, it’s worth repurposing the ash.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Hannah Howard has been writing about food and cooking for over a decade, including the memoirs “Feast” and “Plenty.” She is married to a Kansas City Barbecue Society-certified barbecue judge and dedicated meat lover. She is having a lot of fun experimenting with her new kamado grill.
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