Best Charcoal Briquettes for Smoking – 5 Top Products for 2020
Charcoal grilling is as ubiquitous to barbecue as ribs and barbecue sauce. Nothing beats the great taste of some ribs or burgers that were just grilled! This being said, you'd be surprised with how haphazardly many grill masters treat their briquette. It's just a black, lumpy rock so it doesn't matter which brand to buy, right? Find the cheap one, throw it on the grill, and you're good to go.
Except, this isn't the case. Just like how all grills are not created the same, neither is briquette. We'll review the top five best charcoal briquettes for grilling and smoking below, while also providing you with a better understanding and appreciation to briquettes including how they're made, what makes one briquette better than others, and how you actually spell their names!
At a Glance of Our Top 5 Picks:
Top 5 Best Charcoal Briquettes for Smoking Reviews
When grilling, you want heat to be a constant. Patchy heat means an unevenly cooked steak, or if you're smoking the full flavor isn't going to be imprinted on the meats.
The Royal Oak Premium Charcoal Briquets makes the top spot on our list as while the brand is relatively unknown, the briquettes are reliable. They provide constant heating to ensure you get the same temperature every time.
The briquette is able to achieve this due to the ridge, and in turn this briquette is easy to light. Made out of American hardwood, and without added coal or chemicals, the briquette offers a natural smokey flavor to your foods. Topped off with the reliability and ease of lighting, and that you get two bags if you order online, the Royal Oak Premium Charcoal Briquets is a brand you can't go wrong with!
For some cookers, brand name is everything. Kingsford is a brand name that might as well be king of briquettes, as they produce a variety to choose from along with lighting fluids and grilling accessories.
The briquettes Kingsford produces are well regarded for their quality, and the Easy Light briquettes carry on that tradition.
What sets Kingsford briquettes apart are the Sure Fire Grooves embedded into each and every briquette. This feature not only allows faster start-up, but keeps the temperatures of the briquettes constant by improving the airflow. The briquettes are made without any chemicals, so the flavor is nice, clean, and of course smokey. Best of all, no preparations are required. Light the bag on fire and you're good to grill!
Weber is one of those names that's synonymous with grilling. Weber grills, accessories, hardwood chips, if there is something related to grilling out there you can bet your dollar that Weber has it with their brand naming.
This said, Weber is also synonymous with quality, so it'll come as no surprise that their briquettes are as high-quality as their other products.
Made from all natural hardwood without chemical additives, so your food won't have any bitter or odd flavors. Just a nice, clean smokey aftertaste. These briquettes are also very easy to burn and require no additions like lighter fluids to start burning. If there was a downside, it would be the shorter burning period or only two to three hours. This will be enough for normal grilling sessions, but not for longer cookouts or smoking.
A good briquette burns with easy and produces no chemical after-taste. A great briquette burns with easy, burns longer, and gives you a flavor you would only get from using wood.
The Duraflame briquettes aim to be great briquettes for the above listed reasons. They burn longer, and with greater consistency than other briquettes on the market.
The Duraflame briquettes have a unique pillow shape, which while this doesn't exactly improve air flow or improve the flavor, does make these briquettes easier to stack compared to more lumpy briquettes. Made of natural hardwood without any chemicals, fillers, and coal, these briquettes are easy to burn and require no preparation or lighter fluid. If you want great, wood-smoked flavor Duraflame is a must-have!
The last briquettes on our list come from Original Natural Charcoal. Not a name brand you'll hear about often, but this doesn't really matter much as long as the actual briquettes are good.
Luckily for us, Original Natural Charcoal briquettes are good. With the goal to produce briquettes that lack any chemicals or fillers, the delivered product is some of the best all-natural briquettes on the market!
Befitting their all-natural status, these briquettes are easy to burn. No lighter fluid and preparation is needed, stick a match and light them up! You also get a fairly long cook time, around four-to-five hours. Enough time for longer cook outs or shorter smoke sessions. Best of all, the flavor was like that of hickory, meaning it'll pair well with almost everything you want to cook!
Now that we covered the best natural charcoal briquettes, lets look at some commonly asked questions so you'll get an understanding of why we picked the five briquettes for our list.
What are Charcoal Briquettes? How are Briquettes Made?
As you may remember from school, charcoal is created by burning wood until only carbon remains. Briquettes are made of charcoal, along with a variety of other ingredients depending on the manufacturer. Such as coal, peat, limestone, sawdust, starch, wood chips, and sodium nitrates. This stuff is all mixed into a paste, fed through a machine that gives them their shape, and then dried to around 5% of their moisture content.
So, calling them "charcoal" is a misnomer. There is charcoal in there, but it's not actually all charcoal. There's going to be other stuff in briquettes most of the time. That being said, due to their processing, they burn quite hot and more importantly uniformly due to being made by man and not nature, So impurities in the briquettes are typically stamped out before they leave the factory.
Briquette or Briquet? What is it?
The word comes to us from the French, brique, which translates as "brick". The name "briquet" is likely an Americanized version of the name, and "briquette" is used to sound more fancy. In actuality, either briquette or briquet is fine. You may have a few purists who demand it spelled one way, but these are in a minority as more cooks are fine using either term.
What are The Best Charcoal Briquettes? - What Makes a Good Charcoal Briquette?
When you're shopping for briquette, ask yourself what do you want it to do? Well, the obvious answer is that you want your briquette to burn for a long time, keep a constant temperature, and not make your food taste weird. So the main goal when choosing briquette is trying to get it as close to pure charcoal as you can. Pure charcoal, as you more than likely know, doesn't stick together; this is why briquette uses filler.
All briquette, regardless of the brand, has some sort of filler. Even the ones on our list have filler. There are two types of filler, however. Filler that's actually needed to keep the briquette together, and filler that's added to keep the price low. The filler we talked about is the latter, not the former. Cheaper briquettes use more filler, including extra wood and chemicals, which leaves behind a bitter taste and also tons of ash.
While all briquettes will produce ash, actually they'll produce more ash than charcoal, you want to attempt to minimize how much ash they'll produce, so buying the right brand will go a long way to ensure you're not left with piles of ash. Finally, you want the briquette to still hold its shape both in the bag and on the grill. This is what keeps the temperature uniformed.
How to Choose Between Different Types of Charcoal Briquettes?
When you're planning on purchasing briquettes, what do you go for? Whatever is on sale? Name brand recognition? Or maybe how many briquettes are in the bag. If this is your go-to decision method, it's wrong unfortunately. Not all briquettes are alike, and you need to figure out which one is right for you.
First, let's look at what charcoal briquettes are made out of. Despite their name, it's not just pure charcoal which tends to be quite flimsy and doesn't really bind together. Briquettes are commonly made of either hardwood or charcoal, sometimes a combination of the two. Now, you're going to likely want briquettes that are more hardwood than charcoal.
Hardwood briquettes are generally taken from sawmills and are the more "choicest" bits of wood. Much like how you'd pick the finest cuts of meat to grill, so to will high quality briquette take hardwood. Lower-grade hardwood briquettes will often turn to fillers, normally having much more oak than other hardwoods.
Briquettes made of just charcoal tend to be composed mostly of ash, and as such is cheaper than hardwood briquettes. This isn't bad, but you'll eventually run into the problem with what's used as a binder. Pure charcoal doesn't really hold well together, like we said before, and neither does ash. A binding agent keeps the briquette held nice and tight, and normally that binding agent will be vegetable starch or sawdust.
Really cheap briquettes, however, will use chemical binders which leaves quite the awful taste behind. So, always read the back of the package to ensure that your briquettes are made of hardwood, or at the very least contain no chemical binders. Just a quick glance can save your food from having a bitter aftertaste.
Hardwood briquettes are the way to go, but if they're too expensive or you need quantity over quality, then charcoal briquettes aren't a bad option. Just make sure to read that they don't contain any chemical binders.
The Different Between "All-Natural" Briquettes and Regular Briquettes?
If you're like us and grilling regularly, you'll be out to the store to resupply your briquettes and are likely to come across some brands that declare themselves all natural. Now, as a savvy consumer, you'll know that manufacturers and companies love to plaster slogans all over their packaging to drive up sales. It just so happens that "all-natural" is an easy, and popular, buzz phrase to use.
By government standards, all natural products must contain nothing synthetic or lab-created. Briquettes are already natural to begin with. The most common ingredients are wood, coal, carbon, ash, and of course a binding agent like vegetable starch or even sawdust. All things that can be found in nature, so using the term "all-natural" must be a ploy to raise to the prices, right?
No entirely, as the reason why you'll see briquettes being advertised as all-natural is due to them lacking the chemical binders. Since chemical binders are synthetic, any briquette that uses them can't tote itself as being all natural. This doesn't mean that regular briquettes will contain these chemical agents and that you should always buy all-natural, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
New and Improved Briquettes?
Briquettes aren't like grills. There isn't an ever-changing industry for them. As long as they sit there, looking like lumpy rocks, and catch fire when lit then they're doing their job. This doesn't mean "recipes" aren't changed up, or there are some minor changes here or there, but for the last century briquettes have tended to look like lumpy rocks that would catch fire.
There have been three rather recent innovation to briquettes in the 21st century, two of which are something that you may very well want. The first is the use of coconut, and not wood, to make briquettes. The end result is a rather sweeter, and lighter, smoke then hardwood but being eco-friendly at the same time as coconuts are considered more sustainable than trees. The flavoring is noted to be quite neutral.
The next innovation are Heat Beads from Australian. While on the surface looking like regular briquettes, they feature added mineral carbon and sand.
These additives, which are all natural if you're curious, help these briquettes burn longer and hotter than other brands on the market. Popular in Australian, Heat Beads are only starting to surface in the United States.
Lastly, and the one you're likely not going to use, are briquettes made from human feces. Dung has been used as a heating product for centuries, but has larger fallen out of favor due to being, well, crap.
An entrepreneur in Africa has decided to tackle both poor sanitation and lack of heating by renting out restrooms to poor families and collecting the material to make into cheap fuel.
New innovations with briquettes are rather rare, but with the growing trend of entrepreneurs looking for anything to revolutionize a market, no matter how niche, it won't be long before more innovated ways to make and use briquettes come about.
How Long do Briquettes Burn?
On average, a briquette will burn for an hour or two with some brands lasting up to three hours. If you're using a smoker, briquettes can last around twelve hours or so.
How Hot Will Briquettes Get?
When setting up your briquettes, you're going to expect around five hundred degrees minimum. Depending on how you have your grill set up, the temperature could reach over one thousand degrees with ease! It all depends on air flow, so if you're just grilling without a chimney or side-grill, your briquette will burn within the five hundreds, possibly six hundred.
A Buyers Guide: What to Look for Buying Briquettes
Now that the basics on briquette is covered, let's go over how you should shop for them.
The first thing to ask yourself is how long are you wanting to cook your food? Briquettes on average burn for around one to two hours, so that'll normally last you for a cookout. If you're planning on smoking, or are having a really long cook-out, look on the packaging to see if the briquettes will last for more than two hours.
While looking at the burn time, also take note of the temperature. Five hundred degrees is the norm, which is a perfect temperature to grill all your meats and foods, but you may be hard-pressed to find ones that burn hotter or colder. If that's the case, look for a briquette that'll burn past five hundred degrees on one that can burn at only two hundred degrees.
The last bit of information you need to find on the bag is the ingredients. We've talked about chemical binders and why they're bad, so no use covering that again. Look for, instead, what the fillers are. Unless you're buying one-hundred percent pure hickory hardwood or something similar, there will be fillers. This is fine, but never buy any briquette that has softwood filler like pine.
What to Avoid?
Avoid softwoods because they can leave behind a very bitter resin that'll ruin your food. Speaking of ingredients that'll ruin your cookout, never buy any briquettes that are advertised as self-lighting. These briquettes are often doused in lighter fluid, which leaves behind a chemical aftertaste and not the smooth, smokey flavor you want.
Briquettes will produce quite a lot of ash, much more than standard charcoal, so while you're looking over the ingredients keep in mind that briquettes with more filler or are lower-quality will leave behind a lot more ash. Likewise, finding any debris or dust in the bag is another sign that you're dealing with inferior briquettes. Doing this ahead of time will save you the cleaning nightmare.
Beyond these tips, choosing which briquette is right for you comes down entirely to taste. Some briquettes offer smokey flavors or no flavors at all. Some grillers will claim that briquette made of one wood will burn better and clean than ones made of another wood. Then of course there'll be those who claim that stacking briquette in just the right way will make the end result all the sweeter.
So, when buying briquettes, make sure that they hold together, they lack cheap filler, and they burn for several hours. This is what separates good briquettes from the bad. We put this all into consideration when making our best price charcoal briquettes list, and we hope you consider these points when buying briquettes.
We've written a review on the five best all natural charcoal briquettes, so if you're having trouble picking the right brand take a peek at the review and see if one of those five is right for you!