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I've been experimenting with BBQ on a variety of smokers for the past few years.

Originally I tried some Kingsford Briquettes and had a hard time managing the temperature. There was an excessive amount of ash generated that seemed to choke out the fire. I did a little research and found that clay is added to briquettes to give them their shape, and this was likely the cause of all the ash.

Since then (until recently), I've used lump charcoal and have been fairly happy with the results.

This summer I mistakenly purchased another bag of briquettes - Stubbs brand - and I've been using that ever since. This charcoal seems to burn hotter and longer than the lump and without the excessive amount of ash I found when using the Kingsford.

Have others experienced this as well?

  • Do briquetes burn hotter and longer (in general) than lump?
  • Is Kingford a very "ashy" charcoal or maybe did I just get a bad bag?
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edited to add shopping and grilling tags - though this question specifically mentions smokers, the same information could apply to charcoal grilling as well. shopping tag was recently used to compare brands of flour so i feel it's relevant here too. –  stephennmcdonald Aug 5 '10 at 15:48
    
I've tried the Stubbs too, and love it. I'll still use Kingsford for direct-heat cooking (it's cheap, and burns a long time), but I'll use Stubbs for all my low-and-slows. Way less ashy than K, and you can reuse it more readily. –  Sean Hart Nov 9 '10 at 12:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

When you're talking about briquettes, much of the "ash" you're talking about is actually clay and binders to hold the briquette together. That also tends to mean a cooler burning form of charcoal.

Overall, charcoal is made by taking wood (or a few other materials, but usually hardwood) and heating it to burning temperatures without enough oxygen for it to actually burn. The result is something that burns more cleanly and steadily than the original wood, which burns a fairly volatile way until it gets down to coal. That means that charcoal sort of "skips" the volatile burn and gets right to the steady cooking burn.

Briquettes are lots of little bits of charcoal, bound together with those binding materials into the little forms in the bag. Lump charcoal is just chunks of wood that go through the process and come out the other end still sort of resembling the piece of wood that went in.

Lump charcoal burns much hotter than briquettes and, since there are no binders or fillers, very little is left behind when you're done. However, it tends to burn out faster too, meaning for a long fire (like for slow smoking pork), you'll need to refill with lump charcoal more often than for briquettes.

Kingsford (which dominates at least the US market) is a company that comes directly from when Henry Ford really came up with the process for making charcoal. For most of that time, they've pretty much stuck to the same form factor with the binders, and focused on adding things like a few shavings of mesquite or pre-soaking them with petroleum-based lighter fluids.

However, recently, they've introduced a "competition" briquette that is actually much closer in how it burns to lump charcoal and has fewer of the binders in it. While I generally prefer to use lump charcoal, I wasn't nearly as disappointed when I tried these new briquettes.

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Great response. Thanks! –  Vinnie Aug 5 '10 at 15:40
    
Only thing missing -- briquettes start easier in charcoal chimneys than lump does. (The uniform shape makes the heat draw though it better.) –  Hogan Nov 19 '10 at 15:46
    
Henry Ford didn't come up with the process for making charcoal; he improved and popularized a preexisting process for making charcoal briquets. –  ESultanik Jul 20 '11 at 12:18
    
Ditto on Kingsford's competition briquettes: they do burn more like lump charcoal. I've been pleased with them and think they're worth seeking out as a good "middle" option. –  Matt Peterson Nov 22 '11 at 15:25

There is more information about lump charcoal than you will ever want to know at this site: http://www.nakedwhiz.com/lumpfaq.htm

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