Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate. Charcoal is only a heat source when smoking and grilling. If you want a smokey flavor for homemade barbecue like chicken or ribs, then you need to add a smoking hardwood to the charcoal. Charcoal will emit some natural flavors but the majority of the smoke flavors come from the wood chips, chunks, or logs that you throw on the coals. If you’re trying to figure out if you want hickory, oak, apple, maple, or another flavor of wood, check out our article Smoking With Wood Explained.
Knowing that the wood adds the smoke flavor, we picked charcoal that best suits the smokers by category. Overall, if we had to pick one charcoal for our smoker, it would be the Kingsford Original Briquettes.
This might surprise some of our readers but there is a reason Kingsford is the top selling charcoal manufacturer. If you understand how charcoal works and how to cook on it, it will make more sense. Read on and we will explain our reasoning.
|Best Charcoal for Offset SmokersBest Charcoal for Offset SmokersKingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes||CHECK PRICE|
|Best Charcoal for Kamado/Green EggBest Charcoal for Kamado/Green EggFogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal||CHECK PRICE|
|Best Charcoal for Kettle & Bullet SmokersBest Charcoal for Kettle & Bullet SmokersKingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes||CHECK PRICE|
|Best Charcoal for Vertical Charcoal SmokersBest Charcoal for Vertical Charcoal SmokersJealous Devil Max XL Briquettes||CHECK PRICE|
Best Charcoal for Smokers by Category
Because there are so many different types of charcoal and different types of smokers, we decided to list our top choice charcoal based on the type of smoker. Here we detailed the best charcoal for the following categories:
- Offset Smokers
- Kamado Ceramic Smokers
- Kettle & Bullet Style Smokers
- Vertical Fed Charcoal Smokers
Best Charcoal for Offset Smokers
Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes Review
These inexpensive briquettes from Kingsford can give you a quick and easy way to get your offset smoker started. Since you would be primarily using wood for heat and flavor, the charcoal only needs to provide the initial heat to get the process started and using briquettes is completely adequate for this purpose.
Kingsford is known for making high-quality briquette charcoal and this product is no exception. For more than a hundred years, the company has been creating great value products for the BBQ market. This pack of briquettes comes in attractive packaging that features an easy-to-open tear strip and a carry handle.
Made in the USA using American raw materials, this pack of briquettes is made of all-natural material, laying to rest the standard concerns about briquettes having additives. Light them in your charcoal chimney, and you’ll have these roaring in 15 minutes.
In our experience, these briquettes performed well for offset smokers. They burn long enough to get your smoking wood lit and take over the cook. Don’t waste your money with expensive lump charcoal on your offset, when you only need the charcoal to light your wood.
The bag contains 16.7 pounds of charcoal briquettes that can last you a long time.
What We Like…
- Inexpensive and excellent value for money
- No chemical additives
- Light Quickly and Consistently
What Makes Us Angry…
- Extra Ash
Best Charcoal for Kamado Ceramic Style Smokers
Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal Review
If you have a ceramic-style Kamado grill, like a Kamado Joe, Big Green Egg or the Primo XL, you need quality lump charcoal to have the best cooking experience. That is exactly what Fogo delivers with their Super Premium Lump Charcoal product. This premium blend of lump charcoal comes in a 17.6 lbs. bag that can last you a very long time.
Fogo is known for creating premium quality lump charcoal and the Super Premium is a great choice if you want a deep, smoky flavor in your food. Fogo Super Premium is a great option for smoking on your Kamado as it creates minimal ash and provides a longer burn then most lump charcoal on the market. Fogo makes their lump charcoal from natural oak
Size is important when it comes to lump charcoal and with this product, 80% of charcoal in the bag is either four inches or longer, yielding the right balance of surface area and burn duration. By controlling the airflow properly, you can keep granular control on the temperature and make sure that your food gets cooked just right.
This charcoal lights up fast, reaches high heat levels, and produces very little ash, making it an excellent choice for a Kamado-style grill.
What We Like…
- Excellent quality
- 80% of bagged charcoal is four inches or larger
- Great Heat Output
- Minimal ash production
What Makes Us Angry…
- Premium product = higher price
Best Charcoal for Kettle and Bullet Smokers
Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes Review – Again
Yes I know that we picked Kingsford twice but there is a reason they are the best selling charcoal company in the world. The Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes are also our pick for smoker and charcoal grills. If you have one of these at home, the best possible use you can put this to would be some low and slow smoking. Cooked this way, meat takes on a unique smoky flavor and a hard smoky crust called the smoke ring. If this is what you want to achieve, look no further than this all-rounder from Kingsford.
Keep in mind that when smoking food, the smoke flavor will come from the wood that you add to the coals. Charcoal creates the heat, the hardwood provides the smoke/flavor.
Briquettes are always a good choice for those long smoking sessions where you want low heat that can keep burning a long time. While lump charcoal is not likely to work well for this application, quality charcoal briquettes can be just the thing for the job. This charcoal from Kingsford burns steadily at a low to moderate temperature and can keep burning for a very long time.
This means that you can very easily use these briquettes with your smoker if you want to slowly smoke some beef or pork cuts. The neutral flavor of this charcoal and the absence of chemical additives makes this a particularly perspicacious choice, and if you want to add flavor, throw on some wood chunks.
Another item to point out is the fact that Kingford has a unique design/pattern molded into their charcoal briquettes. This pattern allows air to flow around the briquettes which aids in uniform burn rates. All around great product. Just because it’s affordable doesn’t make it less desirable for your smoker. Save some money and buy a better cut of meat.
Best Charcoal for Vertical Charcoal Smokers
Jealous Devil Max XL Natural Briquettes Review
For vertical smokers, you need high-quality charcoal (preferably) briquettes made from quality wood sources. This excellent offering from Jealous Devil ticks all the right boxes and can be the perfect companion if you want to try your vertical smoker out on some choice cuts of meat.
The Jealous Devil Max XL Charcoal comes in 10 or 20 lbs. boxes that are ideal for shipping as it provides better protection during shipment. The box is also resealable which keeps humidity out of your charcoal.
When using a vertical-fed charcoal smoker, you want to keep a couple things in mind.
- You want a charcoal uniform in shape so the coal can feed easily through the smoker.
- Uniform sized charcoal will also allow you to hold more charcoal by weight, whereas lump charcoal is inconsistent in size and shape, so you cannot load as much charcoal into the smoker. Ex. Masterbuilt claims you can load 16 lbs. of briquettes in their 560 Digital Charcoal smoker, vs. 10 lbs. of lump. This is a big difference and your run times will be much different.
Based on the points above, the Jealous Devil Max XL charcoal briquettes are the perfect charcoal for Vertical smokers. They are uniform in size, and the briquettes are extra large in size when compared to other briquettes available on the market. Combining the attributes will help ensure smooth flow of fresh briquettes with the longest burn time compared to any other briquette on the market.
The Jealous Devil Max XL is made of all-natural hardwood and contains no chemicals or toxic ingredients.
What We Like…
- Excellent quality
- Waterproof and convenient resealable container
- Clean-burning and long-lasting
- Subtle flavor enhancer
What Makes Us Angry…
- Price: You get what you pay for.
Determine the Best Charcoal for Smoking
Determining the best charcoal for smoking involves learning about the different options you can choose from, what differentiates different charcoal products, and how to pair the right kind of charcoal to your brand and model of smoker. Let us take a look.
Briquette vs Lump Charcoal
Briquette Charcoal Explained
Briquette charcoal comes in specific shapes and sizes and are made using leftovers from wood mills and processing facilities like sawdust and small pieces. These are then burned at a very low heat to eliminate all moisture and natural chemicals.
Next, the charcoal is put together in particular shapes using additives. These additives help hold the small particles together into the designated shape. These usually burn longer but not as hot.
Often, manufacturers use additive materials that are themselves easy to burn, in order to make the process of starting the charcoal a little easier. However, the presence of additives means that you might be able to smell them while the charcoal is burning, or taste their residue on the meat.
While usually less expensive briquettes take more effort to get started and produce much more ash. Regardless we recommend using a charcoal starter for briquettes or lump charcoal.
Lump Charcoal Explained
Lump charcoal is made following the same process as briquette with the difference that it uses whole pieces of wood. These pieces retain their rough shapes after the burning process.
In general, lump charcoal can be started easier, burns much hotter, and leaves less ash than briquette. It is also generally more expensive.
One important advantage of lump charcoal is the fact that it does not contain any additives, which means no unpleasant foreign tastes or smells. It is also easier to control the temperature of your smoker if you use lump charcoal.
How to Use Charcoal For Smoking
Usually, charcoal is used primarily as a heat source while smoking. While it can be a self-sufficient solution for grilling in many cases, you need to use wood if you want that classic smoky flavor. The charcoal provides the gentle heat that burns the wood over a long time, creating the aromatic smoke that cooks and flavors the food.
Usually, while using charcoal for smoking, you would light up the charcoal, place it in your smoker, and cover it with wood. You can add more charcoal and wood later, if you run out and the temperature of the smoking can be adjusted using these amounts as well. If you’ve struggled with lighting charcoal, don’t turn to lighter fluid. We’ve got a roundup of the best charcoal starters that will give you the needed tools to start your charcoal safely, quickly, and without the distinct aroma of lighter fluid.
Different Charcoal for Different Smokers
While the type of charcoal you choose might not influence how your cook your food and the end results, there are some practical considerations that can dictate certain choices based on the type of smoker or grill you are using and the method of cooking you want to utilize.
Kettle and Bullet Smokers
Smaller grills, like the portable Weber Kettle, or bullet smokers like the Weber Smokey Mountain, do not have a lot of space available to pack in charcoal. Due to space constraints, you can get more charcoal (by weight) in a kettle grill or bullet smoker with briquettes.
With offset smokers, you only need the charcoal to provide the initial heat and it is the wood that provides the smoke and the prolonger heat needed for cooking.
If you are going to roast a whole pig in a large scale roaster/smoker and it requires 40-60 lbs of charcoal, you may want to consider the longer burning more economical briquettes.
Lump charcoal burns fast and hot. If you want a hot grill for a quick sear, this can be perfect. However, this is not always the best option for low and slow cooking over a long duration of time. Similarly, briquettes might not be able to produce the heat required for a quick sear.
Based on the above points, here are some important questions to ask yourself before zeroing in on a particular kind of charcoal.
- Does the charcoal have any additives?
- How hot does the charcoal burn?
- How long does the charcoal burn?
- How much ash does the charcoal produce?
- How easily can it maintain a steady temperature?
- How much does it cost?
Your answers to these questions should give you enough insight to choose the best charcoal to use for smoking according to your particular needs.
Wrapping It Up
Once you have the right charcoal for your needs, smoking can become a fun and rewarding experience. With these products, you can dramatically improve your chance of success. By learning what makes a particular type of charcoal perfect for a particular application, you can also start gathering the experience that can ultimately make you a master of the BBQ pit.
For small smokers and large, basic or premium, the right kind of charcoal is an essential component for tasty cooking. With these candidates for the best charcoal for smoking, it is hard to go wrong.