For most BBQ enthusiasts, smoking with charcoal and wood can be one of the most foolproof ways of getting meat to taste good. Charcoal grilling can bring a world of heady, delicious flavors, and aromas to the food. However, smoking with charcoal is not a simple matter. There are many variables to think about first.

Since it has such an impact on the quality of the end product, it’s vital to choose the right charcoal. Charcoal comes in many different kinds and there are right choices for right applications. While some varieties might be perfect for particular design of grill or smoker, some might be the right choice for a particular style of cooking.

What is the best charcoal to use for smoking? Let us help you figure out by discussing what makes a particular kind great for specific uses and reviewing four excellent choices to get you started.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBest Charcoal for Offset SmokersBest Charcoal for Offset SmokersKingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
  • No chemical additives
  • Inexpensive
  • Sensational BBQ flavor
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byb2-table__imageBest Charcoal for Kamado/Green EggBest Charcoal for Kamado/Green EggFogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal
  • Burn hot
  • Every piece is 4" or more
  • Deep, smoky flavor
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byb2-table__imageBest Charcoal for Charcoal Grills/SmokersBest Charcoal for Charcoal Grills/SmokersKingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
  • No chemical additives
  • Inexpensive
  • Sensational BBQ flavor
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byb2-table__imageBest Charcoal for Vertical Charcoal SmokersBest Charcoal for Vertical Charcoal SmokersJealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
  • Clean-burning
  • High burn quality
  • Rich, smoky aroma
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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 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.

Then, 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 cheaper, briquettes take more effort to get started and produce much more ash. Regardless we recommend using a charcoal starter for briquettes or lump charcoal.

Charcoal Briquettes
Charcoal Briquettes
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Black and white view of charcoal
Lump Charcoal

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.

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.

Smaller grills, like the portable Weber Kettle, do not have a lot of space available to pack in charcoal. Even if you do pack it in, the airflow can become stifled by byproducts like ash. In these kinds of situations, using lump charcoal can be a wise choice as it produces very little ash. Similarly, if you have an offset smoker with a lot of space, using briquettes might be an astute idea. In cases of this type, 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 your 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.

Important Questions

Based on the above points, here are some important questions to ask yourself before zeroing in on a particular kind of charcoal.

  1. Does the charcoal have any additives?
  2. How hot does the charcoal burn?
  3. How long does the charcoal burn?
  4. How much ash does the charcoal produce?
  5. How easily can it maintain a steady temperature?
  6. 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.

Product Reviews

We put together four different charcoal products that have proven to be excellent performers in our experience. With these products, it is hard to go wrong.

Best Charcoal for Offset Smokers

Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes

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. These take very little time to get going, and according to the manufacturer’s claim can be ready for use in only 15 minutes which is about enough time for another Seattle riot to occur.

In our experience, these briquettes performed well with offset smokers, especially during those long and slow smoking sessions. They also impart a subtle, mellow BBQ flavor to the food and can be used easily with a variety of different ingredients.

The bag contains 17.5 pounds of charcoal briquettes that can last you a long time. To top it off, it represents incredible value at its price point which is critical in these tough economic times.

What We Like…

  • Inexpensive and excellent value for money
  • No chemical additives
  • Sensational BBQ flavor

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Takes a while to get started
  • Cannot reach high temperatures

Best Charcoal for Kamado / Green Egg Style of Smokers

Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal

If you have a ceramic style Kamado grill, 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 massive 35-pound 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. The manufacturer recommends using this for smoking and reverse searing and this charcoal proves to be a capable performer for both those use cases. This is made using wood from evergreen oak trees.

Size is important when it comes to lump charcoal and with this product, every piece 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
  • Every piece is four inches or more in size
  • Burn quickly and hot
  • Minimal ash production

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Premium product = higher price
  • Not as easily available as Kingsford or Royal Oak

Best Charcoal for Charcoal Grills / Smokers

Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes

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.

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 if you want to enjoy the pristine, real tastes of smoked food.

While these can take a while to get going, the fact that Kingsford does not use chemical accelerants to speed up the burning process can be a sensational thing for the overall flavor and aroma of the finished product. This is our pick for the best briquette charcoal for smoking.

Best Charcoal for Vertical Charcoal Smokers

Jealous Devil All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

For vertical smokers, you need high-quality lump charcoal 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 All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal comes in a large 35-pound bag that is resealable for easy storage and has a carry handle. The bag is also waterproof which means you can carry this outside in any weather. The packaging truly inspires confidence in the product.

At its core, this is high-quality lump charcoal made using South American hardwoods. Jealous Devil prides itself on quality and does not use any scrap, filler material, or chemical additives in the product. This translates extremely well on a vertical smoker, giving your food a rich, smoky aroma without any unpleasant tastes or smell.

One of the most impressive aspects of this charcoal is the burn quality. Usually, lump charcoal does not burn for a long time. Due to the exclusive use of quality hardwoods, you can actually pull off low and smoking sessions of more than 20 hours using this brand of lump charcoal. It can also put out a lot of heat if you want for those reverse searing scenarios. On the other hand, you can start with a smaller quantity, control the airflow, and get the temperature low for those long smoking sessions.

The charcoal produces very little ash and complements the flavor of your wood perfectly by introducing a naturally sweet and savory smoky note. Overall, this is definitely the best lump charcoal for smoking, especially when using a vertical smoker.

What We Like…

  • Excellent quality
  • Waterproof and convenient resealable storage bag
  • Clean-burning and long-lasting
  • Subtle flavor enhancer

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Expensive

Make Your Barbecue Heavenly

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.

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