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An Introduction to Charcoal Types

A Weber Charcoal Grill

Courtesy of Weber

A basic charcoal grill can impart a great deal of flavor.

Charcoal grills obviously use charcoal as a fuel source, but there are different options.

According to the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA), 90 percent of charcoal grillers use charcoal briquettes. The uniform shape of briquettes allows them to heat up evenly, and they are also easy to stack and arrange within the grill. Briquettes are also made to last longer than traditional charcoal, which is achieved by adding additives such as nitrate.

Natural lump charcoal, made from the carbon residue that results from charring wood, is free of any additives. "Lump charcoal lights faster and burns hotter (than briquettes)," says Deidra Darsa, the media relations manager for the HPBA. "It also comes in different wood species, such as mesquite, that add flavor to food."

Lump charcoal does not come in neat, easy to manage shapes. A bag of lump charcoal generally has varying sizes of charcoal chunks, which can make it more difficult to use.


Charcoal grills may be found in portable and freestanding models. Portable grills have casters that allow them to move easily. Freestanding grills can be moved if necessary and usually sit apart from other outdoor appliances.

The lack of built-in charcoal grills is one reason why people with dedicated outdoor kitchens usually prefer gas grills. However, some high end charcoal grills can be built into custom enclosures.

Fire it up!
Having a charcoal grill means making a fire on your own terms. Before you go nuts with the lighter fluid — which, according to the HPBA, 50 percent of people use to light their charcoal grill — consider a few things:

  • Squirting too much lighter fluid over your charcoal can result in your food having a chemical taste: more specifically, tasting like lighter fluid.

  • Chimney starters provide a chemical-free alternative for lighting charcoal. These large metal cylinders usually cost between $10 and $20, and allow your charcoal to heat up evenly. Just stuff the chimney starter full of charcoal and some newspaper, light the paper with a match, and then wait for your coals to heat up before dumping them in the grill pit.

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