How to choose the right fuel type for low 'n slow barbecue


| Tips & Tricks | Charcoal versus briquettes: which do you choose?

Charcoal versus briquettes: which do you choose?

Venturing into the world of low 'n slow barbecue introduces you to a plethora of decisions: which cuts of meat, which wood for smoke, and, importantly, which fuel source to use.

Two of the most popular choices are lump charcoal and briquettes. Both have their merits and drawbacks, and understanding these can be key to perfecting your barbecue game. Let’s dissect the differences and determine which might be best for your next session.

1. Lump Charcoal: The Natural Choice

Lump charcoal, sometimes referred to as hardwood charcoal, is made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen, resulting in pure carbon lumps.


  • Pure and Natural: Lump charcoal typically has no additives or binders, making it a cleaner option.
  • High Heat: It burns hotter than briquettes, which can be useful for searing or grilling.
  • Responsive: It reacts more quickly to oxygen, making it easier to adjust temperatures by manipulating your grill's vents.
  • Less Ash: Produces less ash than briquettes, making cleanup easier.


  • Inconsistent Sizes: The lumps can vary in size, which can lead to uneven temperatures.
  • Burns Faster: For very long barbecue sessions, you might need to replenish lump charcoal more often.
  • Cost: Typically, lump charcoal is more expensive than briquettes.
2. Briquettes: The Uniform Option

Briquettes are made by compressing charcoal (often made from sawdust) combined with binders and fillers. They are shaped into uniform sizes for consistency.


  • Consistent Burn: Due to their uniform size, briquettes provide a steady temperature, making them excellent for low 'n slow cooking.
  • Cost-effective: Generally cheaper than lump charcoal and widely available.
  • Longer Burn Time: Briquettes tend to burn longer than lump charcoal, requiring less frequent replenishment.


  • Additives: Some briquettes may contain additives that can impart unwanted flavours to food. However, there are "all-natural" briquettes available that minimize these additives.
  • More Ash: Briquettes produce more ash than lump charcoal, leading to more frequent cleanup.
  • Slower to Adjust: If you need to change the temperature rapidly, briquettes are generally less responsive than lump charcoal.
3. Making the Choice: Factors to Consider
  • Cooking Style: If you're purely into low 'n slow cooking and appreciate consistency, briquettes might be your best bet. For those who switch between grilling and slow barbecuing, lump charcoal offers versatility.
  • Flavour Profile: Lump charcoal can provide a more "natural" flavour, given its pure composition. However, if you’re using wood chips or chunks for smoking, this flavour difference might be negligible.
  • Budget: For those watching their wallet, briquettes typically offer a more cost-effective solution.
  • Availability: Depending on your region, one option might be more readily available than the other. It's always good to have a preference but be adaptable based on what's at hand.

Both lump charcoal and briquettes have their place in the world of barbecue. Your choice should reflect your cooking style, flavour preferences, budget, and the specific demands of your barbecue session. Remember, whether you opt for the natural irregularity of lump charcoal or the consistent burn of briquettes, the heart of barbecuing lies in passion, patience, and practice. Whichever path you choose, let the flames guide you to glory!


Posted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand