TUCSON, Ariz. - Sometimes, only grilling over a charcoal fire will do! But what type of charcoal? Lump or briquettes?
“Briquettes are made primarily of sawdust, and each piece has a consistent shape, so that means they burn more uniformly," says Dan Wroclawski, Consumer Reports.
“Lump charcoal is charred wood pieces of different sizes and shapes. The labels often claim that they burn hotter and longer than briquettesm," says Wroclawski.
Consumer Reports set out to settle this rivalry with science! CR testers burned three pounds each of briquettes and lump coal in two very different grills: An 18 inch Weber Kettle and a Big Green Egg. Then they brought out the “scientific instruments", thermocouples, on the grates collected the precise temperature for each. That info goes into a computer, turning it into a heat distribution map.
Overall the lump charcoal burned about 40 to 50 degrees hotter than the briquettes. For evenness, the lump charcoal only got a “fair” score in the Weber kettle. But it got a “very good” score in the Big Green Egg. And in a duration test, in the Big Green Egg the lump coal maintained a low temperature of 250 degrees for 11 hours, versus just four for the briquettes. The briquettes got excellent scores for evenness in both grills. And, the briquettes burned evenly throughout. So, which should you use? Well, the testers found lump charcoal is best for when you want a hot sear on a steak, and that smoky flavor that comes from real wood. Also, for cooking “low and slow.” But...
"Briquettes are easier to stack, light and control. And they are a whole lot cheaper," says Wroclawski.
Consumer Reports uses heat maps for gas grills, too. Click here for more information on those.