There's nothing quite like a backyard BBQ! When it's time to fire up your charcoal grill, you're going to need fuel to get it going, and in general, you're going to have to choose between briquette and lump charcoal.
While briquette charcoal is commonly sold in stores, many grilling enthusiasts prefer lump charcoal, which is made by burning hardwood pieces in an airtight environment to remove moisture, sap, and more. The resulting charcoal makes for consistent fires that are easy to control.
"When you’re buying lump charcoal, look for brands that prominently contain 100 percent hardwoods," says grilling expert Paul Sidoriak of Grilling Montana. "The pieces should be between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball, and you want to avoid brands where the bags contain lots of charcoal dust and pea-sized pieces, as they can hinder airflow."
We researched lump charcoals—and sampled a few—looking at factors like quality, flavor, size, and burning temperature to help you decide on the right bag of lump charcoal for your grilling needs.
Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Flavor is smooth and mild
Packaging keeps pieces dry
Lights quickly and heats consistently
One of the top-selling points for this charcoal is the re-designed bag that protects the charcoal better in shipping, so there are larger pieces and less dust and residue. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference when the fire hits the coal.
The coal itself is made from South American hardwood that users say is similar to oak but lacking the unpleasant bitterness that sometimes creeps in. With a smooth and mild flavor, you don't have to worry about the coal overpowering your food, even with long, slow cooking. The wood is purposely selected for coal making and is hand-cut and hand-fired in brick kilns built on-site for that purpose. The largest and most intact lumps are sold to ensure a consistent product in each bag.
This wood also sparks less than some other types, so it's a bit safer and less dramatic to light and use.
Price at time of publish: $48
Wood Type: South American hardwood | Sizes Available: 8 pounds, 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 35 pounds
Royal Oak All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Easy to light
Burns very hot
Quality is inconsistent
Royal Oak Hardwood Lump Charcoal is affordable and is great for new users who are just getting used to the fuel, and it’s also popular with experienced grillers who like the smoky flavor. The charcoal is made from American oak and hickory hardwood.
It offers more smoke than other brands, can be easier to light, and burns slightly faster. Some users have found that the quality can be inconsistent with bits of rock or metal appearing in the bottom of the bag, although many other users have had no issues at all.
Price at time of publish: $22
Wood Type: American oak and hickory hardwood | Sizes Available: 15.4 pounds
Best Mid-Sized Chunks
The Good Charcoal Company Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Not available everywhere (yet)
The Good Charcoal Company is a new player in the charcoal market, so you may need to look a little harder to find its products, but we were able to sample the product and it definitely earns a spot on this list. The charcoal is made from sustainably harvested acacia wood, and the company claims to sell the first FSC-approved charcoal in the United States.
When it comes to using the charcoal, the bags that were tested had charcoal that was reasonably uniform in size, and mostly mid-sized—so, no large branch-like pieces. There were also smaller chunks, but that’s to be expected as bags jostle around in shipping and pieces break off. The mid-sized pieces lit easily and burned cleanly, providing a nice hot burn and consistent heat—which makes sense since it’s all the same wood type. The smaller pieces were handy for starting fires or for adding just a little more wood.
Price at time of publish: $20 (for 15.4-pound bag)
Wood Type: Acacia hardwood | Sizes Available: 8 and 15.4 pounds
Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Easy to light and burns long
While not the least expensive lump charcoal you can buy, this is highly rated by users. Buying multiple bags at a time often reduces the price-per-item significantly, so it’s a great value for those who will be barbecuing a lot of chicken legs during grilling season. It has consistently been voted the best by websites and chefs, and it’s often used by competitive barbecue teams.
This charcoal is made from hardwoods harvested in Missouri and includes oak and hickory as the majority of the product, along with some maple, cherry, and pecan wood. This boasts a rich aroma from woods that offer a desirable flavor in the smoke, adding a pleasant taste to the food. The wood is not purposely cut for charcoal. Instead, it is leftover wood that was cut for other uses, so it’s better for the environment as well as for your grill.
Price at time of publish: $125
Wood Type: Oak, hickory, maple, and pecan | Sizes Available: 20 pounds
Best for Beginners
Cowboy All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Burns hot and long
Smoky flavor with no off-notes
Made from renewable resources
Some say there are too many small chips in a bag
Made from a mix of hardwoods, including oak, hickory, and mesquite, this is a great charcoal for folks who are just starting to dabble with lump charcoal and for all those times when premium charcoal isn’t needed. While it’s not the least expensive lump charcoal you’ll find, the price is reasonable for everyday grilling, whether it’s burgers, ribs, or a roast.
This charcoal burns hot and fast when needed for excellent searing and has the longevity required for low and slow cooking. It imparts a smoky flavor to food without any off-notes for the perfect grilling experience every time. This is made from all-natural wood that has been charred and comes in a 20-pound bag, so there’s plenty for family grilling and parties.
Many customers are happy with the quality of the charcoal and that it burns very hot, but some say they found a lot of small-sized bits in the bag that either burn too quickly or fall through the grate.
Price at time of publish: $48
Wood Type: Oak, hickory, and mesquite | Sizes Available: 20 pounds
Best for Big Green Egg
Harder Charcoal 100 Percent Natural XL Restaurant Style Barbecue Grilling Lump Charcoal
Produces minimal sparking
Easy to control temperature
Smaller pieces than expected
Harder Lump Charcoal is made from a South American Quebracho wood nicknamed “axe-breaker.” Wood for this charcoal is harvested without cutting down any living trees, making it very eco-friendly. It works well for any charcoal grill, but specifically for kamado-style grills, like the Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, and others, that retain heat for long, low-and-slow cooking as well as high-heat applications.
This charcoal produces minimal sparking for safer lighting and grilling and minimal smoke while imparting just the right flavor. It is sold as a 33-pound bag, so you’ll have plenty for grilling, family dinners, and parties. Users complimented it for its responsiveness to airflow changes for heat control and the long-lasting fire for slow cooking.
Price at time of publish: $48
Wood Type: South American Quebracho wood | Sizes Available: 33 pounds
Best Multi-Sized Chunks
Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
Burns clean with flavorful smoke
Includes many large chunks
Comes in a box that's easy to store
Some lumps are too big and have to be broken down
Made from Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, and White Quebracho hardwoods ("axe-breakers") from Argentina, this wood is roasted in outdoor ovens to create the lump charcoal. The result is clean-burning wood with flavorful smoke.
Packed in a box rather than a bag to protect the charcoal during shipping, according to users, this includes pieces in various sizes, with large, medium, and small pieces filling the box. While some users prefer to use all large pieces for long cooking sessions, the smaller pieces light faster and are great for quick-cooking foods like steaks and burgers since there’s no need to extinguish large pieces to save them for later cooking.
Price at time of publish: $31
Wood Type: Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, and White Quebracho | Sizes Available: 30 pounds
Fogo FB17 Charcoal, Black
Gives food superior flavor
Different size chunks
Not ideal for long smoking sessions
If you want to impart the most flavor to your steaks, ribs, and other grilled foods, the FOGO Premium Lump Charcoal is well-regarded for its superior flavor. This lump charcoal is made from hardwood oak trimmings with no additional ingredients added, and you can definitely tell the difference in the taste of your food.
This lump charcoal lights up easily and is generally hot enough to grill in 15 minutes. It provides a long burn time that's ideal for everyday grilling and short smoking sessions, and its pieces come in two different sizes. The majority of pieces are medium-sized, and the remaining are small.
Price at time of publish: $29
Wood Type: Oak | Sizes Available: 17.6 pounds, 35 pounds
We chose the Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal for the top spot due to its smooth, inoffensive flavor and how quickly and consistently it heats up. Plus, it doesn't spark as much as other products. If you're on a budget or are new to charcoal grilling, go for the Royal Oak All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal. It's easy to light, burns hot, and produces a great smoky flavor.
What to Look for When Buying Lump Charcoal
Sources and Quality
Lump charcoal can be made from almost any hardwood and it's often created as a byproduct of sawmills. By making sure the lump charcoal is made of hardwood that was sourced sustainably you can assume that the charcoal doesn't include varnish or other chemicals. In terms of quality, good lump charcoal has no fillers, additives, or binders. There also shouldn't be a lot of sparks. What you don't want is small bits and dust that only fall into your ash trap.
A bag of lump charcoal typically consists of a mixture of hardwoods (usually oak, beech, and ash) as opposed to one species. But different hardwood species provide distinct flavor profiles. Lighter woods, such as maple, impart a sweeter flavor, which is better for cooking white meat. Darker woods (oak and hickory) impart a stronger flavor that's ideal for red meat. Remember that it's difficult to find single-species lumps; you'll usually find them in the form of briquettes.
Each species of hardwood lump charcoal burns at different temperatures. For example, apple burns at 1190 degrees, while maple burns at 1200. This means you'll have to vent your fire differently depending on the makeup of your charcoal, so take this into account.
High-quality bags of lump charcoal will have mostly large, uniform wood-shaped pieces; the larger they are, the longer and hotter they burn. Also, be mindful of the amount of charcoal dust at the bottom of the bag; these are useless for grilling and can cause excessive sparking.
How do you light lump charcoal?
There are several methods you can use to light lump charcoal for your grill. Perhaps the easiest option is using a charcoal chimney, which uses crumpled newspaper to get the charcoal going. However, other options include stacking the charcoal in a pyramid, using lighter fluid to start the fire, or employing an electric charcoal starter.
How long does lump charcoal burn?
Lump charcoal tends to burn hotter and faster than charcoal briquettes, but the exact burn time will vary depending on how you're cooking. On an open grill, you'll likely get around 45 minutes to an hour of burn time with lump charcoal, but the fuel may last significantly longer in a closed smoker.
How do you use a chimney starter with lump charcoal?
Chimney starters are a handy tool when it comes to lighting charcoal, and they're surprisingly easy to use. All you have to do is place a few pieces of crumpled newspaper or lighter cubes underneath the chimney, then put charcoal inside the metal tube. Light the newspaper on fire with a lighter, then leave the chimney to work its magic. In about ten minutes, your charcoal will be lit, and you can transfer it into your grill for cooking.
How We Researched
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best lump charcoals and evaluating their key features—like quality, flavor, burning temperature, and size. We also sampled items on the list in addition to reading reviews from customers and other trusted sources. Finally, we talked to grilling expert Paul Sidoriak of Grilling Montana for additional insight. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
When it comes to charcoal-grilled burgers and home-smoked bacon, you can bet The Spruce Eats writer and cookbook author Donna Currie knows her stuff. Check out reviews on two charcoal-burning products she's tested for us that got high marks: the Char-Griller AKORN Kamado Charcoal Grill and the Weber Smokey Mountain 18-Inch Smoker.
Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Prairie Research Center. Charcoal vs. Gas – A Sustainability Question.