Charcoal Barbecues – Fueling the Fire

Image of Burning CharcoalCharcoal Barbecues require fuel to create the heat needed to sear that favorite steak or to smoke that special rack of ribs or brisket. Let alone the debate going on about whether gas or charcoal is the better cooking medium, there is another ongoing debate about whether charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal is better for outdoor cooking.

There are definitely advantages for every type of heating source. Whether natural gas or propane, grills using this type of fuel can get to cooking temperature much quicker than charcoal. However, charcoal cooking adds a dimension to your outdoor cooking that gas fuel just can not provide.

Since this website includes information about charcoal barbecues, we have already come to our own conclusion that charcoal may be the better heat source. Consequently, let us go a little deeper into what is involved with charcoal cooking.

What is charcoal?

Charcoal forms when wood burns in an environment where there is little or no oxygen. In this process, water, methane, hydrogen, and tars pass into the air as vapors. The wood charcoal that remains is primarily carbon. Since charcoal is almost all carbon, it will produce a greater amount of heat in proportion to its volume when compared to a similar amount of wood. In addition, charcoal will burn cleaner, longer, and more steady than wood and will not have as much smoke.

Is one kind of charcoal better than another kind for use in charcoal barbecues?

There are two different kinds of charcoal used in charcoal barbecues.

  1. Charcoal Briquettes – are perhaps the more popular form of barbecuing charcoal. These are the little pillows of charcoal that have been formed by compressing ground charcoal, adding a kind of starch as a binder, and augmenting with other additives to make for quick easy burning. By the time the briquettes are ash coated, most of the additives will have burned off. Briquettes tend to burn longer, allowing you to maintain an even cooking temperature more easily. Because briquettes are more readily available, they are often cheaper than other forms of charcoal.
  2. Lump Charcoal – is what remains after the initial burning of wood, as described above, and is charcoal in its purest form. Lump charcoal is quicker to light, burns at a higher temperature, and has very little ash residue, as compared to briquettes. This type is also more responsive to airflow, allowing for more control of the cooking temperature if your charcoal barbecue grill has air vents that adjust. The biggest drawback to lump charcoal is the fact that bags do not always have consistent sizes and may have some small sizes that are not usable.

If you are fortunate enough to have both kinds of charcoal available for use, then you have the best of both worlds. Both types of charcoal work well in charcoal barbecues, but you should be aware of the ash accumulation ability of your grill. Charcoal briquettes will produce a large amount of ash which can quickly fill the ash collection bowls, especially those of ceramic cookers.

Lump charcoal will give you a hot fire for searing those steaks, burgers, or hot dogs. Charcoal briquettes, on the other hand, will provide the ability to maintain a low even heat over an extended period without constant monitoring when smoking those ribs, port butts, or briskets.

Charcoal barbecues will provide several seasons of great outdoor cooking when properly maintained. Take care to remove the cooled ashes from the collection bowls after each use. To protect your grill from the harsh elements of the weather, you may wish to consider a Weber Grill Cover to keep the dust and debris away.


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