The Kamado Joe XL Big Lump Charcoal is definitely the best charcoal brand for smoking. The large pieces mean a longer burn time and you also get a more consistent temperature - the coal is pretty durable too. To add to this, the smoky flavor is delicious!
I do use my charcoal smoker a lot and am always on the lookout for charcoal that takes my smoking to the next level. My pitmaster friend gave me a rundown of the factors that I should look for in good charcoal and I used these as a checklist when I tested the top charcoal brands on the market.
In this post, I will help you identify the best charcoal for smoking and show you how to choose your own charcoal too!
Here are the best charcoal brands for smoking to use in your grill or smoker:
Best Lump Charcoal
Do you enjoy smoking large cuts of meat like pork butt, pork shoulder, or brisket? If so, then long burn times are key - well, Kamado Joe XL delivers! Each chunk of charcoal is incredibly large and this allows each portion to light for a longer period of time.
The only downside is that this charcoal isn't suitable for smaller grills as the sections are simply too large.
While using this all natural hardwood lump charcoal, I kept a close eye on the temperature. I discovered that it was really easy maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the cook with this lump of charcoal.
This lump charcoal is made of a blend of several types of hardwoods. The result is a clean and lovely smoke flavor that works well with both delicate and hardier meats. And, since it has a natural flavor, it can be used with anything that you want to smoke.
The last thing that you want to do is spend a lot of money on your hardwood lump charcoal only to find tiny pieces at the bottom of the bag. Well, this lump charcoal is really durable and resilient and holds its structure well.
Best Charcoal Briquettes
I have been using Kingsford Original charcoal briquettes for many years now - in fact, if I have to use briquettes, this is the only brand that I reach for. One of the main reasons for doing this is the flavor. It is clean, notable, and perfect for smoking all kinds of food.
I also like that the smoke flavor has remained consistent over time and continues to be one of the best options on the market.
Once you get these briquettes lit, you can start smoking food in as little as 15 minutes! This is great because it cuts down on you having to wait around for your smoker to be up and running.
The only downside is that it can take a while to get the briquettes lit, even when using lighter fluid. If you are using a charcoal chimney or electric charcoal starter, it takes even longer.
The briquettes burn for an extended period of time which makes them ideal for smoking. If you calculate right, it is likely that you will not need to top up the fuel for your entire cook or at least, for a very long time.
Briquettes do have a reputation for being pretty expensive, but I have to say that the Kingsford briquettes give you a good bang for your buck. Considering how much of cook time you get out of a single batch, the cost feels worth it.
Best for Longevity
This brand has some of the largest chunks of charcoal that I have ever seen. As a result, the coal is able to burn for longer - in a smoker, you can get up to 20 hours of cook time!
There is an issue with charcoal of this size, though. You can't really use this kind of charcoal for smoking in smaller grills or smokers.
When burning charcoal for smoking, it is important to maintain a consistent cooking temperature throughout. And, this is exactly what you get with the Jealous Devil lump charcoal. The larger sections mean that the coal burns at a more even rate.
As an added bonus, there is also minimal ash to clean up as well.
The hickory flavor of this lump charcoal is great - the smoke flavor is strong but it isn't overpowering. I love using it to smoke brisket and other cuts of meat.
It is great that you get premium quality lump charcoal at such a good price! And, considering the size of the bag, this is an excellent bargain for those who like to smoke on a regular basis.
I really enjoyed the flavor of this all natural lump charcoal. It is notable enough to be used with beef cuts but at the same time, mild enough to be used with chicken and turkey as well. So, it is quite versatile in this sense and one of the best lump charcoal options in terms of flavor.
I made a point of monitoring the temperature of this lump of charcoal throughout the cook. I was impressed to note that there were very few fluctuations. This charcoal was able to maintain low and slow cooking temperatures throughout.
This is another charcoal for smoking that offers longer burn times. As long as you get your calculations right, you are unlikely to need to top up your charcoal grill or smoker for quite some time.
Now, the only black mark against this charcoal is that the chunks can vary in size quite a bit. So, you have to sort through the bag to find the same sized pieces for your cook.
I was really impressed with the longevity of this lump charcoal when I put it to the test. It was able to produce heat for several hours at a time, making it perfect for everything from ribs to pork shoulder.
The minor issue here is that the chunks of charcoal come in various shapes and sizes. This means that you have to separate the same sized ones for a proper cook.
As long as you manage to get similar sized pieces of coal, you can enjoy excellent temperature maintenance when charcoal grilling or smoking. The charcoal burns at an even rate and this helps to keep the temperature steady throughout.
I do like to mix and match when it comes to smoking with charcoal but with this brand, the effort was taken out of my hands and the mix was already handled for me. And, the result was delicious!
You can get hours and hours of some smoking time after lighting charcoal sticks like these on fire. So, it is perfect for those low and slow cooks. As an added bonus, the sticks can be reused. So, if they don't burn down completely, they can be lit up once more.
The only downside is that as it is made from rambutan wood, the flavor is an acquired taste and can take some getting used to.
My biggest peeve with charcoal smokers and grills is the cleanup process. This is why I like this charcoal so much - there is very little ash created and so it is simple to sweep up any dust.
With standard lump charcoal, there are so many rules to follow to ensure that the coal maintains its structural and functional integrity. This charcoal is very hardy and can be used for a long time after you buy it.
I really like that this lump charcoal is so quick and easy to light, even when skipping the lighter fluid and only using a charcoal chimney. You can get the fire going in a matter of minutes.
The only downside is that means that the fire does burn out a bit more quickly. Now, this charcoal will still last a few hours but not as long as other options on this list.
The flavor of this lump charcoal is top notch. It is strong enough to infuse the meat with a gorgeous smoky flavor but it isn't so strong that it is overpowering more delicate cuts of meat like poultry and pork.
If you are tired of all those high-priced charcoal brands, then this one will be a breath of fresh air. Not only do you get a lot of charcoal, but you also get it for a very affordable price too.
One of my favorite things about this lump charcoal is its delicious flavor. There is a perfect harmony between the oak, hickory, and maple. So, although you get that robust smokiness thanks to the hickory and oak, any bitterness is balanced out by the sweetness of the maple.
I noticed that I had to only use very little coal at a time with this brand. Even a small quantity produces quite a bit of heat that lasts for a long time.
The only issue is that there are a lot of small pieces of charcoal in the bag so you really have to dig around if you need bigger pieces for larger grills.
The temperature maintenance of this lump charcoal is excellent. The coal burns slowly and evenly and as such the food cooks at a more steady rate.
If you have a Big Green Egg or any kind of kamado or ceramic grill, then this is good charcoal for you. It has been specifically designed for such grills and, as such, you will get a good heat output and a nice and even smoking experience.
The only thing is that this charcoal is quite pricey and so it may not fit within everyone's budget.
This mix of flavors is great. You have that strong smoky flavor but it isn't overpowering. This flavor works great for beef and even pork if you don't mind a more potent smoke infusion in your meat.
The burning time with this charcoal is really great. You can easily smoke a small portion for an extended period of time without fearing that you will need to top it up too soon.
The burn time of this charcoal is pretty impressive! You should be able to smoke your food for hours on end without needing to top up the grill. This makes it great for brisket and other large cuts.
The flavor is really great too - for one thing, it is very clean. And, while the mesquite is certainly noticeable, it isn't overpowering and can work for more delicate cuts as well.
The temperature maintenance is great. Once you have your fire going, the temperature barely falters at all and this makes for an easier cook.
The only black mark here is that the coal isn't very durable and does break down a lot.
Here are the top tips that you should follow for choosing the right charcoal for your smoker or grill:
The biggest question that you have regarding which charcoal to buy probably has to do with whether you should choose lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes.
For many years, lump charcoal has been the go-to option. It burns hotter and a lot cleaner. It is also more affordable.
The downside, though, is that charcoal also burns a lot more quickly. This means that during a longer smoking session, you will need to top up your lump coal a lot faster.
Then there are charcoal briquettes. Despite burning at a lower temperature and producing a longer burn, briquettes haven't been very popular.
This is because the earlier versions of briquettes tended to contain quite a few additives. This altered the flavor of the coal. These days, however, you get high grade briquettes with very few added ingredients. Be warned that you often have to pay a higher price for these, though.
In this sense, you want to think about which option is better for your budget.
I know that it is tempting to save money on charcoal. This is especially true if you grill or smoke a lot.
However, one of the biggest favors that you can do yourself and your smoker is to invest in good quality charcoal. Now, the good news for you is that not all good charcoal is expensive. However, you may need to end up paying a little more.
Investing in your charcoal will pay off, though.
Since you need fuel for low and slow cooking, you need charcoal with a longer burn time. The longer the better.
Unfortunately, the only way to really figure out the burn time is through trial and error or reading reviews. If you are curious about the burn time of a particular brand, though, buy a small amount and time how long it takes to turn to ash.
Some of the charcoal brands on this list come with flavor and others do not. It is up to you to decide whether you want to flavor your meat or not. Just keep in mind that when you are smoking, you are also using wood.
So, make sure that the flavor of the charcoal and the wood are the same or that it is a good mix like hickory and cherry. If not, your food may end up tasting a little odd.
Before you choose your charcoal, consider the distance from the grate to the pit. If you have a small grill, then you need to choose smaller pieces of coal. On the other hand, if there is a great distance between the two areas, then it is important to go with larger coal.
The Kamado Joe is clearly the best charcoal for smoking that you can buy! It has longer burn times, offers a delicious flavor, helps you to maintain a consistent temperature during smoking, and is durable too!
You should check out all the brands on this list, though. You can never tell which one may be just what you are looking for.