Need a Backyard Transformation? Watch RTA Work its Magic in the Great Outdoor Kitchen Makeover Watch Now

Best Charcoal for Smoking: We Put the Top 3 Brands to the Ultimate Test

Whether you’re a seasoned griller or getting ready to fire up your charcoal smoker for the first time… No matter what, you’re going to need some charcoal to get going.

From the outside, this seems like a simple decision.

Just buy some charcoal at Walmart, Amazon, or Home Depot and get to work. Right?

But as your eyes begin to scan the shelves for the perfect bag… You may find yourself shocked by the sheer amount of options.

How can there be so many types of charcoal?

woman showing the best charcoal for smoking

You were just looking for the best charcoal for smoking… Can’t anyone narrow it down for you?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re about to do. We’ve put several brands of lump and briquette charcoal to the real test… And as a result, we’ll reveal which one comes out on top.

But first… Let’s discuss some of the intricacies of choosing your charcoal.

Choosing the Best Charcoal for Smoking

When it comes to choosing the best charcoal for smoking… There’s several factors that come into play.

So to help narrow down your focus on what to look for… Let’s get into it.

Want to bring your idea to life?

Use our free 3D design tool to bring the outdoor kitchen of your dreams to reality in just a few minutes.

1. Lump vs Briquettes

briquette charcoal for smoking
lump charcoal for smoking

In the BBQ world… There are few topics more hotly debated than lump vs briquette charcoal.

But in our minds, there really doesn’t have to be so much controversy.

One isn’t inherently better than the other. There’s just some slight differences that may affect your preferences.

On the whole, lump charcoal is known for being healthier to use because it’s just pure hardwood (with no additives)… But it also tends to burn hotter and cleaner, making it a smart choice for high heat grilling and searing.

Compare this to charcoal briquettes, which essentially have the opposite qualities.

Most brands include additives to create that signature shape… But briquettes also tend to burn cooler, and for a longer period of time. (Hence, why some people prefer these for smoking.)

And that’s about it.

When put this way… There really isn’t too much to be incensed about, is there?

Through experience, you’ll learn which type of charcoal is your preference… And you’ll stick to it. (No matter what strangers on the internet say!)

2. Avoid Additives

Regardless of which side of the lump vs charcoal briquette debate you fall on… There’s one thing you’ll surely want to avoid.

Additives.

Lump charcoal fans will rejoice! Virtually all lump charcoal offerings are completely free of additives.

However, in most cases, briquettes are a different story.

Generally, briquettes will be mixed with several types of additives in order to form the final product.

Materials like limestone or calcium carbonate may be added to help the briquettes burn… Binders like corn starch or gums may be added to keep the briquettes together… And you may even see fillers like clay or cement be added for bulk.

As you might expect, these additions have several consequences.

Briquettes with additives don’t burn as cleanly, can slightly reduce the smoke flavor… And are possibly even unhealthy, depending on exactly what ingredients are used.

Yuck.

So as you shop for either briquettes or lump… Be sure to steer clear of additives. Look for labels that say “100% hardwood”, and “free of additives”.

You’ll get cleaner burning charcoal, better flavors, and healthier results. Simple as that.

3. Cleanup

Although there’s a certain level of satisfaction in cleaning… Most of us would rather not be bothered by it, if we had the choice.

So it’s no shock that if possible… You’d prefer to select a charcoal that leaves behind less of a mess.

As we mentioned previously, there are some varieties of charcoal that burn more cleanly than others.

It all comes down to fillers. Yes, we’re back to the additive debacle again!

But it’s worth reiterating this point.

Fillers will result in a less clean-burning charcoal… Thus leaving you with more waste at the end of your cook.

For you, this means more cleanup… And less time enjoying the best part of the hobby, smoking meat!

But this also means your coals haven’t burned as efficiently as possible. So in order to get the most bang for your buck, there’s one more category to consider…

4. Cost & Brand

man holding open empty wallet

Ultimately, your wallet has the final say on what type of charcoal you purchase.

And if you’ve already tried your hand at perusing the store shelves… You’ll know what we mean.

For some seemingly humdrum hunks of wood… There’s quite a bit of variance in pricing.

Depending on where you shop, a 15 lb bag of lump charcoal could cost you around $10… Or run all the way up to $30 or more.

Do you get what you pay for? Is a more expensive charcoal worth the added cost?

Let’s find out.

Which Lump Charcoal Brand is Best? Expert Test & Review

All that said… You’re here to figure out what charcoal is best for smoking, and what to buy.

For our purposes, we’ve narrowed it down to just 3 different brands.

Brands like Weber, Kingsford, Royal Oak, Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, and more currently dominate the store shelves… But none of them will appear in our tests.

Why is this?

We wanted to focus on high-quality, well respected brands you may not have heard of before… But you should.

So without further ado, let’s look at the lineup.

The Brands

Design The best Place To Smoke your Food

Use our free 3D design tool to bring the outdoor kitchen of your dreams to reality in just a few minutes.

What We Looked For & What We Used:

Now that you know the brands… It’s time to discuss what factors we’ve tested and what we’re looking for.

Total Cook Time & Burn Time

charcoal ash in kamado after smoking

In this category… We’re looking for longevity of the charcoal.

Essentially, how long does it last?

Total cook time represents how long the charcoal stays hot enough to cook with… And total burn time describes how long the coals remained lit.

The longer your coals last, the more value you’re getting for your money.

Heat Up Time

burning lump charcoal in smoker

With grilling and smoking, time is of the essence.

So in this area, we wanted to know… How long does it take for these coals to get up to temperature?

After lighting, we jotted down how long it took for each brand to reach the “white ash” stage.

When the coals begin to change colors… We know we’re ready to grill or smoke.

The quicker the ramp up, the quicker you’ll be enjoying some delicious BBQ.

Smoky Flavor

This one’s pretty self explanatory.

How much smoke flavor are you getting with each brand? Is there a discernible difference?

You’ll find out soon enough… And will probably be surprised by the answer.

Leftover Ash Residue

charcoal residue in hand shovel over kamado smoker

Lastly, we’ve determined the burn quality of each brand through ash residue.

Is there little ash leftover? What is the texture of it?

These questions clue us in as to how efficiently and cleanly each brand burns.

Our Equipment

charcoal smoker in backyard with outdoor kitchen

To complete these tests, we used a Coyote kamado grill across the board.

For lighting, we simply used tumbleweeds to help the coals along. (No lighter fluid or charcoal chimney starter was utilized.)

And as for the “control protein”… We grilled up some chicken thighs during each test for consistent results.

Speaking of which…

The Results: What Brand Can Take the Heat?

Whether you’re a pitmaster serving up competition-grade brisket on the regular… Or just a beginner who loves grilling burgers on your charcoal grill

It all comes down to this.

Let’s discover the best briquettes and best lump charcoal for smoking.

3rd Place: Cowboy Charcoal

cowboy charcoal logo

Rounding up in 3rd place… We’ve roped in Cowboy charcoal.

Overall, Cowboy performed quite well… But it just barely didn’t squeak into the second place spot.

Here’s why.

Cowboy Lump Charcoal

hardwood lump charcoal for smoking

For this test, we burned up a batch of Cowboy’s Oak & Hickory lump charcoal blend. We paid $12.97 for a 15 lb bag.

It took 20 minutes to reach the white ash stage… Which is actually among the quickest ramp up times in the lineup.

The total cook time lasted for 2 1/2 hours, and burned for a total of 3 hours.

We could say, this charcoal was a flash in the pan. It came up to temp quickly, ran hot for a couple hours… And fizzled out just about as quickly as it came.

For cleanup, we really couldn’t complain here. The ash was fine and fluffy… Indicating a clean burn and easy cleanup.

Overall, our expert charcoal testers Jordan Diggs and Daniel Cdebaca rated Cowboy’s lump charcoal a 7/10.

We dinged Cowboy’s score here simply for the cook and burn time.

This charcoal had one of the shortest cook times out of the whole bunch, and with that steep temperature drop off… You’d have to keep a much closer eye on this charcoal compared to the others we tested for smoking.

Cowboy Briquettes

charcoal briquettes for smoking

Cowboy’s briquettes also came in at the low end of our ranking. We used Cowboy’s standard hardwood briquettes for this test. We paid $8.97 for a 14 lb bag.

These coals hit the white ash stage at 35 minutes, which was right in the middle compared to Jealous Devil and B&B.

Cook time was even more brief than Cowboy’s lump charcoal offering… Ringing in at a measly 2 hours.

However, the overall longevity of the briquettes was slightly longer, extinguishing at the 3 1/2 hour mark.

Although Cowboy doesn’t use additives in their briquettes… We found the ash consistency to be grainy and dense, which is not preferred.

Like the lump charcoal, we also rated Cowboy’s briquettes at a 7/10.

2nd Place: Jealous Devil Charcoal

jealous devil charcoal logo

Next up, Jealous Devil takes the 2nd place spot.

Overall, we felt this brand performed slightly better than Cowboy… But still fell just short of the first place prize.

Let’s take a closer look.

Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal

great charcoal for smoking meat

For this test, we used Jealous Devil’s Chunx XL hardwood lump charcoal. This bag was $23.97 for the list price… But we got it on sale for $18.97.

This batch reached the white ash stage in 30 minutes, slightly lagging behind the Cowboy briquettes. (But still remained in line with our other tests.)

Optimal cooking temperatures held steady for 3 hours, with a total burn time of 4 hours.

As for the ash consistency, we got a pile of fine and fluffy ash… Indicating a nice, clean burn.

We liked the longer cook time and slower cooldown of the Jealous Devil lump… Resulting in an 8/10 score, just barely beating out Cowboy.

Jealous Devil Briquettes

jealous devil charcoal for smoking rating

On the briquette side… We used Jealous Devil’s Max XL pillow briquettes. We shelled out $14.97 for a 20 lb bag.

Jealous Devil boasts that their briquettes are 50% larger than other brands and is completely free of additives or fillers.

And we must say, we were quite happy with how these briquettes performed!

The only ding we had was the ramp up time on temperature. These briquettes took 45 minutes to come up to temperature… The longest time on the list.

Otherwise, things were well worth the wait.

We got a solid 3 hour cook time, and 5 hour total burn time. These briquettes have some good staying power and don’t require as quick of a reaction time.

Ash consistency was clean and fine… Which is especially impressive to see for briquettes.

For score, Jordan and Daniel gave these briquettes a stellar 9/10 score.

But even still… They didn’t take the crown.

1st Place: B&B Charcoal

bb charcoal logo

Coming into the top slot… B&B charcoal wins it all.

So let’s explore why this brand is the best hardwood charcoal for smoking.

Best Hardwood Lump Charcoal for Smoking: B&B Lump Charcoal

best lump charcoal for smoking

On this test, we utilized B&B’s regular oak lump charcoal. This item had a $31.70 list price, the highest of the bunch… But we locked in a good sale, paying only $14.97 for a 20 lb bag.

B&B’s lump charcoal hit the white ash stage in just 20 minutes… Tied with Cowboy lump for the quickest ramp up time.

Additionally, this charcoal had the longest viable cook time, clocking in at 4 full hours… And burning for a total of 4 1/2 hours.

And to top it all off, we’ve got no reason to complain about ash consistency. With a fine and fluffy result… This charcoal is clean to burn.

B&B’s lump charcoal will cool off quickly, but aside from that… We’re giving this brand a perfect 10/10 score. Without a doubt, it’s the best lump charcoal we’ve tested.

Best Charcoal Briquettes for Smoking: B&B Briquettes

best charcoal briquettes for smoking

For our final test of the day… We’ve opted to use B&B’s standard oak charcoal briquettes. A 17 lb bag cost us $9.97.

These briquettes made it to the white ash stage in around 30 minutes… Which is right in line with most of the other brands we’ve tested.

Cook time was a healthy 3 hours long… With the total burn time lasting 4 1/2 hours. (Nearly the longest in this category!)

Ash consistency was nice and fluffy… Revealing a high quality, clean briquette.

Solid performance all around led us to give B&B’s charcoal briquettes a 10/10 rating.

We Didn’t Talk about This... What Gives?

smoky chicken from charcoal kamado smoker

While we have some clear winners out of the bunch… You’re likely to notice the omission of commentary on one important category.

Smoky flavor.

Did any brand really stand out in the area of flavor?

Well, shockingly… Not at all.

Our charcoal testers Jordan and Daniel tasted every batch of chicken… And to be honest, they couldn’t really tell much of a difference in flavor across the board.

At the end of the day, charcoal is charcoal.

As long as you’re getting high-quality, additive-free options… The final product will be loaded with a beautiful bouquet of smoke flavor.

But aside from that, you’re not going to get a significant bump in flavor from any particular brand. (It’s all in the wood chunks or wood chips.)

So really, what you’re looking for here is a long-lasting, clean burning charcoal.

And for us, B&B came out on top.

We’d encourage you to experiment with both the briquettes and lump versions to determine your preference.

And once you’ve found your perfect match for outdoor cooking… Let’s discuss a way to optimize your smoking setup.

A Perfect Place for Your Smoker... And Charcoal, Too

l shape rta outdoor kitchen with smoker and charcoal storage

Now that you’ve determined the best charcoal for smoking (and grilling!)… Allow us to put a vision into your minds.

You’re outside, smoking up an incredible brisket on your kamado or offset smoker.

But instead of your smoker standing solo… It’s incorporated into an outdoor kitchen setup.

You’ve got a storage pantry for stowing away your charcoal…

You’ve got counter space for trimming, seasoning, and slicing your brisket…

And you may even have other appliances to enhance your BBQ game. (What about a gas grill for burgers and dogs? Or perhaps a flat top griddle for breakfast al fresco?)

Really, let your imagination go wild here.

And this is just a small sample of how an outdoor kitchen can make it so much easier and more enjoyable to do what you already love — smoking and grilling.

If you’re at all curious to see what an outdoor kitchen with a smoker could look like… Check out our free online design tool.

You can draft up an initial design in mere minutes, just to see.

And who knows? Maybe what started as a hunt for the best charcoal for grilling and smoking… Turns into building your dream, American-made outdoor kitchen from RTA.

Too much?

Perhaps. Either way… We’ll leave you to it.

Need Help With Your Plans?

Talk to one of our expert designers and they will guide you from planning to installation. Schedule a call today.

FAQ

In our tests, the best charcoal for smoking food was B&B charcoal. Their briquettes don’t last as long as their lump charcoal… But they will burn a little less hot than lump. Either way, B&B is a solid choice for low and slow smoking.

When it comes to temperature control and the best type of charcoal for smoking… It really comes down to the differences between lump and charcoal. Lump charcoal burns hot, whereas briquettes tend to run a bit cooler. So for long smoking sessions at a low temperature… You’ll get less variance with briquettes.

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? What is the best charcoal to use for smoking? Overall, lump tends to burn a little hotter and faster than briquettes… So many people prefer to use briquettes for that reason. That said, make sure you spring for a brand that is free of additives and fillers.

Free 1-on-1 Design Consult

($500 Value + bonuses & monthly promotional offer)

Enter your contact information below and one of our expert outdoor kitchen designers will reach out to you soon to schedule a call at your earliest convenience.

By submitting your number, you consent to receiving calls and texts from RTA Outdoor Living. Calls may be recorded for training or quality purposes. You can reply STOP or unsubscribe to cancel at any time.

Looking For Your Dream Outdoor Kitchen?

Book a Free 1-On-1 Design Call

Why You Should Book A Call Now:

By submitting your number, you consent to receiving calls and texts from RTA Outdoor living. You can reply STOP or unsubscribe to cancel at any time.