Choosing Between Charcoal Briquettes and Coal Charcoal
In the dining world, where most campers live at least some of the time, the battle between charcoal briquettes and lump coals as the preferred fuel source for grilling and barbecuing is raging. Every backyard cook has their own preference.
However, choosing one or the other is not the best way to look at this discussion. Both types of coal have their place. You just need to know when to use which one.
What is Coal?
Charcoal briquettes are produced by cutting hardwood scraps into consistent shapes and sizes. It is then cooked in a special oven until golden brown. Coal is mixed with mineral coal, mineral carbon, limestone, starch, borax, sodium nitrate and sawdust. The mixture is then molded, packaged and sold. None of these "additives" have been reported to be harmful or burn to add flavor to food. (The blow against briquettes that impart an "off" flavor to the food being cooked on them is indeed with "easy-start" briquettes that have lightening agents added throughout.)
Tuberous charcoal is small pieces of hardwood that have been cooked exactly the same way, but without any additional ingredients or shaping. The individual size and shape of chunks of charcoal vary quite significantly, even in the same bag.
Briquettes Vs. lumps
Charcoal briquettes are more consistent piece by piece as they are “made”. They burn more evenly and at a lower speed and at a lower temperature. You definitely want to use the briquettes for any purpose where you will cook them longer – more than 45 minutes, for example. If you're cooking Dutch Oven, using briquettes is a science for both temperature and cooking time. Briquettes are a good, standard, all round good choice. So what's the best way to burn coal?
Piece coal burns hotter and faster than briquettes. There are times when you want exactly that - when you're roasting a steak or grilling during the cold winter months, for example, when it can be difficult to get the grill to the temperature you need to roast it. However, lump coal also burns faster because it burns hotter. The tuber is already significantly more expensive pound for pound, so you'll really notice the price difference if you grill it a lot as it burns faster. However, if you use a super efficient porcelain grill, you can stretch the bump even further. If "no additives" is important to you, tuber is the only way to go.
Whichever you choose, stay away from lighter fluids. Use direct light with a blowtorch such as a starting chimney or campfire torch. That way, when you light the lump of charcoal there's nothing to flavor your food in a way you don't want.