Charcoal is a fuel used mainly in outdoor grilling for cooking food on an outdoor charcoal grill. There are many other uses for charcoal in forms other than charcoal for grilling. These include artist charcoal for drawing, charcoal for medical purposes when someone ingests poison and many more, this article will only discuss types of charcoal for outdoor grills.
There are basically only three types of charcoal for outdoor grills; pressed briquettes, extruded charcoal and lump charcoal (sometimes referred to as natural). There are many manufacturers and some variation in these three types.
So how is types of charcoal for outdoor grills made? The traditional briquettes are made from a process that is hundreds of years old which involve heating carbon based organic materials in a device with little to no oxygen. Heating the material in this fashion removes all volatile gases, water, tars and leaves a byproduct called “char”. The char is then mixed with other materials such as binders, smoking wood chips for flavoring and chemicals to aid in lighting.
Types of Charcoal for Outdoor Grills
Charcoal briquettes are made by pressing the char, usually made of hardwood sawdust, with a binder, a starch usually from corn, with other materials under pressure in a form producing the briquette shape. The other materials can be hickory, mesquite or any other woods used to smoke or flavor grilled items. Also paraffin wax or petroleum based products can be added to produce a product referred to as match light charcoal.
A fairly new process takes the raw materials; either sawdust or ground coconut hulls, and presses this through a heated mold under extremely high pressures to form a log that can then be made into char through the traditional processing. The manufacturer’s claim that extruded charcoal produces less smoke while lighting and burning, lower ash afterward, longer burning times, odorless, chemical and binder free.
Lump types of charcoal for outdoor grills is made from hardwood scraps that can be put through the char process. These scraps can either come from processed supplies, such as hardwood flooring or unprocessed, such as tree limbs and any other natural supply. Flooring scraps may have chemicals such as vanish left on them and although most burns off in the char process some may remain. Obviously it is best to use the natural kind of lump charcoal however it may be hard to find locally. The very best reviews of lump charcoal for outdoor charcoal grills and competition cooking can be found here at the Naked Whiz’s Lump charcoal database. The manufacturers are not going to tell you where the materials came from but this lump charcoal database will.
Are there advantages to using different types of charcoal for outdoor grills for barbecue? Ultimately you will need to experiment and make that decision yourself as you grill outdoor. The briquettes may burn longer with less ash and at higher heats than the lump charcoal. Lump charcoal provides better flavors and more consistent cooking temps. I do not have any experience with the extruded kind but it does provide an interesting alternative as well as one that may be better for the ecology. Charcoal should only be used in an outdoor cooking grill.