Every year those who cook outdoors find themselves struggling with the same question: what is the best charcoal for outdoor grilling? While there are many different brands on the market, there are only a few different factors to consider when looking for the best. Obviously price may be a concern. After all, it is only going to be taken home and set on fire.
Realize that not all charcoal is created equal. Some of the bargain brands may be nothing more than compressed sawdust shaped like briquettes, similar to those artificial logs for the fireplace. While they can do the job, and might be great for building a huge fire for a hog roast or other large party in terms of the overall cost, but they do not burn as long or as hot as hardwood charcoal.
Self-starting charcoal has been impregnated with lighter fluid to make it more convenient to start the grill, but it does affect the flavor. Especially when cooking for a large group and charcoal has to be added throughout the day. Adding the self-starting stuff will also add the flavor of the starter fluid.
Lump charcoal made from real hardwood is going to cost a bit more than the pressed kind, but it will burn hotter and longer, making it a better value. Not using the self-starting kind will require the need to use lighter fluid, made specifically for charcoal, not gasoline, diesel fuel or other combustible liquid.
When cooking outdoors, even the best charcoal for BBQ grilling will not work if the person behind the grill doesn’t know what they’re doing. To start the fire, the coals should be piled in the center, like a pyramid then soaked with lighter fluid. Let the fluid soak in for two reasons. First, it won’t cause that “whoosh!” experience that removes eyebrows. Secondly, it actually helps the coals get hotter quicker.
Once lit, do not put any food on the grill until all of the charcoal is coated with a white ash and there is no sign of flames. If the cook wants the open flame approach, they should use real hardwood instead of charcoal. After the coals are hot, they can be spread out to allow even cooking over the entire surface of the grill.