8 Best Grilling Charcoal of 2024

Nothing screams summer more than the smell of a backyard barbecue wafting from the best grilling charcoal. Charcoal grills are a form of cooking dating back to the Stone Age—at least the charcoal part. But a lot has changed. Today, it’s overwhelming how many different brands and styles of grill charcoal are available. There are even charcoal briquettes made from coconut shells from Vietnam and hardwood lumps of wood from Missouri.

To determine which is the best charcoal for grilling for someone who wants to cook up some brats and burgers on the weekend, we gathered up eight highly recommended brands and put them to the test.

We judged each charcoal on a variety of metrics, including how much they cost, how well they cooked, and how well they burned. After weeks of testing, we think the Royal Oak Lump Charcoal
(available at Home Depot for $14.97)

will serve most people the best. We really like the smell this high-quality bbq charcoal produced, its wide availability, and the distribution of the lump sizes.

Charcoal burning in a grill.

Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

We liked the assortment of large and smaller chunks of the Royal Oak Lump.

Charcoal pouring out of a bag.

Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Kingsford is a known quantity with a fairly high degree of quality control.

Other Charcoal We Tested

How We Tested Charcoal for Grilling

The Tester

Hello, I’m Jon Chan. I’m the senior lab technician at Reviewed, which means I test everything from men’s boots to pocket knives.

I should also point out that I’m not a pit master or an expert griller. However, I do enjoy a spot of outdoor cooking and have a background in designing experiments.

When it came to testing charcoals, I had a casual griller in mind. People who cook hot dogs and burgers for an occasional summer meal have different concerns than someone who smokes their own meat and has multiple dual-channel probes.

The Tests

Testing different charcoals.

Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

We decided to use volume over mass to test charcoals.

  • Step One: Upon opening each bag, we placed enough chunks or briquettes to cover the charcoal grate of a Weber Original Kettle. We then placed the charcoal into a chimney, taking care to place in as much as possible. In the instances not all the charcoal could fit, we set the extra charcoal aside and placed it into the grill on the edges.

  • Step Two: We used four sheets of newspaper to light our chimney and left to heat up for no more than 10 minutes. If a contender failed to light properly, we gave it a second chance but made sure to reduce its ranking.

Charcoal burning on a grill.

Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

We spread out the charcoal to see how evenly it could heat.

  • Step Three: After we poured the red-hot coals into our grill, we gave ourselves no more than 10 seconds to even out the coals a bit. During this time we made note of the smell each charcoal produced while burning.

  • Step Four: To test the overall grill temperature, heating evenness, and burn time, we placed three, quarter-pound beef burgers across the fire grate. We inserted a ThermoWorks Pro-Series temperature probe attached to a smoke monitor in each patty.

ThermoWorks is a well-regarded brand when it comes to outdoor cooking, so we trusted it for accurate readings. After placing the probes, we measured how long it took each burger to get to 130°F—the temperature for medium-rare beef.

Measuring charcoal temperature with a thermometer.

Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

We used ThermoWorks thermometers because of their accuracy.

Weather plays a role in how a charcoal briquette burns. We made note of the ambient conditions and factored it into our results.

The tests took place on days that were between 42°F and 56°F. There were days of high winds, up to 22 miles per hour. In the event of rain, charcoals were given a mulligan and tested again.

When the burger test finished, we replaced the fire grate and waited. We checked the grill periodically to see if it was still hot. Eventually, when the grills cooled, we measured how much ash they produced.

The final tests revolved around checking out each bag for distribution of the chunk sizes, looking for any defects in the product, and inspecting the bags themselves. A good bag should be easy to store and be durable enough to survive a summer in the garage.

How to Choose the Best Charcoal for You

What is Charcoal?

Did I design the s' mores test so I could get paid to eat s' mores? Maybe.

Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Did I design the s’ mores test so I could get paid to eat s’ mores? Maybe.

Charcoal is wood that’s been heated up in a low-oxygen environment. The process cooks off excess water and sugars to create a product that is mostly pure carbon. People cook with charcoal because it burns hotter and longer than regular wood.

How Do You Start a Charcoal Grill?

There are multiple methods when it comes to lighting charcoal grills, but the chimney starter method is regarded as the best. A chimney is like a charcoal pitcher. Place charcoal inside the chimney and put two to four sheets of newspaper into the bottom.

Light the paper and place the chimney on your grill. Let the chimney heat up for 10 to 15 minutes or until the center coals glow orange. When that happens, you should dump the lit charcoal into the lower grate. Replace the fire grate and now you’re ready to start grilling.

Which Type is the Best Charcoal for Grilling? Lump or Briquette?

Charcoal on a table.

Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Lump is on the left and briquette is on the right

These are two types of charcoal. Briquettes are made of compressed sawdust and lumps are cooked chunks of wood. Briquettes typically burn slower and produce lower temperatures. Lumps have greater variability.

A typical bag of lump charcoal contains dust, chips, and huge chunks. Using a mixture of them, you can create a very high heat. Briquettes offer uniformity and usually a lower price. Lumps offer better heat and usually impart a bigger smokey flavor.