Know your charcoal types

Charoal Are you burning the right type of charcoal?

A trusty stalwart of barbecues summer in, summer out, charcoal is a fuel we're all familiar with. But how well do you know the different types of charcoal, and how do you decide which type to buy? Here we'll run through the different kinds, looking at the particular quirks of each.

Lumpwood charcoal

In the process commonly used to make charcoal, wooden logs are stacked in pits in the ground and covered over with metal and soil. The pile is then lit and the wood left to smoulder for days, drying it out and leaving lumps of charred wood that are almost pure carbon. This is lumpwood charcoal.

Lumpwood charcoal lights quickly and gives off an intense heat and smoke. It also cools quicker than other types of charcoal. Lumpwood is the purest and most environmentally friendly option, as no additives or chemicals are introduced.


In the manufacture of briquettes, charcoal is crushed into small, convenient lumps and bound together with a starch to maintain their shape. The size and shape of briquettes are much more uniform than those of lumpwood. Briquettes that contain no additives other than the starch are labelled as 'natural' or 'hardwood'.

Briquettes burn a little less hot than lumpwood, and last a little longer, and their convenient shape makes them easy to stack and set light to.

Sawdust briquettes

Popular in Korea, Taiwan, Greece and the Middle East, this type of charcoal is made from compressed sawdust with no starch. The briquettes have a hole in the centre and are odourless and smokeless, burning hot for four hours or more.

Extruded charcoal

This charcoal is made by extruding ground or carbonised wood into logs, which holds the logs together without starch. If ground wood is used, the logs are carbonised after being extruded. This type of charcoal is said to be smokeless and odourless, while burning longer and having a lower ash content than hardwood charcoal.

Your charcoal may vary

Bear in mind that charcoal varies a lot from one brand to another, so there's a limit to what you can expect based on the type of charcoal alone.

Most importantly, happy barbecuing!