Lump – The Smofried Guide

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a plethora of charcoal varieties and brands. Of late I’ve come to the conclusion that Lump Charcoal is the way to go. I needed to dig a little deeper to figure out exactly which brands were best suited for my style and needs. Thus I came up with this fairly in-depth analysis of a few brands that I have used as well as some that I hadn’t up until now.

Though I’ve used lump charcoal consistently for the past several years I still felt the need to gain a better understanding of what exactly it was, where it comes from and how it was manufactured. Lump charcoal is all natural carbonized hardwood, with no fillers, binders, or petroleum-based additives. Using large kilns, lump charcoal is made through a process of slowly burning small and medium size pieces of wood in the absence of oxygen until all the natural chemicals, sap and moisture are completely removed from the wood. This leaves only black carbon to be later ignited and used as charcoal.

Faster lighting time, better temperature control, low ash production, longer burn time and incredible flavor are a few of the overall characteristics that have made lump charcoal a highly sought after heat source. Lump charcoal seems to be gaining main stream traction at precisely the right time. With a greater demand for transparency consumers demand to know exactly what is going into the resources they use to cook food. The organic movement is a likely contributing factor of the sudden uptick in lump charcoal popularity.

While charcoal briquettes have maintained a large and consistent lead in market share, lump charcoal has gained a considerable deal of ground over a fairly short period of time. In just the past decade lump charcoal sales have more than tripled. Entities such as specialty bakeries, restaurants, caterers and backyard bbq experts are all in on the advantages of using lump charcoal.

Instead of just a heat source, lump charcoal should be viewed as a go to resource for any pitmasters of all experience. The main thing that I gathered from my analysis is that different scenarios call for different brands and types of lump charcoal. What may work great for direct high temperature searing may not be best suited for low and slow smoking. Understanding those fundamental differences will elevate your cooking capabilities over night if applied in the correct manner.

Methods To Start Lump Charcoal:

Regardless of the brand, getting lump charcoal started is the primary component of BBQ. There are a number of ways to achieve this feat. My preferred method is the charcoal chimney. Throughout my BBQ career this has been, without a doubt, the most consistent and cost effective method for getting charcoal started and up to temperature in a reasonable amount of time.

Other mechanisms such as handheld torches, wax cubes and fire starter sticks work just as well and even better in some cases. As a matter of fact, whenever I’m firing up my Big Green Egg I definitely prefer the fire starter sticks. I find that fire starter sticks are a great way to bring the ceramic innards of the Big Green Egg up to temperature as opposed to shocking it with burning hot coals.

Pros:

All Natural – Contains No Additives
Easier Temperature Adjustment
Little Ash Production
Burns Hotter
Lights Quickly (In Most Cases)

Cons:

More Expensive
Burns Faster
Less Consistency In Size
Dust
Foreign Objects (In Some Cases)


Royal Oak Lump Charcoal

Since I’ve owned my Big Green Egg I’ve been somewhat partial to Royal Oak Lump Charcoal. For the most part it’s been a pleasure to use this product mainly due to it’s consistent availability. Royal Oak is the only lump charcoal that I’m able to purchase from at least three different retail stores. Wal-Mart, Academy Sports and Home Depot always have bags of Royal Oak available for purchase.

 

Throughout my several years of use I have found some things that I don’t particularly care for when it comes to Royal Oak. One being the number of rocks that I find at the bottom of my Big Green Egg whenever the time comes to clean it out. This isn’t the most discerning of details but it does make me question the weighing practices at Royal Oak. If you were to add up all of the rocks that I’ve found over the years it may be to the tune of a full 15 pound bag of lump charcoal. Again, not the worst thing in the world but it bode well for Royal Oak when in comparison to other brands of lump.

From a performance standpoint, I’ve found Royal Oak to have one of the fastest burn times of any lump charcoal that I’ve tried. I typically use lump charcoal as the base element to get a good fire going in my fire box. I find that the Royal Oak charcoal typically burns away in two hours or less. Though it may not have the greatest reputation for burn time it does tend to burn very hot, making it an ideal choice for direct searing.

All in all Royal Oak is a pretty good middle of the road product. Far from the best and far from the worst. While Royal Oak is notorious for containing small rocks mixed in with pretty small pieces of lump its still more readily available than just about any other lump charcoal. That convenience alone will keep Royal Oak near the top of my list of respected and reputable brands.

Overall Quality Criteria:

Size – C
Burn – B
Flavor – B

Purchase On Amazon:


Cowboy Lump Charcoal

Cowboy is a brand that I’ve heard brought up more times than I care to remember. In all honesty, I’ve heard way more not so good reviews on Cowboy brand lump charcoal than I have good. A simple Google or Facebook search will turn up hundreds, if not thousands of negative opinions on the lump. Everything ranging from size to sparks to taste have all been spoken about in great detail by a slew of unhappy consumers. Upon starting this review process I was just a little reluctant to give Cowboy brand a whirl. Since it is necessary to give everything a fair shot I went ahead and picked up a bag.

When you get around to opening the bag you’ll know exactly why most of those reviews are negative. The pieces of lump are very small. Almost a fraction of the size of other brands within the same cost neighborhood. Another not so great factor is the weight of each piece. By picking up a single piece of lump you can tell with near certainty that this isn’t 100% hardwood due to its lack of density.

To add onto the not so good, the aroma wasn’t the best that I’d ever smelled but I must stress that it wasn’t quite bad either. Again, this makes me question some of the wood types that are contained within the blend. Upon further inspection I’m sensing that there may be some softwoods lurking around in there. Or worse scrap wood.

Starting Cowboy brand lump charcoal is relatively quick and simple. The overall burn time however, is unimpressive at best. I used Cowboy lump in my fire pit on a relatively warm day and I ran into quite a bit of trouble getting a relevant level of heat from the charcoal. I honestly can’t say that I’ll use Cowboy lump charcoal in the future. As a middle of the road option I just didn’t see very many reasons to continue using it over cheaper and better alternatives.

Overall Quality Criteria:

Size – D
Burn – C
Flavor – C

Purchase On Amazon:


B&B Oak Lump Charcoal

B&B is one of those brands that I’ve seen many times over the last few years. From a marketing standpoint, the limited artwork may give the perception that B&B is a little less effective than it actually is. I purchased a couple of bags for the sole reason of conducting this review and quite honestly I have to say that I was nothing short of blown away by pretty much every factor that I was able to measure.

For starters the size of the pieces of lump are most ideal for my own uses. While I do appreciate massive sized pieces of lump charcoal I find that medium sized pieces are the most efficient. From starting to sustaining it just seems like you can get a lot more out of a piece of lump that’s about the size of an orange.

B&B Hickory Lump Charcoal

From the standpoint of burn time I have to say that B&B very well takes the cake. I was able to perform three different cooks for a combined total of about 24 hours using just one load of lump charcoal from B&B. During the first cook session I made some bison bombs which I was able to keep the lump at a moderate but steady temperature throughout. After lighting the charcoal I cooked on it for about an hour before shutting off my Big Green Egg. The second cook session was a 12 hour beef brisket smoke on my Big Green Egg. I simply added a ten inch piece of wood to the lump charcoal and lit it.

The third cook session was the real test. During this voyage I grilled about 40 massive ground brisket and chuck burgers at an even 400 degrees farenheit over direct heat. Just about six minutes on each side produced plumes of smoke from the dripping fat. Charcoal that can stand up to that type of fat and not break down upon impact is great for this specific purpose. Even after the third session I was able to open my Big Green Egg only to find several usable pieces of lump still remaining.

B&B is one of the only brands that I’ve come across that partitions different types of woods specifically for certain bags. As of now B&B offers lump charcoal in Oak, Hickory and Mesquite varieties. This is actually the strongest selling point for the brand as you are left with a supreme confidence in knowing what it is that you’re buying. For the most part other brands simply call it lump charcoal which could mean a variety of different things. At this point in time I have to say that I will likely always keep a bag of B&B on hand. The length of burn time makes B&B lump charcoal an ideal choice for low and slow smoking, especially in the Big Green Egg.

Overall Quality Criteria:

Size – B
Burn – A
Flavor – B

Purchase On Amazon:


Laredo Lump Charcoal

Laredo brand lump charcoal is a fairly new one to me. As a matter of fact the only time that I’d seen Laredo Lump Charcoal has been at Restaurant Depot. For that reason I have a strong assumption that it’s used fairly regularly within the restaurant industry. Though the brand is far from mainstream, the fact that it’s likely used by professional chefs in high end restaurants lends a good enough deal of credibility to Laredo lump charcoal.

For me one of the key indicators to good lump charcoal is the ability to get it lit and ready for use in a reasonable amount of time. Laredo lump charcoal failed miserably in that regard. With the pieces ranging in size from two to six inches each it’s hard to fathom why it took me three different tries to get my chimney lit to a point where I could use it.

While listening from a small distance away from the charcoal chimney I was greeted with several loud pops, reminiscent of the way that real wood pops and sparks as it’s coming up to a full burn. On a good note, aside from the several small speckles of ash which I assume are from the newspaper this lump charcoal does not smoke at all. I can see this being rather advantageous for scenarios calling for quick and hot searing, minus the smoke flavor.

Once I got the charcoal lit I began to notice a strange but welcomed scent that I can only compare to that of licorice. Though I hate the candy, the scent is undeniably divine. The pleasant scent was the second thing that began to change my mind about Laredo brand lump charcoal. The first was the appearance of some of the pieces. Most of the smaller log looking pieces reminded me of the charcoal used to make authentic Japanese Yakitori. From what I’ve seen regarding this specific style of BBQ, the coals need to be incredibly hot. As brief gusts of wind blew through my open fire pit I could feel each large piece of lump charcoal get incrementally hotter.

Laredo lump charcoal is certainly one of the highest quality brands manufactured in Mexico. I’ve heard some pretty disparaging remarks about lump charcoal produced in Mexico and I can say with certainty that those sentiments are not the case when it comes to Laredo lump charcoal. The only drawback I see is that the bag is comprised of oak, ebony and mesquite woods which in translation means that you really have no idea as to what you’re actually using.

Overall Quality Criteria:

Size – B
Burn – A
Flavor – C

Purchase On Amazon:


Western Lump Charcoal

Throughout the years whenever I was short on locally sourced wood I would rely on Western Wood products, specifically their hardwood log selection. Only now have I had any experience using their lump charcoal offering. From the looks of things, Western is pushing a fresh lump charcoal initiative with a refreshing yet simple new packaging design. That along with a very generous price point right at $10 for a 30 pound bag of seriously premium lump charcoal.

Starting the lump charcoal is about as easy and smooth as it gets. It only took me about seven minutes to get my load of charcoal fully lit. The only thing to look out for is the 4th of July firework display you get once the charcoal is halfway lit. This can either be a bit of a liability or an entertaining few minutes.

Once it’s started and the sparks subside the burn time is nothing short of incredible. My business partner and I watched in amazement as a five inch chunk of lump burned for every bit of six hours. The burn time alone makes this my top choice when it comes to all around lump charcoal.

Just from picking up some of the larger pieces it’s easy to determine that only high density hardwood was sourced to make this lump charcoal. Once you get into the lower half of the bag you’ll notice that most of the pieces are fairly small. If you’re the type to sort your lump charcoal you’ll definitely want to maintain that practice with Western lump charcoal.

The bottom line for anyone still on the fence about coughing up the $10 should get off right now. From what I’ve seen, Wal-Mart is having a very difficult time keeping full pallets of it in stock. With a slew of social media shoutouts pretty much each day it seems as though Western brand lump charcoal will be the BBQ highlight of the summer. From my own personal vantage point, this stuff is about as serious as it gets and I don’t see myself not using it as long as it’s available.

Overall Quality Criteria:

Size – B
Burn – A
Flavor – B


FOGO Lump Charcoal

Throughout the years I’ve heard many great things about FOGO brand lump charcoal. From massive individual pieces to incredibly long burn times, the overall consensus for FOGO has been nothing but stellar. Most of those advocates are either Big Green Egg or similar Kamado cooker owners who won’t balk at the hefty price tag for FOGO. I finally got around to buying a 35 pound bag to see what all the hype was about. Overall I can’t say that I was as impressed as I thought I’d be but I also can’t say that I’m anywhere near disappointed.

To start I must say that it takes an incredibly long time to get going using a charcoal chimney. Maybe this isn’t the most efficient way to start lump charcoal of this size, but it’s what I have and what I use. Getting the lump lit took something in the neighborhood of 30 to 45 minutes for me to get to a point where I knew we were cooking. Over this course of time I lit the charcoal chimney on at least three separate occasions. After that I quit tracking how many balls of newspaper I added to the chimney.

Once I was able to get a good amount of heat coming from the charcoal I didn’t notice any sparks at all, which is a clear indication of a high quality product. From the looks of things the greatest quality of FOGO lump charcoal is the burn temperature as well as time. Once this stuff gets going… It’s going. I was able to manage a fire for well over six hours in my open fire pit on a moderately rainy day. The size of the lump pieces makes this possible as there is simply more surface area to work with.

The scent is certainly one of the primary characteristics of FOGO lump charcoal. It smells so good that you almost don’t want to incorporate smoke from regular wood during a low and slow session. At a pretty steep $1.43 per pound I don’t know that I’ll be making FOGO my goto brand but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed using it for the first time. The added convenience of quick and free shipping from their website will also play a role in my decision to use it more often.

Overall Quality Criteria:

Size – A
Burn – A
Flavor – B

Purchase On Amazon:


*This is a living blog post so be sure to check back periodically for more lump charcoal reviews. Also drop us a line and give suggestions on which brands and types of lump charcoal you’d like to see reviewed next.

Comments

comments