Forget the debate of grilling with propane or charcoal. Serious grillmasters often scoff at propane grilling and the debate becomes what kind of charcoal one should use. Here in the barbeque-loving land of North Carolina, the question becomes “lump or briquette?”
Briquettes are what one typically finds when picking up a bag at the hardware store or supermarket. Briquettes are inexpensive to buy, long-burning and consistent in size and temperature. I won’t pretend briquettes aren’t a fine thing, but they are also packed with additives and leave a lot of ash to clean up after the cookout.
Lump charcoal is made using only hardwoods cooked in little to no oxygen. What’s left behind is a dry fuel that burns cleanly (compared to briquettes), burns hotter than briquettes and allows the temperature to be more easily controlled when grilling. Lump charcoal is a popular choice with those who spend more time outdoors at the grill than inside the kitchen in the summertime.
Lump charcoal can be expensive to purchase, but is surprisingly easy to make. Methods for making natural lump charcoal include direct burning of wood in an enclosed barrel, nestling a smaller can inside a larger barrel for enclosed cooking or cooking hardwoods in an enclosed container over an open flame. We like a good bonfire, and it takes little effort to produce a batch of lump charcoal while enjoying a good old-fashioned marshmallow roast.
Follow these simple steps for making lump charcoal and you’ll be grilling like the pros in no time. We produced a small five-gallon batch here, but this method may be used for batches as large as 55 gallons.
Please note that we built our bonfire in a clearing on our property far from trees or shrubs that could catch sparks. In many areas, you need a permit to build a bonfire on your property, so be sure check first with your local fire department. And with any open-flame activity, please remember to keep a fire extinguisher nearby.