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Ask a Foodie: What’s the Best Charcoal for Grilling?

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Composition briquets

Q. We’re going to be doing a lot of cooking outdoors this year since we purchased a new grill. We are wondering what types of charcoal there are, and are any better than the others?          —  I.L.

A. First, let us say congratulations on your new grill. We’re partial to this grilling method ourselves.

We’ll go to the expert for an answer to your question. According to barbecue guru Steven Raichlen there are reasons some types are preferred over others. Here are three basic types and their merits. (From Raichlen’s “The Barbecue Bible,” Workman, $18.95.)

  • Charwood: This is sometimes called lump charcoal or chunk charwood charcoal, and is the type preferred by chefs. It is made by burning whole logs or large pieces of wood in a kiln without oxygen. It is sold in irregularly shaped pieces and burns clean and hot.
  • Natural briquets: These are made from pulverized charwood and held together with natural starches. They make a good second choice.
  • Composition briquets: These are handy because of their uniformity of size, but you don’t always know what they’ve been made of.  Generally, they are made of burned wood, wood scraps and/or coal dust and have paraffin or petroleum binders.
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