When it comes to a good old-fashioned braai in South Africa, there’s no more fundamental and fiercely debated topic than charcoal versus briquettes.
Here are some essentials you should know that will help you make the right choice.
Charcoal is made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen, and lump charcoal is the product of that. Since lump is charcoal in its most natural form, it’s no wonder purists will almost always prefer it. Beyond that, lump charcoal has a lot of attractive qualities – it lights faster, burns hotter and leaves very little ash compared to briquettes. Lump charcoal is also more responsive to oxygen, making it easier to control the fire’s temperature if your grill has adjustable air vents.
Pros: Lights quickly, burns hotter, little ash production, easier temperature adjustment, all natural.
Cons: Burns faster, more expensive, less consistent (bags can contain unusably small pieces of charcoal).
Briquettes are cheap, reliable, can be found on almost every corner, but you really don’t want to know what’s in them. Unlike the pure lump charcoal, briquettes are manufactured wood by-products compressed with additives that help them light and burn consistently. These additives give off a chemical smell when lit, but allowing them to burn until covered with white ash before starting to cook should avoid any off-putting smells transferred to your food. Although they may not sound attractive, there are some good advantages to briquettes. They provide a more stable burn, maintaining a steady temperature for a longer period of time.
Pros: Burns longer, easier to maintain consistent temperature, cheaper.
Cons: Longer to light, chemical smell, large ash production.