The Ultimate Charcoal Guide: Discover How Charcoal Is Made and What’s in Your Fuel

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With a consistent burn and little smoke emission, charcoal is an excellent fuel for your grill. The worldwide BBQ charcoal market was estimated at 1.72 billion US dollars in 2018 and is still growing.

whether you’ve ever wondered whether you could produce your own grilling charcoal, you’re in luck! In this comprehensive tutorial, we cover all you need to know about charcoal, including how to create it at yourself.

How charcoal is made

Ultimate Charcoal Guide: Learn How Charcoal is Made and What’s Really in Your Fuel

Charcoal is created by burning wood or other organic materials in a low oxygen atmosphere. By doing so, water and other volatile ingredients are removed, enabling the resulting product, charcoal, to burn at high temperatures with minimal smoke.

This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Traditionally, pit kilns are used to generate low-quality charcoal.
  • More sophisticated technology: employing industrial equipment to create high-quality charcoal with a fixed carbon content of more than 82%.

The core procedure is the same whether you use a low-tech, small-scale approach or a high-tech supra-carbonization technology. However, the quality of the final charcoal and the time required to produce it vary significantly.

Types of wood and materials used

Ultimate Charcoal Guide: Learn How Charcoal is Made and What’s Really in Your Fuel

Charcoal may be manufactured from any sort of wood or organic waste, including:

  • coconut shells
  • ground nut shells
  • dry leaves

Lump charcoal should be created from genuine wood (often hardwoods).

Hardwoods like hickory, oak, and beech burn more hotly. If you are seeking for lump charcoal, you should look for versions created from these sorts of wood.

Charcoal dust may be made from sawdust and fine organic waste, which is then crushed into charcoal briquettes for burning. Briquettes are more likely to include a range of woods and are often made from timber offcuts, including tree bark from both hard and softwoods at lower price points.

Briquettes vs lump charcoal

Both charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal are often referred to as simply “charcoal.” However, there are some significant variations to be aware of.

Lump charcoal

  • Typically made out of solid hardwood components This is crucial to remember since some charcoal created from offcuts may include wood treatments, so always get your charcoal from a trustworthy provider.
  • Shape irregularity While this is not an issue in and of itself, it might make managing your airflow and stacking more difficult than when using briquettes.
  • Reduced burn duration Because lumps are smaller, they burn quicker.
  • Can cause less even burning Some lumps may not always be entirely carbonized in the middle due to their uneven forms and sizes. This may result in the rare puff of smoke or spark.
  • There are no additives. Unless otherwise noted, your lump charcoal should be free of any extraneous ingredients, unlike most briquettes.

Charcoal briquettes

  • Shapes that are created in a consistent manner This makes them simpler to stack, and managing your airflow for a smoother, more consistent burn becomes much easier.
  • Contains by-products of wood Briquettes are a blend of natural flammable materials that are often created from a mixture of charcoal, coal dust, sawdust, and wood chips.
  • Additives After making the charcoal for briquettes, it may be blended with chemicals that bond, increase ignition, and aid to guarantee a consistent burn.

If you’re still undecided, read our Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes comparison.

How was charcoal first made?

Since roughly 4,000 BC, people have been producing charcoal.

In ancient times, little amounts of wood were heaped up, put on fire, and then covered with soil to guarantee a long, slow burn with very little oxygen.

Charcoal became more significant as cultures grew and expanded, being used for writing and drawing, as well as smelting metals, producing glass, and as a vital component of early gunpowder.

For all of these reasons, charcoal manufacturing has been critical in recent history. Because every hamlet required charcoal, charcoal-burners produced it on a small scale, gradually refining their production techniques.

Charcoal piles were intricately arranged in earth mound kilns, and charcoal burners sometimes lived in tiny, primitive homes erected close to their piles, known as charcoal huts.

Earth mound kilns were more efficient than traditional pit kilns, which burnt the charcoal below ground level. However, since the carbonization process is time-consuming and requires constant attention for ten or more days, kilns and charcoal production were subsequently enhanced with the installation of chimneys for better air management.

Later, brick kilns were created, followed by steel kilns that could carbonize even poor grade wood. Nowadays, charcoal is manufactured industrially in vertical cylindrical metal furnaces.

These carbonize wood at roughly 1,470°F, with all gases created eliminated by a flare so that they do not pollute the air or soil. The MAGE supra-carbonization process is responsible for this.

What’s really in your charcoal? 

Unless you choose pure hardwood lump charcoal or 100% hardwood briquettes, your charcoal will very certainly include additives.

These are added to increase burning performance and as binding agents in the case of briquettes.

Here’s what you could find in your charcoal.

  1. Materials for heating This is what your charcoal is comprised of; it is often wood, but it might also be a variety of materials, including natural biomass. Nut shells, coconut shells, peat, paper, and tree bark are examples of such materials.
  2. Agents of adsorption Binders are required when employing briquettes to give them shape. Starch, molasses, and sodium silicate are common binding agents in charcoal briquettes.
  3. To make charcoal briquettes simpler to take from their mold without breaking, add borax or sodium borate.
  4. Limestone As an ash colorant, charcoal briquettes may also include limestone.
  5. Nitric acid (sodium nitrate) To promote combustion, sodium nitrate may be added to charcoal. Because nitrates are oxidants, they produce oxygen when heated, accelerating the burn rate of your charcoal.

How to make your own charcoal

Making your own charcoal is a simple technique that may be time-consuming and filthy.

If you wish to attempt manufacturing your own lump charcoal for grilling, follow these steps:


Before you begin, make sure you have the following:

  • A good supply of hardwood split into pieces (softwood burns for shorter time, making charcoal production more difficult, particularly on a small, amateur scale).
  • A metal barrel with a lid.
  • To start your fire, kindle tiny twigs or paper.
  • Heat and fire protection gloves, a metal poker, and a pail of water are all recommended.

Getting started

  1. Begin your fire in the bottom of the barrel with kindling and tiny pieces of wood. Before you begin adding your hardwood, have your fire up and running. Make sure you have a strong flame and lots of heat.
  2. Once the fire is starting, add a couple layers of hardwood at a time. This will accelerate the process since the fire will spread more rapidly from one layer to the next.
  3. Finish putting your hardwood on top of the barrel and let the flames burn through all of the layers. Before proceeding, wait until you see the wood beginning to blacken.

Making charcoal

  1. When you see that all of your hardwood is beginning to burn and blacken, it’s time to close the barrel with a metal lid to restrict the oxygen supply.
  2. Allow the wood to smolder in the barrel for 24 hours, or longer if necessary.
  3. Remove the lid and make sure your wood is no longer smoking. If it isn’t nearly done, re-cover and leave it for a few hours longer.
  4. Before removing the wood from the barrel, double-check that it has finished burning and is entirely out. If you don’t need to use your barrel for another load, you may store it in there with the top on to keep moisture out.

Your handmade, additive-free charcoal is now ready to go on the grill!

What is the best charcoal for grilling?

You don’t want to make your own charcoal just yet? We’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular ready-made charcoal brands on the market.


Since 1920, Kingford has been producing a variety of charcoal products and smoke woods.

They are one of the most well-known firms and come highly recommended by grilling lovers. They provide a diverse selection of charcoal briquettes, including long burn and hot burn professional versions, 100% all-natural versions, and 100% hardwood briquettes.

Briquettes flavored with hickory, mesquite, or applewood are also available.


Weber, well known for their barbecues, also produces high-quality charcoal briquettes.

They are made of hardwood and burn hot and long, making them a superb buy. They are also 100% natural with no additives and come in a weather-resistant bag, so you won’t have to worry if you leave it out in the rain.

While they do not provide a variety of charcoal, they have concentrated on this one product in order to meet the highest requirements.

Royal Oak

Royal Oak is a major manufacturer of charcoal lumps and briquettes in the United States.

Their XL Lump Charcoal, as well as their All Natural Hardwood Briquettes, are popular. Royal Oak, a family-owned firm started in 1953, takes pride in their high standards and American values.


Family-run Fogo creates specialty lump charcoal.

This little firm has received wonderful reviews and is well-known for their dedication to producing the finest lump charcoal for your barbecue. Pure hardwood is the only component in their premium charcoal.

They also provide two speciality charcoals for restaurant-quality fuel that burns longer: Argentina Quebracho Lump Charcoal and Brazilian Eucalyptus Lump Charcoal.

Kamado Joe

Did you know that Kamado Joe, most known for their iconic grills, also offers charcoal?

Their Big Block XL Lump Charcoal, marketed as the world’s biggest, is an all-natural, premium fuel. This charcoal, made by Argentine craftsmen from a combination of hardwoods, has an exceptional burn life of up to 18 hours and can be reused three times.

Charcoal FAQs

Have any burning charcoal questions? In this part, we address your most frequently asked questions.

How long does charcoal last?

It all relies on the grill, the airflow, and the overall fire control.

In general, charcoal briquettes have a burn period of eight to ten hours, whereas smaller lump charcoal has a burn time of four to six hours.

whether you’re wondering whether charcoal has an expiration date, the answer is no. Charcoal may be stored forever.

However, any additives or chemicals applied to your charcoal may wear off over time, making it more difficult to fire.

Why is there so much dust left after burning charcoal?

As charcoal burns, it breaks down.

Because of its brittle character and the total removal of water from the wood during its manufacture, charcoal produces a lot of black dust when burned.

If you have a lot of charcoal dust in your grill, make sure it isn’t restricting the airflow between your lumps.

Leftover charcoal dust might be useful. It might be used to produce your own charcoal briquettes. You may also distribute the dust from all-natural charcoal over the soil in your yard to assist your plants thrive.

Can you use charcoal that has got wet?

If you bought low-quality charcoal, it is likely that it may crumble and reduce to a powder once dry. Higher quality charcoal, on the other hand, may normally be utilized after being wet and fully dried off.

Keep in mind that after your charcoal has been wet, it may not burn as effectively as it used to. As a result, you may wish to combine it with a fresh bag or save it for lengthy, slow, and low grilling.

While damp charcoal may be used, it is ideal to have a new bag on available for high temperature, high flame grilling.

Is charcoal bad for the environment?

When it comes to carbon emissions, charcoal grilling has around three times the carbon impact of LPG cooking.

While this is not ecologically friendly, most kinds of cooking are in some manner harmful to the environment. The advantage of charcoal is that it is made from a renewable energy source, trees, rather than a non-renewable one, such as gas.

In principle, if you purchase sustainably produced charcoal that benefits a replanting program, the new trees will absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Wrapping it up

So there you have it, our ultimate charcoal guide!

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have any questions or decide to produce your own charcoal, please leave them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear how things go for you.

And, as usual, if you liked this post, please share it with your fellow grillers!


How is charcoal made?

Charcoal is a lightweight black carbon residue made by intensely burning wood (or other animal and plant sources) in a low-oxygen environment to eliminate all water and volatile elements.

What is charcoal made up of?

Quality charcoal is mostly composed of pure carbon, often known as char. For a length of time, wood is roasted in a low oxygen atmosphere.

What is the fuel source of charcoal?

kg on average. In contrast, the average energy content of firewood is 18 MJ.Charcoal is a solid biomass fuel produced by the carbonization (also known as pyrolysis) of wood. It has 30 MJ of energy on average.

What is Kingsford charcoal made of?

Kingsford Depending on the area manufacturing facility, charcoal is created from burnt soft and hardwoods such as pine, spruce, hickory, oak, and others. This char is then combined with ground coal and other components to form charcoal briquettes.

What’s the difference between coal and charcoal?

It is comparable to coal in some ways, although it is less thick and more porous. The primary distinction between the two is that coal is a mineral, while charcoal is the final form of charred wood.

Can charcoal be made naturally?

Any sort of wood and other organic debris, such as coconut shells and crushed nut shells, may be used to make charcoal. dried leaves.

What is the purest form of charcoal?

The purest form of amorphous carbon is sugar charcoal. It is made by heating cane sugar or glucose without the presence of air. It is also possible to make it by dehydrating cane sugar or glucose in the presence of sulphuric acid.

Is charcoal just pure carbon?

Good charcoal is primarily pure carbon, known as char, which is created by heating wood in a low oxygen atmosphere, a process that may take days and burns off volatile molecules including water, methane, hydrogen, and tar.

Is charcoal actually burned wood?

This is due to the fact that charcoal is not formed from wood cinders, but rather by slowly burning wood in an oven with minimal air, converting it to carbon. Wood is composed of cellulose and minerals (metals).

Why burn charcoal instead of wood?

Charcoal is less expensive and cleaner to use than wood for grilling. A 20-pound package of charcoal briquettes costs between $18 and $20. Furthermore, since charcoal burns longer, a little goes a long way. Because it is made entirely of carbon, charcoal is both cleaner and more environmentally friendly.


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