Nothing worse than preparing some great food and your charcoal letting you down. If you care about the quality of your food then you should also care about sourcing the right charcoal.
Here are my charcoal tips:
Always invest in lump wood charcoal and not briquettes. Briquettes are a charcoal ‘recipe’ and are fine if you BBQ now and then but if you are a dedicated outdoor cook, then spending more on real lump charcoal is essential. Lump is real wood, you can see and feel the wood grain, and it burns for longer at a more constant temperature.
There are different types of lump wood charcoal and it can be complicated to figure out the differences and what you exactly need. Personally, I always choose restaurant grade which is designed for the commercial market but are available to home outdoor chefs. The charcoal pieces are larger, therefore the burn time is longer, moisture content tends to be lower which adds to a better burn time with less smoke and less fire spitting.
I would love nothing better than to buy UK made commercial lump charcoal but we simply do not make charcoal fit for the commercial market. It is a shame but that is where we are. There are a lot of great artisan UK charcoal brands around the country but their lump charcoal is too small, too light and simply doesn’t give the longevity and consistency of burn. I don’t recommend UK made charcoal to my commercial clients so the same for home outdoor chefs – if you are ad hoc barbecuer then please buy from the UK but for the all year round dedicated barbecuer, we have to source from abroad.
I always endeavour to be as green and ethical as possible in my business which covers the kit I recommend, food suppliers, ingredients and especially in the world of wood and charcoal. Wood is a natural resource that should be highly protected, so it is incredibly important to me where I source my wood and charcoal products. Always check the origin of your charcoal and ideally look for the FCS trademark (https://www.fsc-uk.org/en-uk).
I never rely on garden centres or garages for charcoal, prices can be higher and they tend to stop stocking once they think the BBQ season is over. You need a reliable and consistent supplier for all year round outdoor cooking.
According to WWF UK, the UK is the third largest importer of charcoal (by volume) from tropical and subtropical countries (after Germany and Belgium). The largest country in terms of volume supplying the UK in 2014 was Namibiwww.fsc-uk.org
You get what you pay for. You might be tempted to buy cheaper lump charcoal (or even briquettes) but it actually turns out to be a false economy. Quality grade lump charcoal can be extinguished once your cook is over and then re-used (especially in Kamado ceramic BBQs) and you won’t regret the extra investment.
Remember that with a lot of outdoor cooking kit such as woodfired ovens, argentine grills and braais – you are actually making your own form of charcoal. You need to source FSC certified wood suitable for outdoor cooking and then make your own charcoal. Means you have a better control on quality, flavour combinations and easier to source ethically.
So, my recommendation for lump charcoal is:
Premium Grade Wattle Restaurant Charcoal from Direct Charcoal. It comes from South Africa and is produced purely from eucalyptus wood coming from areas which have already been cleared by other industries and is FSC certified. Direct Charcoal supplies other restaurant grade charcoal too but this one ticks all my ethical boxes.