Char Wood or Charcoal – What Is The Difference?

charcoalIf you are an avid user of charcoal grills, you may have wondered what the difference is between char wood and charcoal or if there is a significant difference between the two.  Char wood is a form of charcoal  that is processed or made differently out of primarily all natural wood products.  Both products produce the desired smoky flavor that is favored with charcoal grills.

Char wood or lump charcoal is usually created from hardwood and can burn up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.  This lump form of charcoal is preferred over manufactured briquettes because it tends to produce more of a classic wood flavor without the after taste of chemicals used in making charcoal. It also creates less ash and with its all natural ingredients, it is preferred among the environmentally minded griller.  Most brands of char wood are made from natural state pieces of wood, like limbs and branches.  While others are made from lumber scraps and it is important to know what types of wood scraps are being used.  Some brand may use scraps from carbonized wood that contain glue which is not safe for fueling grills used for food consumption.

The cost between these two types of charcoal are relatively the same.   Char wood is lighter in weight, but costs more per bag compared to briquettes.   However, briquettes are heavier in weight partly due to the binding agents so in the end the overall cost tends to even out.

Each type has its pros and cons to the lighting process and consistency to holding the cooking temperature.  Char wood will be easier to light and the hot coals will be ready for grilling in less than 10 minutes.  Charcoal leans on more lighter fluid to begin burning and usually requires about 20 minutes to produce ash grey embers. If you are grilling foods that require a long cooking time on the grill, then charcoal is a better bet to ensure a long lasting burn.  Char wood is ideal for quick searing foods like burgers and steaks and the cooking time is only around 30 minutes.

Both char wood and charcoal can vary in quality from brand to brand and even bag to bag.  Briquettes of poor quality tend to require more effort in the lighting process and the coals will have a lower rate of turning into usable embers to cook food.   Lump coals can vary significantly in size to the point where you may end up with small bits and mostly dust.  It is a good idea to experiment with various brands of both char wood and charcoal and take notes on things like, how long they burn, difficulty of lighting, and most importantly the flavor of your food.  It is wise to acknowledge that even your preferred brand of charcoal or char wood will vary from bag to bag.

Make this the summer of experimenting with the various brands of each type, perhaps using char wood for hearty steaks and mesquite charcoal for baby back ribs.  Some grilling projects can benefit from using both at the same time.  For example, start the grill with briquettes to implement a strong base line for a consistent barrier of heat, then add some char wood atop the embers for an added element of woodsy flavor.  I find char wood works great with fish, well marbled steaks, and vegetables.  While charcoal has a better performance rate with longer cooking foods like baby back ribs, whole chickens, and briskets.  If you are feeling inventive why not make your own char wood this summer and learn why this particular type of charcoal is preferred over factory made briquettes.


Jennifer Boukather has been in the culinary arts as an executive chef for over 10 years.  She specializes in the Pacific Northwest cuisine with global fusion and has worked with some of the most credible pit masters in the States.   She has a vast knowledge in barbeques and prides her caveman instincts with all types of grilling techniques.

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