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What is the best charcoal BBQ for you? Our guide can help

As a population we are obsessed with the concept of ‘best’. We want the best. We deserve the best. We strive for the best. Yet how do we quantify the best? We are lead to believe that we measure a product, event or talent against an objective set of criteria. The one that ticks most of the boxes is the best right? Are things really that simple?

Bias, perception, emotion and experience permeate our concept of best. So is the notion of best in fact a subjective and personal matter? A human construct of sorts? Not to get all philosophical but the point is this: we can never definitively say or prove what is the best with 100% certainty. So when you search for  ‘best charcoal BBQ’ or ‘best charcoal BBQ UK’ in Google, can you really obtain the answer? More likely you will find thousands of subjective opinions. We can’t tell you what is the best charcoal for a BBQ. What we can tell you is a story about Big K. Who we are. What we believe. Why our charcoal is unique and of the highest quality. Then you can make up your own mind on the ‘best charcoal bbq?’ question.


Simple beginnings can lead to the widest horizons

The Big K story is a humble one. It’s a simple family tale – specifically a father and son and their quest for quality. It all began in 1964, when our founder, Theodoros Kleanthous, moved to the UK from Cyprus. He settled into life and soon set up his own Cypriot restaurant in Euston. Things were going well enough but there was an issue. Charcoal is the key element in Greek cuisine and Theodoros couldn’t find the quality charcoal he needed. So he imported 10 tonnes of the finest charcoal from Cyprus. This is how the first seeds of Big K began to germinate.


A fresh pile of the best charcoal bbq lies ready to light See copy above for insertion point in red


Quality is the key

Soon the local restaurant community and Theodoros’ friends heard about his Cypriot charcoal. They wanted in on the ‘best charcoal BBQ’ action. Of course Theodoros was happy to help. Increased requests lead to increased imports and in 1965 Theodoros formed the company Kleanthous & Son. Even at this early stage you can see that the Big K roots were grown out of a quest for quality. Theodoros could have settled for what was on offer in the UK. But he needed better. He needed the finest quality charcoal he could find. To him quality mattered. And to us today quality still matters. It is the key ethos driving our entire organisation


The power of relationships leads to better quality charcoal

Theodoros had broken new ground and his son Chris would continue his father’s legacy. Chris naturally held the same belief in quality as his dad. So when the charcoal that they were receiving was no longer up to snuff, he decided to journey overseas to discover new suppliers. So Chris set off to Portugal. It was here that he would learn another key principle of our business – the necessity and importance of strong supplier relationships.  Over time, Chris and his Portuguese supplier became very close. They respected and of course trusted each other, so his new Portuguese partner was more than happy to keep stock just for Chris. This relationship would play a huge role in what was to come. This new relationship coincided perfectly with the UK BBQ boom of the mid seventies and Big K was in the perfect position to capitalise, expanding further into the restaurant market and entering into the home BBQ market. We have gone from strength to strength ever since.

This is only a fragment of our journey. You can read the full story right here. Ultimately we are not here to blow our own trumpet. We are here to show you that when it comes to any conversation around the ‘best charcoal BBQ UK’ topic, quality should be a key consideration.  And now you can see how quality lives in the Big K DNA, permeating every aspect of our business.


Which is the best charcoal to use for BBQ?

So we have detoured around the metaphorical houses to return to the initial question. However now you should have a firm grasp of the baseline principal of charcoal quality. So your gorgeous guys and gals, how do you know which charcoal is best for you? The world of charcoal is vast and expansive with so many options, fuel-types and burn characteristics to explore. Yes we are charcoal geeks but it’s not the time to fan boy over the nuances of carbonisation. We will reduce things down to some basic options and key considerations. Afterwards you can take this knowledge, apply it to your own needs and answer the ‘best charcoal bbq’ conundrum for yourself. Savvy?


Which charcoal is best for BBQ? Lumpwood versus briquettes.

So we’ve narrowed down the carbonised cornucopia to two main types of charcoal, lumpwood charcoal and charcoal briquettes. We’ll break down each type of charcoal for you so you can make an informed decision.



Lumpwood charcoal

Just to fill you in, lumpwood charcoal is made via a process of carbonisation. Basically this just means taking wood and burning it over a period of time in a kiln. This removes the impurities and contaminates in the wood, leaving behind lumps of carbon. Many people would give the answer of lumpwood charcoal to the ‘best charcoal BBQ?’ question.


What are the main characteristics of lumpwood?

Think quick and easy here people. Lighting lumpwood charcoal is a breeze and it burns with a high steady temperature. Most lumpwood charcoal delivers a cooking time of 1-2 hours depending on the type of wood used during the carbonisation process. This makes lumpwood perfect for quick cooks such as steaks, sausages and burgers.

In more good news, the majority of lumpwoods are 100% natural containing no horrible additives, which helps in the health and flavour department. Of course it goes without saying that all Big K Lumpwood Charcoal  is 100% natural, with no chemical nastiness or lighting agents in the mix.



Which type of wood leads to the best lumpwood charcoal?

Again this is a subjective element of the ‘best charcoal bbq UK’ subject. You will find all kinds of lumpwood derived all kinds of wood including apple wood,  maple and oak. Each wood type produces different burn characteristics. Moving into the world of the general, most lumpwood charcoal is made from hardwoods. These hardwoods are denser which leads to more potent carbon pieces after carbonisation. For example, Big K’s Dura charcoal is extracted from 100% White Quebracho (a very high density wood) offering a gargantuan 3-hour cooking time. We took a lumpwood deep dive in a recent blog  so you can get clued up on all things lumpwood right there.


Charcoal briquettes

If lumpwood charcoal is the classic choice, then briquettes represent an evolution of sorts in the ‘best charcoal BBQ’ conversation. To understand the inner workings and benefits of briquettes, we need to lock our gaze on the manufacturing process. Briquettes are made using an intense compression process. Basically standard char is blended with a binding agent (for example a starch derived from wheat, milo or corn) then the mixture is added to a mould and moulded under very high pressures to create the briquette. The shapes are uniform and consistently sized, taking different forms depending on the type of mould used.

There is also a misconception that all briquettes contain additives, chemicals and accelerants. However, there are plenty of briquettes that are 100% natural with no hidden nasties at all. Ahem…Big K Coconut Shell Briquettes for example. Shameless plug alert there.


Briquette performance breakdown

To reduce things down, briquettes burn longer than lumpwood charcoal producing a cooler heat. So briquettes are the perfect candidate for a little “low and slow” cooking, such as brisket and ribs. If your BBQ aspirations lie on this side of the cooking equation then briquettes definitely answer the ‘best charcoal BBQ’ riddle for you. What’s more, their consistent shape gives you dependable performance and therefore more control over your cook. You know what to expect from every briquette, meaning you can adjust your fire, or initial briquette stack, accordingly to produce a more precise cooking experience.

As always we have a product to back up our BBQ knowledge. So if you have a larger barbecue, or you’re after some hard-core performance over a long period of time, Big K’s Au Natural Lumpwood Briquettes should work wonders. They’re perfectly compressed into hexagonal tube forms with a central air hole. The hole facilitates airflow, leading to a more potent and efficient burn. As previously mentioned, each briquette is 100% natural made from wood waste with no binders at all. Plus they are ready to use within 45 minutes, delivering 3 hours of cooking time. If your jaw has dropped, keep your mastication chamber open as these beauties are also authorised for use in smoke control areas. You could say these guys are the Captain Planets of briquettes for sure.



Which is the best charcoal bbq to buy?

We hope you can see by now that there is no definitive answer to this question. However there are several elements that come into play when making this decision. Firstly quality is everything. Charcoal affects everything from the taste and texture of your food, to aesthetics and aroma. So you need quality charcoal you can trust – enter Big K. Secondly what are your BBQ goals and level of experience? Are you looking for short and sharp cooks or low and slow epics? Depending on where you fall, you might want to look at lumpwwod for quick and easy, briquettes for slow and steady. We have all the charcoal you could possibly need at Check out our full range and find the right charcoal for you.

Just a final word here guys. These are rough guidelines to help you make choices – especially if you are a noob or feel slightly overwhelmed by the options out there. Ultimately BBQ is about experimentation and having fun, so think more fluidly. Nothing is set in stone here. Let your BBQ wings grow and soar into a charcoal sky!

Fly free you Big K birds!