Lump Charcoal contains no additives as fillers or binders and is simply carbonized wood. Containing a high percentage of carbon makes the Lump Charcoal last longer, burns hotter and create less ash residue. Lump Charcoal is generally used in food smokers where the Charcoal needs to burn for longer periods of time in order to adequately smoke the meats or fish within the smoker.
Briquettes are the most common type of Charcoal being manufactured by mixing powdered Charcoal with a binder and various fillers. The binder helps to hold the briquette together as it is formed into small round-cornered squares of carbon but it also works as a means to decrease the temperature at which the briquette burns. Fillers may be used to make the briquette easier to ignite or simply to add bulk to the product which, if low grade binders are used, can decrease the quality of the briquette since the binder reduces the amount of carbon in the briquette.
Extruded Charcoal does not use a binder for the production of the extruded product. Instead, bits of raw ground wood or carbonized wood are used to produce the Charcoal. This manufacturing procedure is the same process used to make the Japanese product known as binchotan which some feel is the highest quality Charcoal available. Made from holm oak wood, binchotan looks like a long burned stick which is similar to what has occurred to produce the product. The holm oak is burned at exceptionally high temperatures and then is removed immediately to be extinguished with burned ash, resulting in a product that is very hard and very high in carbon content.
If the Charcoal being used does not function as anticipated, check the quality of the product. Higher quality Charcoal should produce minimal ash if it is in the form of a briquette or almost no ash if it is in lump form. Ash is not a favorable attribute of any type of Charcoal since it decreases the amount of air that reaches the fire to keep it hot, so if there is an excessive amount, it may be due to fillers which may be indicative of a lower quality product. When selecting Charcoal, consider the use, the length of time required for the fire and the requirements for a cleaner burning product. Foods that can be grilled in short periods of time, such as hamburgers, steaks, brats, and hot dogs can easily be grilled using Charcoal briquettes. For foods that may require longer grilling and hotter temperatures such as roasts, pork sholders, or whole turkeys, lump Charcoal or binchotan Charcoal that is longer and cleaner burning may be a better choice.