BBQ Face-Off: Lump Charcoal Vs Kiln-Dried Firewood For Grilling?

Natural Firelighters and Kiln Dried firewood next to an outdoor pizza oven

With temperatures rising and the promise of a warm spring just around the corner, many families around the UK are starting to make plans for the sunnier months ahead. Of course, tending to the garden is a seasonal staple, but Spring is also when a lot of people start thinking about getting wood fuels in for some show-stopping BBQs!

When researching the best wood fuel for an open fire pit or BBQ grill, you’re likely going to encounter a fiery and timeless debate among barbecue enthusiasts: should you choose lump charcoal or kiln-dried firewood for grilling your food?

Unfortunately, as is often the case in situations like these, the ultimate answer is not as straightforward as you may think. If you are new to the world of outdoor cooking and charcoal grilling, you might not even be aware of the difference between the two options!

In this brief guide, we want to give you all the information you need on the features of lump charcoal and kiln-dried firewood, so you can decide which is the best option for your outdoor wood-burning needs. So, let’s start by looking at what the differences between lump charcoal and kiln-dried firewood for grilling are, and put an end to the discussion once and for all...

Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal is often the preferred option for BBQ purists, as it refers to charcoal in its most natural and unadulterated form. This wood fuel is made by slowly burning lumps of hardwood in a low-oxygen environment to create a product that burns quickly and at a very high temperature.

Charcoal Grilling Meat And Vegetables in a pan on an outdoor BBQ

Lump charcoal burns easily and with very little ash but it will also go out quicker than firewood. As a natural product that is 100% free of additives, it is usually the number one pick for meat lovers and BBQ enthusiasts looking to retain the authentic flavour of the meat products they’re cooking.

On top of burning quickly and relying more on the oxygen present to burn consistently, another disadvantage of using lump charcoal for grilling is the hefty price tag associated with it. Considering that charcoal often comes in unevenly shaped lumps, you are not always guaranteed to be getting the best deal for your investment.

For the environmentally conscious, charcoal is not considered to be the most energy-efficient option, as they produce more smoke and more natural resources are required in order to create the final product.

If you're new BBQ-ing and want to give charcoal grilling a go, make sure you give our list of 5 common mistakes to avoid a read. Like we said, lump charcoal can be expensive, so you don't want to end up wasting any on easily-avoided pitfalls.  

Kiln-Dried Firewood 

Kiln-dried firewood is, as its name would suggest, wood that has been dried using a kiln, rather than being left to dry out naturally over time. Wood that is left to dry out naturally is commonly referred to as ‘Seasoned Wood’, however, the natural drying process takes time and the moisture content of the final products tends to vary. Kiln-dried firewood, on the other hand, is practically guaranteed to have a moisture content below 20% and can reach as low as 9%.

Kiln Dried Firewood by an outdoor wood burning Stove

The lower the moisture content the better, as dry wood produces less smoke and burns hotter. What’s more, despite being processed (that is to say the wood goes through a kiln-drying process), kiln-dried firewood still remains inexpensive. Lekto Wood Fuels kiln-dried hardwood logs, for instance, are just £9.95 per 8-10kg box (at the time of writing), while the price of a 10kg bag of lump charcoal can range from£14.99 to £25.

Ideal for bbq chimineas and firepits, one thing that many people who use kiln-dried firewood for grilling comment on is the wonderful aroma it produces. Our kiln-dried birch, for example, produces a sweet, natural aroma, while our kiln-dried oak logs have a richer, more earthy aroma (think ‘Hickory, but milder’). The aroma of kiln-dried firewood does more than simply contribute to the overall BBQ-atmosphere, however. It also imbues whatever it’s being used to cook with aromatic elements that then contribute to the food’s overall flavour.

On the subject of flavour enhancement, at this point it’s worth noting that not all firewood is the same. Seasoned or kiln-dried is one differentiating factor, but wood can also be categorised as being treated or untreated. Treating wood tends to involve the use of chemicals, and it is chemical-treated firewood that has given cooking with wood a bad rap among BBQ aficionados who generally see firewood as less “pure” than lump charcoal.

We strongly recommend against cooking with chemically-treated firewood and would encourage shoppers to carefully check whether the wood fuel they’re thinking of buying has been chemically treated. With this in mind, you can rest assured that all varieties of firewood available on Lekto Wood Fuels(from Sawdust Briquettes and Fire Kindling to Pini Kay Eco Logs and Hardwood Heat Logs) are 100% chemical-free and made using only the highest-quality natural materials.

Versatile, cost-efficient, easy to light, carbon-neutral, and generally great for BBQing, there are tonnes of benefits to using firewood for grilling.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, you now have a good idea of the differences between lump charcoal and kiln-dried firewood for grilling are. At the end of the day, the best wood fuel choice for your BBQ, chiminea or fire pit will depend on your personal preference when cooking.

Are you after a quick, powerful burn for exceptional grilling, with little care for the high cost and smoke production? Then you might want to invest in lump charcoal for your outdoor fire-burning needs. If, however, you are after a consistent burn that’s cost-efficient and kinder to the environment, kiln-dried firewood is the ideal option for a Spring and Summer filled with outstanding BBQs.

Realistically, as long as you are relying on high-quality wood fuels, there is no wrong way forward!