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Master the Art of BBQ with Restaurant Grade Charcoal: Unleash Rich, Smoky Flavours at Home

The Secret to Perfectly Smoky, Restaurant-Worthy Barbecue

Jonathan Hill |

Unlocking the Flavours of Premium Charcoals for Your Backyard Grill

For many barbecue enthusiasts, the holy grail is recreating the mouthwatering smoky flavours of a restaurant-quality steak or rack of ribs on their own backyard grill. But what's the secret to getting that authentic barbecue joint taste at home? More often than not, it comes down to one simple but vital component: the charcoal.

Not all charcoals are made equal. The type you use can make or break your barbecue, impacting everything from the intensity of the smoky essence to the overall cooking performance. Here, we'll uncover the secrets behind upgrading your barbecue game with restaurant-grade charcoals to unlock rich, nuanced flavours worthy of any BBQ joint.

The Allure of the Perfect Barbecue

First, let's explore the sensory pleasures of great barbecue. There's just something soul-satisfying about food kissed by smoke and fire. As the sizzling juices drip down your fingers, you get hit with a mingling of sweet and savoury aromas - the caramelised sugars in the glaze playing against the peppery bite of the dry rub and earthy fragrance from the smoke.

With premium charcoal, you can recreate these sensory delights in your own backyard. But you have to start with an understanding of what makes restaurant-grade charcoals so special.

Meet the Charcoal Family

Broadly speaking, charcoals fall into two categories:

  • Lumpwood charcoal - Made from whole chunks of wood that are slowly carbonised through pyrolysis. Retains the natural shape of the original wood. Burns hotter and imparts a mild, natural wood flavour. More expensive than briquettes.

  • Charcoal briquettes - Manufactured from sawdust and scrap wood compressed with starch as a binder. Burns evenly at a lower heat. Infused with additional woodsmoke flavour. The affordable, versatile option.

Now let's get to know some of the most popular restaurant-grade contenders:

Lumpwood Charcoals

Lumpwood charcoal retains the natural shape and properties of the wood it is made from. This allows the distinct flavour profiles of different British woods to shine through. Here are some top options:

  • Ash - The quintessential British charcoal, made from trees like common ash and manna ash. Burns clear and steady with mild, sweet smoke. Excellent for all-purpose grilling. The classic choice for both professionals and backyard cooks across the UK.

  • Oak - English oak lumpwood charcoals like Dorset oak impart a mellow, wine-like flavour. Dense composition provides intensity and longevity of heat. Adds wonderful depth to beef and game.

  • Beech - A British barbecue favourite, valued for its medium-hot burn and delicate nutty essence. Pairs wonderfully with poultry, vegetables, and seafood without overpowering.

  • Maple - Made from British maple species like field maple. Provides a touch of sweetness perfect for fruit woods and glazes. A versatile charcoal with medium heat output.

  • Alder - Uses alder trees sustainably grown in the UK. Delicate smoky notes similar to applewood. Excellent for delicate foods like fish and cheese where a strong flavour is undesirable.

  • Cherry - Made from wild black cherry and other British cherry wood. Imparts a rich, fruity flavour. Ideal for pork dishes where its sweetness balances the fattiness.

  • Elm - A heritage British wood once prized for smoking fish and seafood. Subtle and delicate, great for foods where over-smoking is a risk. Burn time is relatively short.

With distinct smoke flavours ranging from the nutty essence of beech to the fruity kiss of cherry, British lumpwood charcoals offer a world of authentic local flavours. Quality British charcoal producers like Hillside Woodfuels, Big K, Sussex Charcoal Company, and The Charcoal Company are leading the way with sustainable lumpwoods that allow the unique terroir of British woods to sing.

The next question is now why these premium charcoals can take your barbecue to the next level.

The Advantages of Restaurant-Grade Charcoal

Why are top chefs and barbecue pitmasters so obsessed with sourcing the finest charcoals for their smokers and grills? Here are some of the key benefits:

Natural Wood Flavour

Premium lumpwood charcoals retain the distinct flavour profiles of the woods they're made from. Use Quebec maple for a sweet kiss of smoke or Portuguese cork oak for a rich, wine-like essence. Briquettes blended with hardwoods also impart extra smoky depth.

Power and Consistency

Made from dense hardwoods, lumpwood charcoals like mesquite, oak, and hickory burn significantly hotter and longer than standard briquettes. This enables slow 'n' low smoking as well as fast and furious direct heat grilling. You can trust them to hold steady temperatures.

Restaurant Reliability

For pitmasters cooking hundreds of steaks a night, consistency is everything. They need charcoals that burn cleanly and evenly to achieve the perfect doneness every time. Premium charcoals deliver reliable results cook after cook.

Eco-Friendly Origins

Many top charcoal producers like Hillside Woodfuels, now focus on sustainability. Look for restaurant-grade options made from renewable sources like coconut shells or sustainably-harvested woods certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council.

Minimal Processing

Lumpwood charcoals undergo minimal processing, retaining their natural composition. This gives a purer wood fire flavour than heavily processed briquettes with lots of additives. Good briquettes focus on just wood, starch and a touch of hardwood smoke.

Specialised Performance

Some premium charcoals have unique properties tailored to particular foods and cooking methods. For example, binchotan charcoal from Japan helps form the perfect crispy crust on steak. Coconut shell briquettes work excellently for pizzas as they radiate high, consistent heat.

Lighting the Fire

Now that you have your gourmet charcoal, let's look at best practices for lighting up your grill or smoker. Here are some tips and tricks from the barbecue pros:

  • Allow 20-30 minutes for charcoal to heat up fully before cooking. Rushing leads to uneven heat and poor ignition.

  • Arrange charcoal in a pyramid or snake shape to promote airflow and direct heat where needed.

  • Use a charcoal chimney starter rather than lighter fluid - it imparts an undesirable flavour.

  • Let the starter fluid soak in for a minute before lighting if using this method. Don't douse the coals.

  • Add more lit coals to the pile rather than squirting on more starter fluid. This prevents fluid taste.

  • For smoking, let charcoal burn until it's covered with a light grey ash before adjusting temperature. White ash indicates full ignition.

  • Close the vents partially to restrict airflow and reduce heat; open them up to raise the temperature.

Taking the time to light your charcoal carefully will pay off in spades with better combustion and temperature control. Now let's get cooking!

Infusing Food with Smoky Depth

Professional barbecue chefs know it takes more than just a quick squirt of lighter fluid to infuse food with juicy, smoky goodness. Only mastery of live fire cooking, patient smoking, and premium charcoal can produce these mouthwatering results.

Here are some tips for unlocking maximum flavour with your barbecue:

Go Low and Slow

The alchemy of great barbecue happens through cooking "low and slow" - maintaining a low temperature (230-275°F) and taking it nice and easy over many hours. This gives the smoke time to permeate the meat fully. Hardwood lump charcoals excel at holding steady, low temps.

Get Plenty of R&R

"R&R" means "Rest and Relax." Never slice into meat right off the grill. Letting it rest for 10-30 minutes allows juices to reabsorb and flavours to consolidate. Slow down and give your meat some R&R!

Know Your Woods

Pair lighter woods like almond or maple with poultry and fish for a subtle sweetness. Heartier pecan, hickory and mesquite woods stand up to beef. Mix woods for complex flavours.

Go Au Natural

Resist the urge to muck up your meat with complicated rubs and sauces. Focus on enhancing, not masking the natural flavours. A simple dry rub is all you need with a premier cut over quality charcoal.

Don't Forget the Sides!

Smoky sides are key for a well-rounded barbecue. Smoke peppers, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, beans - you name it! Get creative with vegetables over charcoal.

Mastering the nuances of live fire cooking takes time, but starting with quality charcoal cuts the learning curve dramatically.

Maintaining Your Premium Charcoal

To keep your gourmet charcoal in peak condition, proper storage and maintenance are a must. Follow these tips from the experts:


  • Keep it cool and dry - Store charcoal bags in a cool, dry spot away from moisture. The ideal environment is undercover outdoors or in an air-conditioned area.

  • Seal tightly - Make sure bags are tightly sealed between uses to prevent airflow and humidity from entering. Plastic buckets with tight lids also work excellently.

  • FIFO system - Use a "first in, first out" system, always burning the oldest charcoal first to maintain freshness.

  • No cross-contamination - Never pour new charcoal on top of ash-covered leftovers, as this can impart stale or bitter flavours.

  • Use within 1 year - For peak performance and flavour, use lumpwood charcoals within a year and briquettes within 9 months.

Taking proper care of your charcoal will ensure it lights quickly, burns evenly and infuses food with maximum smoky goodness.

Time to Fire It Up!

Grilling and smoking with premium charcoals is truly the pathway to barbecue enlightenment. As your skills improve with the right fuels, you'll be amazed by the restaurant-worthy bounty emanating from your own backyard.

The allure of the perfect char, the joy of juice dripping down your fingers, the smoke searing your nostrils with carnal pleasure - these are the glorious sensations that await. We hope this guide has you fired up to experience the magic of gourmet charcoal barbecue. Now grab your tongs, light that pyramid, and let the feasting begin!