How to Choose the Best Charcoal for Your Summer BBQs

Sweep the patio, dust off the garden chairs and put up the gazebo (just in case): it’s barbecue season. As always at this time of year, we’re seeing a surge in orders for BBQ charcoal as the UK prepares for summer. Everyone loves a barbecue, a chance to get friends and family together, share great food and spend some quality time in the sun, but what is the best charcoal for a BBQ available in the UK?

Get that Perfect Smokey Flavour with Restaurant-Grade BBQ Charcoal

Taking in from the grillmasters of the Southern US, BBQ is best with charcoal. Propane or natural gas is efficient and gets the job done, but that smokey flavour is what barbecue is all about. No matter what you cook, restaurant grill chefs will agree that charcoal provides a juicier, smokier meal. You can save money on charcoal by buying in bulk from professional-grade charcoal suppliers.

Is Lumpwood Charcoal Better than Briquettes?

From Forest to BBQ: The Journey of Sustainable Charcoal

Whether you use lump charcoal or briquettes depends on what you’re cooking and how. There are pros and cons to each type, but generally speaking, lump charcoal is much more versatile.

Charcoal Briquettes are reconstituted carbonised wood, pulverised and mixed with sawdust or other additives to assist with lighting and shaped into regular blocks. They are designed to burn for hours, so if you’re smoking pork from 5 am to serve at lunch, briquettes might be for you.

This kind of cooking is not common in the UK however, and briquettes are generally used for BBQing sausages and burgers. The benefit is that the low heat means meats don’t dry out quickly, which always takes longer than using lump charcoal.

Lumpwood charcoal is natural, carbonised wood, simple as that. It can burn at high heat, making it perfect for searing steaks and burgers, grilling chicken and veggies and is the charcoal of choice for restaurants and chefs worldwide.

It is used in traditional pizza ovens and outdoor smokers. Lumpwood charcoal is popular because, as it burns, it infuses a perfect woodsmoke flavour into the food, free from additives such as lighter fluid or sawdust.

The main benefit of lump charcoal is that you can control the heat level easily by stacking the coals in different ways. More airflow between the coals means more heat while packing lumps close together will achieve the same low, slow cook as briquettes.

Restaurant-Grade Lumpwood Charcoal

charcoal burning

When lump charcoal is marked “Restaurant Grade”, it means it has large pieces of charcoal with high carbon densities. This means the heat produced will be more consistent and last longer than small pieces with low carbon densities.

Restaurants use charcoal in its most natural form because the additives in briquettes can add undesirable flavours.

Restaurants and home cooks alike should look for charcoal that is suitable for use in smoke control areas. These produce minimal particulate matter such as soot or PM10s, so don’t contribute as much to air pollution and help keep your local environment and your neighbours healthy.

Premium Restaurant Charcoal – Authorised Fuel Suitable for Smoke Control Areas – 12 KG

Order Restaurant Charcoal Online from Charcoal Suppliers in Wolverhampton

Whether you’re a back-garden cook or a restaurant grill chef, you can stock up on restaurant-grade charcoal to fill your cooking with smoky grill flavour all year round.

We supply charcoal for restaurants near Wolverhampton with free delivery, saving businesses (and private BBQ-ers) huge amounts per kilo of charcoal. When you buy charcoal in bulk from Charles Swann charcoal wholesale suppliers in Wolverhampton, you can get open-sack or prepackaged delivery to suit your preferences.

How to Choose the Best Charcoal for Your Summer BBQs

Summer Grilling Tips from Charcoal Experts

Summer BBQ Tips: How to Use a Charcoal BBQ Like a Chef.

The weather’s warming up and the skies are free of clouds. It’s barbecue season.

In the UK we take any excuse for a chargrilled burger in the back garden, with friends and family coming together to make the most of summer. Get the paddling pool out and stock up on BBQ charcoal as the UK prepares for summer. Everyone loves a barbecue, a chance to get friends and family together, share great food and spend some quality time in the sun, but how do you get a great cook on a charcoal BBQ?

What Is Charcoal Exactly?

Charcoal is a fuel product that is made by heating wood pieces in a low-oxygen environment. This burns off volatile compounds in the wood such as hydrogen and water, leaving behind pure carbon.


Read more about the process of charcoal manufacture or how charcoal is made on our blog.


Tips For Cooking on a Charcoal BBQ:

We’ve gathered the best expert advice from around the internet to help you learn the right way to cook on charcoal.

Get the right kind of charcoal

While most charcoal available for cooking is in briquette form, this is not the best to use as it is made by mixing charcoal dust with additives such as sawdust and chemical lighting agents. These impurities can ruin the flavour of your barbecue cooking.

Instead, we recommend choosing lump-wood charcoal, which is the most natural form, consisting of wood-shaped pieces that have been burned in a low-oxygen environment such as a kiln. 

You should choose a bag with large pieces, as too many small, pea-sized coals and too much charcoal dust cause issues with airflow, making it difficult to get the right heat for cooking.

Look for charcoal with no additives or coating, as these also leave a chemical flavour on the food. You can order restaurant-grade lump wood charcoal from Charles Swann.

Light it in a Charcoal Chimney

Lighting a charcoal barbecue can be challenging, as the charcoal needs to be heated to a particular temperature before it ignites. While some people will recommend using lighter fluid to get things going, this isn’t the best idea for cooking on charcoal, as the fumes can influence the flavour.

The most popular way to light a charcoal barbecue is to use a chimney starter. This is a metal cylinder with a grate halfway up which you can use to get charcoals up to temperature before pouring them into the barbecue grill. The bottom compartment contains crumpled paper, kindling or firestarters, and the charcoal goes in the top compartment.

Chimney starters are a valuable tool to keep on hand, and more efficient than other methods, providing consistent heat distribution and a narrow channel for airflow, so your charcoal ignites quickly. 

How to light a charcoal chimney starter:

  1. Oil 2-3 sheets of newspaper with a small amount of neutral oil, such as vegetable oil. Just 1 teaspoon will help the paper burn longer, heating your charcoals. Put the paper into the bottom compartment of the chimney and close the grate.
  2. Put the chimney on top of the barbecue and fill it with charcoal. The coals will settle and get lower in the chimney as they ignite.
  3. Use a stick lighter or long match to light the newspaper through the holes in the chimney’s base. You can light it in a few places to get an even burn right from the start.
  4. The paper will burn and start to ignite the charcoal. Wait until all of the charcoal is lit and turning white with heat before pouring it into the barbecue. This may take up to 20 minutes.
  5. Carefully empty the charcoal onto the lower grate of the barbecue. Place your upper grate over the coals and you’re ready to get cooking.

Less is More

You might think using lots of charcoal will get you higher temperatures, and it will, but it’s easy to overdo it and have a roaring hot grill that burns before it cooks. Aim for efficiency: you can always add more once your grill is up to temperature. Think about the kind of food you are cooking and the heat required for that type of food.

Heat Charcoal Fully Before Cooking

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: ‘Wait until the charcoal is turning ashy white with heat before cooking’. At this point, the coals are heated evenly, so you can be confident that your food will be well-cooked.

Letting the charcoal heat fully also means any residues or volatile compounds are burnt off before you put food over the smoke, so you won’t compromise the flavour.

Create Two Zones with Uneven Distribution.

Many BBQ experts recommend creating two different zones in your barbecue: high heat and low heat. When you pour the coals in from your chimney starter, distribute them so one side of the grill has more coals than the other.

This means one side will emit far more heat than the other, so you can sear meats or cook quickly over the high-heat zone and cook slowly or keep things warm in the low-heat zone.

Add Wood for Flavour

What professional grill cooks know is that different woods contain compounds that will flavour food through the smoke.

Small amounts of wood from any fruit tree will add a sweet, mild flavour, including Applewood, Mulberry, Cherry and Pear. Oak, Beech, Hickory, Pecan and Maple are also popular choices, adding strong but not overpowering flavours. Simply place the wood in amongst the coals to release the flavoured oils into the food above.

Use your BBQ Vents

Controlling the heat of a charcoal barbecue is mostly about airflow. Once you’ve got your food on the grill, you can slow-cook it by closing the lid and opening the vents to allow a small amount of airflow. The heat will lower and stay even so you can cook larger pieces of meat or other food over a long time without it burning.

How to Put Out a Charcoal BBQ

charcoal burning

As important as lighting it, putting your barbecue out properly is a key step in maintaining fire safety. The safest way to put out charcoal is to remove the grate, close the lid and shut all the vents to stop any airflow.

The charcoal will extinguish slowly as it burns through the available oxygen. This can take up to 12 hours, so leave it overnight before you open the lid and dispose of the charcoal.

You’re Ready to Host Your Summer Barbecue!

Now that you’ve got to grips with lighting your barbecue, flavouring woodsmoke, cooking on two heat zones and making use of the vents, you’re all set to host the best barbecue of the summer. Make sure you get plenty of cool drinks, paper plates, and HPF 50 suncream to keep the good times rolling.

You can stock up on high-quality, restaurant-grade, lump wood charcoal for BBQs so you can keep grilling all year round. Here at Charles Swann, we are bulk charcoal suppliers near Wolverhampton, ready to deliver your BBQ charcoal in prepacked bags of 12kg.

From Forest to BBQ: The Journey of Sustainable Charcoal

From Forest to BBQ: The Journey of Sustainable Charcoal

How is charcoal made?

We’re used to these questions as coal merchants, but charcoal has been a valuable commodity for thousands of years and continues to grow in popularity, for cooking in particular.

The rich smoky flavour it lends to meats and veggies cooked over its flames is a mouthwatering delight for many, so it’s no wonder people are looking into where charcoal comes from. In this article we will discuss:

  • The difference between Charcoal and Coal
  • How Charcoal is Made
  • Why Charcoal is different to Wood
  • Sustainable Charcoal Manufacture

Coal vs Charcoal: What’s the difference?

They’re both black and sooty, and they both burn at high heat, but coal and charcoal are very different.

Coal is much older than charcoal, formed from vegetation in ancient forests which died and was compressed over 400 million years. The result is a dense, carbon-rich store of energy that is mined and burned for many purposes, including domestic heating, energy production, blacksmithing and more.

Charcoal takes just hours to create from wood, heating it slowly in a process that has been used by humans since the Neanderthals.

What is Charcoal Made From?


Charcoal is made from dried and carbonised wood. Most often, hardwood is used as the carbon density is higher. This means that there is more energy to be had from hardwood than from softwood, making the heat output higher. When the wood has turned to charcoal, all that is left is the carbon.

Why not just burn wood?

There are a few reasons why people choose to make charcoal rather than simply burning wood.

Less Air Pollution: when wood burns, it produces a lot of smoke, while charcoal does not produce much due to being pure carbon.

Higher Energy Yield: charcoal has a higher calorific value than wood, which means it yields more energy as heat per kilo. Cooking on a wood fire is possible, but requires a lot of wood to cook anything bigger than a sausage.

Use up poor quality wood: not all wood is worth burning for heat, but nothing needs to be wasted. When making charcoal, any hardwood can be transformed into a useful commodity.

How is Charcoal Made?

As one of the oldest commodities, charcoal can be made using many different methods and tools. Some methods use an underground pit, while others use a pit; it can be done in an oil barrel, while industrial methods use enormous concrete or steel kilns. For artists’ charcoal, some make it themselves by burning wood in a small tin with holes punched in the lid.

The basic process for making charcoal is to burn wood in a low-oxygen environment. This burns away volatile compounds such as water, hydrogen, methane and other elements, leaving behind only carbon (or ‘char’).

Dry wood, in evenly-sized pieces, is stacked in the kiln (or pit, drum or another container) with kindling in the middle. When the stack reaches the top the kiln is shut and covered with insulation to keep the heat in. The fire is a small amount of airflow is needed to keep the fire going, but not too much to keep the carbon from burning.

Can Charcoal Be Sustainable?

charcoal burning

Charcoal is always more sustainable than burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, even if the volume of CO2 emitted during cooking is slightly higher. This is because the Carbon atoms in that CO2 released were taken into the wood from CO2 during the tree’s lifetime, making charcoal ‘carbon neutral’. However, this does not mean charcoal is always sustainable in and of itself.

In the 21st century, consumers are often looking to make environmentally-conscious choices. Burning charcoal might not be the best way to do this, as the carbon dioxide output is always high, but as with everything, some charcoals are more sustainable than others. Methods of making sustainable charcoal will feature:

Local wood: With fewer miles to transport the wood before it is turned into charcoal, the overall carbon footprint is reduced.

Local production: Similarly, the distance between the production facility and the point of purchase should be minimal to avoid unnecessary carbon emissions from transport. Purchasing locally-made charcoal is also good for the local economy, supporting jobs in your area.

Coppicing: A method of harvesting wood without taking the whole tree, coppicing ensures a sustainable and renewable source of wood. Coppicing involves cutting relatively young trees (between 7-20 years) close to the base of the trunk in winter. In spring, the tree produces new, rapidly growing shoots which are left to thicken and strengthen ready for harvest in another 7-20 years.

When is Charcoal Unsustainable?

Of course, for every sustainable method, there is an unsustainable method that is often cheaper, quicker and more mechanised. Charcoal production is unsustainable when:

Trees are planted in monocultures: while this is more convenient for mechanical harvesting (using machinery to cut all the trees in an area quickly), it is damaging to soil health, wildlife habitats and biodiversity.

Trees are harvested whole for charcoal production: Mechanical harvesting often means that many trees are killed at once, disrupting any ecosystem present and removing habitats and food sources.

They are replaced with saplings which will grow for 20 years, replicating the monoculture, and be harvested again.

Wood is shipped long distances for charcoal production: the carbon emissions from lorries transporting timber between plantations and charcoal production sites are high, contributing to climate change.

Buy Charcoal in Bulk at Charles Swann Coal Merchants’ Website

Charcoals are used for food cooking applications, from back garden barbecue to restaurant grills. Here at Charles Swann, we supply one of the best grades of quality charcoal. Please give us a call to discuss any specific requirements you have for charcoal.

Our premium restaurant-quality charcoal can be supplied in pre-packed 12kg bags for efficient protected storage. Due to our bulk stocking mandate, charcoal purchased without any other fuels requires a minimum order of 6 bags. Call our office to make an order on 01922 408 152.


Charles Swann (Walsall) Ltd
Old Landywood Lane
WV11 2AP

Contact Information

Phone 01922 408 152
Fax 01922 711 350

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