What is the best alternative to charcoal

How do I recognize good charcoal? You should pay attention to this when buying!

Over 95 percent of Germans like to grill. Grilling with charcoal is still in vogue despite the increasing number of gas grills. So it is no wonder that around 250,000 tons of charcoal end up in the fire in Germany alone. But when buying charcoal, many find themselves perplexed by the seemingly confusing range: different manufacturers, different prices and, finally, the question, does the charcoal come from tropical wood or native wood?

With our recommendation we want to shed some light on the darkness. We answer frequently asked questions: How do I recognize good charcoal and what should I watch out for when buying charcoal? You will also learn why beech wood charcoal is so popular and we will explain the difference between charcoal and barbecue briquettes.

Table of Contents

Charcoal production by pyrolysis

The production of charcoal was an important industry well into the 19th century. The charcoal burners cut the wood in winter, piled it up to dry, in summer the wood was charred. They used to live and work in the forest for most of the year and often belonged to the poor population. At the beginning of the Iron Age, charcoal burning experienced its first heyday. Charcoal reached heat levels that made it possible to melt iron ore into iron.

What is pyrolysis?

You may have heard of pyrolysis in the context of charcoal. Wood then turns into charcoal when it gets without oxygen high temperatures is exposed. So it doesn't burn, but water, gases and organic substances are released from the wood. The pure remains then carbon. At least that's how it works in theory.

In practice, pyrolysis is not quite as perfect: the finished charcoal is blocked depending on the type of wood and the process 50 to 90 percent carbon. The remaining percent ensures that the charcoal smokes lightly when you light it - you can already see good quality here - and ash remains after grilling.

Therefore: the purer the charcoal (the higher the percentage of carbon), the less smoke and ash.

Make charcoal with a kiln

In order to make charcoal from wood in a charcoal pile, the charcoal burner must set up the pile in precisely defined steps. When it is finished, it is lit. The charcoal burner must not take his eyes off the kiln, as the exact oxygen supply has to be checked and, if necessary, regulated.

How long it takes before the coveted charcoal is produced depends on the kiln and the weather. Nothing has changed to this day. A charcoal burner can tell how far the charring process has progressed colour and the odor of the smoke.

How charring works

The charcoal burner has his hands full with lighting the kiln and the controlled decay of the wood. After all, the charring process must be controlled around the clock. The kiln must neither go out nor burn down due to too much air supply. To do this, holes are drilled and sealed on the surface. It is crucial that only as much oxygen acts on the glowing wood as is necessary for the charring process. So stays up to 90 percent carbon preserved in the charcoal obtained in the kiln.


Anyone who wants to watch the burning of a coal pile live can still do so today. The charcoal handicraft has been included in the register of intangible cultural heritage and there are some regions in Germany where associations keep traditional handicrafts alive.

Note: The higher the proportion of carbon, the less smoke and the less ash the charcoal produces. Pay attention to at least 75% carbon content.

How do I recognize good charcoal?

Everyone knows what charcoal looks like. But are the black pieces of good or bad wood quality? Is expensive charcoal automatically better? There are several ways to identify good charcoal. Surely you can just buy a sack, light the coal, and test it. But that doesn't necessarily make sense, because you're either lucky or unlucky. If you bought poor quality, you just get angry. The following method is much easier.

The size of the pieces

A good charcoal should not only burn for a long time, but also burn with little smoke and odor-free. You can recognize high-quality charcoal by the fact that it fine-pored is and if possible off many pieces of the same size consists. Conventional charcoal usually consists of smaller pieces, whereas so-called steakhouse charcoal consists of pieces of about 5 cm. This not only results in a longer burning time, but also a high combustion temperature.

It's the sound that counts

The simplest method is the sound method. If you hit charcoal against a hard object, it will break into many small pieces. Do you hear one bright glass sound, you can be sure that it is good charcoal. This is largely free of acids and tar - this is good for your health and for the environment. But how do you do it at the dealer?

Pick up the sack and gently shake the bottom in your hand. If you have the feeling that there are pieces there, that's a positive thing. Poor quality charcoal often has dust and coal crumbs on the bottom. Then you shake the charcoal in the sack next to your ear so that the bits rub against each other lightly. There is one bright, metallic sound, it is good charcoal, with which you get even heat.

Identify good charcoal by its color

You can also recognize good charcoal by its color. If you are lucky at your dealer, there is an open sack there and you can take a look. Are the pieces black and glossy, if possible with bluish areas, then grab it and buy a few more bags. Because this is exactly what quality charcoal has to look like. If, on the other hand, it is slightly brownish or matt black, then the quality is less good.

Note: Good charcoal is fine-pored and consists of many pieces of the same size. When the pieces of coal hit each other, a lighter sound is produced. Optically, good charcoal is black, shiny with blue-tinged surfaces.

Which types of wood are used for charcoal?

Good charcoal consists of hard hardwood without any other additives. Frequently becomes Beech or oak wood used. With its solid wood, beech has a high calorific value and can also be processed quite well into charcoal. Often other different hardwoods such as ash and birch are also mixed in.

If you buy pure beech barbecue charcoal, you will get a high, even heat when grilling and benefit from long-lasting embers. In addition, beech wood charcoal is usually very low in smoke and therefore extremely popular.

Charcoal from the retort

For many people, retort has a rather negative connotation. With retort charcoal, however, you can have no worries, because here you are sure that you always get the same quality. This is particularly interesting for barbecue fans who like to grill a lot and who always value the same good charcoal.

But what is retort carbon?

This refers to coals that are produced in so-called retorts, i.e. in large, closed metal kettles. An environmentally friendly side effect of retort coal: All by-products (tar, wood vinegar, gases) that arise during production are captured and used.

Tropical wood: what to look out for when buying charcoal

Tropical wood in charcoal is not prohibited. However, the manufacturer must mark this correctly and no protected species may be used. As a buyer, you have to rely on what's on the sack of charcoal. Experts can, however, determine the wood of charcoal. To do this, the coal is broken and the broken edge is placed under a special microscope. The cell structures can be seen and the scientists can tell from the arrangement of the pores and storage cells whether it is domestic or tropical wood.

Tropical wood charcoal: scrap wood and cuttings

You have probably already heard or read that you should never buy charcoal made from tropical wood. You can't say that across the board. For example, there is barbecue charcoal from Namibia, which comes from ecological de-bushing projects in the country. In addition, in many tropical regions, wood from thinning or residual wood and sections from the sawmill industry or wood processing plants are used to produce charcoal. No tree is felled for the coal, but by-products are sensibly used.

Pay attention to certification

So that you can be sure when buying charcoal, pay attention to the labeling and certification. A seal from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) means that the coal comes from sustainable forest management. Charcoal with the DIN certification mark (DIN EN 1860-2) guarantees that the charcoal does not contain coke, petroleum or plastics. If you want to buy charcoal with a good feeling, then also pay attention to which type of wood is on the packaging.

An example of good charcoal is e.g. B. Quebracho Blancowhich translated means something like "That which breaks the ax.". The extremely hard and energy-rich wood results in a very hot and long-burning charcoal that you will enjoy. It neither smokes nor sparks. You can order the Quebracho Blanco charcoal in our shop.

Fuel alternatives to charcoal briquettes

If you just want to try something new instead of charcoal or grill briquettes, you will now find interesting alternatives. There are ecological briquettes made from olive pomace or charcoal made from bamboo. Coconut briquettes are recommended, especially if you are preparing pulled pork, ribs or beef brisket. The briquettes are made from the hard coconut shell and last a long time.

This is because there is considerably more energy in the coconut shell than in beech or oak. And more energy when grilling means: more heat and longer burning time. In addition, the husks are a natural by-product of the coconut oil industry, so that no tree has to be felled for this coal.

In our shop you will find a large selection of natural charcoal made from bamboo and coconut shells.

What burning properties does good barbecue charcoal have?

It depends on what you need the charcoal for. Hardwood charcoal glows longer and hotter than softwood charcoal. In return, the soft charcoal is easier to light. So if you need embers quickly, charcoal made from soft wood is ideal.

If the charcoal is difficult to get hold of, there can be various reasons. If it is damp, it is more difficult to ignite.

If the barbecue charcoal has a higher calorific value, it also takes longer to light, but you will be compensated with a lot of heat and a longer burning time.

Under no circumstances should your charcoal smell or smell, because it is insufficiently charred. This can happen with cheap charcoal, so next time you should go for quality charcoal.


What is the difference between charcoal and charcoal grill briquettes?

Coal or briquettes? What is better for grilling? Charcoal has a short glow phase, briquettes last longer. For short barbecues, it is better to use charcoal, while barbecue briquettes are suitable for longer barbecues.


Charcoal - briquettes are made from coal dust, which is usually mixed with starch and pressed. Due to their production, grill briquettes are therefore the same size and weight and burn evenly. They also burn longer than classic charcoal (over 4 hours), but have a lower burning temperature than charcoal (charcoal approx. 1000 ° C, briquettes approx. 800 ° C). Barbecue briquettes also require a longer lighting time - we recommend using a chimney here.

Differences in quality result from the density of the pressed coal. The higher the pressure, the higher the density, which in turn means a longer burning time. The manufacturer Greek Fire offers special charcoal briquettes which do not require any binding agents and which, thanks to their tubular shape, achieve excellent, efficient calorific values.

A very good and particularly sustainable alternative to conventional barbecue briquettes made from charcoal are briquettes made from coconut shells. In addition to the ecological aspect, they score with an almost smoke-free and almost residue-free combustion.

Grill briquettes are perfect for long jobs such as pulled pork, ribs and brisket and of course for use with the Dutch Oven. They have a long burning time and a combustion temperature of approx. 800 ° C.


It develops significantly more heat than grill briquettes and is therefore ideal for steaks and everything that requires a particularly high grill temperature. The combustion temperature is around 1000 ° C, with the carbon content factor playing an important role here.

The lighting process with charcoal is shorter than with briquettes, which of course makes it perfect for short-term, quickly planned barbecues.

What is the best way to store charcoal?

As charcoal absorbs moisture quickly, opened bags should not be left outside. If the coal is damp, it smokes more when it burns. It is better to store the bags in a dry room.


The days of the huge fog rinds from the neighboring garden should long be over, because good charcoal does not smoke or stink. Now you can decide for yourself at the nearest dealer which charcoal is good and which is not.

The following applies: good does not always cost the same! First and foremost, the material used and the size of the pieces should be checked in order to get high-quality charcoal.

Good charcoal ...

  • sounds glassy and looks shiny black
  • consists of soft or hard wood
  • can come out of the retort
  • is certified with a seal
  • has the conformity mark DIN-tested
  • is certified according to the European standard DIN EN 1860-2 DINplus
  • has a particularly high carbon content (ensures excellent burning performance)

Just take a look around our large charcoal accessories area and decide which charcoal is your favorite.