If you’re planning on firing up the barbecue this Memorial Day weekend (come on weather, improve already!), you may be gearing up for a trip to the hardware store to buy some charcoal for the grill. So which should you get: lumps or briquettes? For a low-maintenance backyard grill session, opt for the briquettes. These pillow-shaped nuggets are made by combining coal dust with wood scraps and binders, which are then stamped out into uniform pieces that will burn consistently hot for about an hour. In other words, they’re reliable and easy to use. Lump charcoal, on the other hand, is formed by burning trees, logs, or chunks of wood to eliminate the water inside them. Since it’s made of pure wood, it’s the next best thing to an open campfire, and it lends a pure grilled flavor to food. However, it burns unevenly—hot at first and then cooler—so it needs to be replenished every 30 minutes or so during cooking.
Now that you’re set on the kind of charcoal to buy, check out these tips on setting up your grill for direct and indirect heat, flavoring the fire, and much more.