The 2 main types of charcoal are natural wood charcoal and treated charcoal. The process of making charcoal all starts from petrifying wood and then treating it or not treating it with certain chemicals.
Natural charcoal is the most basic type of charcoal you can get. This is what you’ll get after the initial step of petrifying wood to make charcoal. You’ll notice that most, not all, natural charcoal companies will package their product as-is. This means you’ll find that the charcoal you’re using, does in fact look like, you guessed it, wood.
One of the pros of using natural charcoal is that it burns very clean and pure. Mainly, because this isn’t treated with any chemicals after the initial charcoal making process. This is especially beneficial for smoking meats because it promotes a more pure flavor and lets the woodchips inject more smoke flavor into your meat. It also burns much more evenly so you can maintain the temperature inside of your smoker easily.
There really aren’t too many cons to buying and using natural charcoal. One can be the availability of it. Granted, it has become more and more mainstream versus treated charcoal, it can still be hard to find in some grocery stores where people mainly find themselves shopping for ingredients to have a backyard BBQ.
Treated charcoal is natural charcoal, but usually shaped differently and treated with certain chemicals. The most popular brand you can find and you’ve probably heard of is Kingsford. They are one of the early companies that started selling charcoal in briquette form. This implies that after the initial process of petrifying, the charcoal is then ground down from its natural form and into a small brick-like form.
A definite pro of charcoal like this is the availability. A common backyard BBQ warrior will identify the charcoal briquette as more likely over charcoal in the natural form. It’s also more commonly found in most grocery stores.
This in turn makes the treated briquettes generally cheaper in price, depending on the brand, than its natural counterpart. Another pro is that treated charcoal is more user-friendly. They are much easier to light and more than likely will warm up quicker. This makes your average hamburger and hot dog cooking on your Weber grill a better choice.
A huge con of using the treated charcoal is the potential it has while smoking meats by imparting its chemical flavor into your meat. The treated briquette is meant for a fast and hot cook time, not for a low temperature and slow cook time like most meats need on a smoker application. This can be slightly combated by warming your charcoal in a separate device such as a charcoal chimney or Weber grill before it enters into your smoker.