Splits or Chunks for Smoke? Best Lump Charcoal?

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Anyone tried running splits in a medium sized cabinet or medium sized offset smoker?  I (impulsively) bought 25 lbs each of oak and peach for my Backwoods Fatboy and am wondering what to expect. 

How would you say they compare to chunks?  Any difference at all?

FWIW, I was using commercial mesquite lump charcoal for heat, but the charcoal from CalChar, my supplier, has too many big pieces for my smallish firebox, so I'm switching to something else -- probably Lazzari mesquite.  I've also got a bag of Royal Oak and another of Cowboy -- I haven't been a huge fan of either in the past, but figured wotthehell, wotthehell, give them a try in the new cooker.  Any other quasi affordable recommendations for stuff I can find locally in SoCal?

BDL
 
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Isn't royal oak full of non charcoal debris? Might have my brands mixed up.

I like using briquettes plus wood lump or soaked chips for flavor if I'm doing low and slow bbq. There are some not terrible briquettes out there. Lump burns hot, and I've had trouble with heat control.
 
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Royal Oak is the brand they sell at Wal-Mart (as well as some other places), the last time I was buying -- which was a while ago -- it had the reputation of being pretty good.  It's possible that things have changed.

Cowboy, on the other hand, did not have a great rep, even though it's the brand most sold by "gourmet' outfits like Whole Paycheck ... er Whole Foods.  For one thing it was made of floor and furniture ends, and they had a rep of a lot of trash and refractory material coming out of their kilns.  I understand there's a "new and improved" Cowboy which is much cleaner and burns longer.  The good thing about Cowboy was that it always burned very sweet.  But... it also had a lot of small pieces and burned very fast.

The thing of it is, I went a few years without using either -- just Lazzari and CalChar.

I have no criticisms to make of Lazzari, nor have I heard anything, but it's not always easy to get.  Prices are not great, just okay at BevMo -- but at least they usually have it.  It's like $24 for a 40# bag, and may be what I end up using.

My old smoker was gas fired for heat and chunk for smoke, so I didn't use any charcoal in it at all.  My old grill was charcoal fired though.  I used either Lazzari or the regular restaurant mesquite lump from CalChar ($12/40#) -- a commercial supplier not too far from here.

CalChar's charcoal is fine, not too many little chips, burns evenly, not too many sparks, so on; but it comes with some mighty big pieces which make it hard to load my new smoker for an even burn.  And while my new grill is more than large enough, I'm mostly using fireplace sized logs for that so the big piece pile keeps growing. 

Anyway, that's kind of how it stands now.

BDL
 

phatch

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I've heard OK things about Royal Oak. Never found a bag of it to try though. Haven't seen it at the local walmarts.Lump charcoal of any variety hasn't penetrated my market much yet. Too much love of Kingsford from the dutch oven crowd here.  Lowe's carries Cowboy locally. I wasn't particularly impressed when I tried it a few years back. Walmart doesn't carry Royal Oak in my area.
 
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BDL, you tried Smart & Final for the mesquite?....about $14 for #40 here....

Or when I just smoke, I use straight applewood. I get #50 sacks for $10.... use about half a bag for a couple of butts or 8 racks.
 

phatch

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I've heard OK things about Royal Oak. Never found a bag of it to try though. Haven't seen it at the local walmarts.Lump charcoal of any variety hasn't penetrated my market much yet. Too much love of Kingsford from the dutch oven crowd here.  Lowe's carries Cowboy locally. I wasn't particularly impressed when I tried it a few years back. Walmart doesn't carry Royal Oak in my area.

I've always used wood chunks from fruit trees in my yard and my neighbors' yards plus the occasional commercial bag of chunks. I've got a lot of apricot from my yard this year and a neighbors last year as snows split our trees in consecutive years. Some cherry and apple in the pile too. I'm able to select wood the size I want it for the most part.

Haven't their been rumblings about charcoal burning limits and that sort of thing in the LA  area for pollution control?
 
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The abundance of fruit woods is nice. I'm in a large fruit producing area...

I have a place to get just about anything I want...

apple, peach, nectarine, cherry, grape, oak, hickory  , mesquite

mesquite, almond  all offered in different sizes, from dust, shreds chunks, logs, split logs.
 
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Not a fan of S&F Mesquite, if I'm not mistaken it's relabeled "Best of the West."  In any case, too many small pieces and chips, too much sparking.  Maybe it's changed since the last time I tried it -- which was ages ago.  There's a firewood supplier in Pasadena, Glatt's, with a good price on red oak "barbecue wood" for my log burning grill.  Have to drive over, see what's up with that, and while I'm there check on charcoal.  Otherwise, I'm going to have to choose between breaking up the bigger pieces of CalChar as necessary, or paying twice the price for Lazzari.  We can afford it, but one doesn't like to pay retail, does one?

BDL
 
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Royal Oak is okay, pieces vary in size a lot with some medium large chunks and some fines. Sparks quite a bit at times. Cowboy is junk, lots pf crap in the last bag I tried. I ended up having to dump it out and sort out the trash, bits of metal, a half melted can, unburned wood...
 
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We use Kingsford and chunks of whatever wood we want that day.  We tried Cowboy and didn't care for it and also tried the lump but it burned too quickly and heat control was difficult in our older Brinkman offset.
 
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I use lump charcoal for heat, wood for both heat and smoke in my off-set smoker. With a dozen wooded acres, wood choice is not an issue for me. I use short splits, cuz my off-set will accept them. If I was buying stove-size splits they've have to be reduced in size.

I don't like the Royal Oak. In my experience there are too many small, broken pieces and an incredible amount of charcoal dust. More to the point, it doesn't produce even heat at all. Could be, as others have said, that there are adulterants, but I don't know that first hand.

Cowboy, on the other hand, certainly burns more evenly and cleaner. It's the first choice among many blacksmiths I know, so that should say something about it's quality.

For Dutch oven cooking (I know, different topic) I wouldn't even consider the Royal Oak because it burns so unevenly. While briquettes are the best choice, from a practical-use point of view, I have to use 18th century approaches and products. So I can use lump charcoal, and sometimes do when a clearer fire is required.
 
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My last bag of Lazzari was somewhat disappointing.  Too many chips.  But, I'll try another bag because they've always been good in the past.

I've got a bag of Royal Oak, but haven't tried it yet.  Royal Oak sources their charcoal from several different countries.  In my experience, some of it's pretty good, and some not so much.

Have to get a bag of the NEW "Longer Burning" Cowboy, and see what's what.  A lot of people have had a lot of big issues with the OLD and unimproved version.  There was a lot of  generally revilement because you could tell it was flooring ends.  I was and am more results oriented.  As long as it worked, no forests were denuded, and no one got hurt...  But... way too many small pieces in the past. 

After all that, it's looking like I'll probably end up sticking with CalChar's mesquite lump for heat.  It burns well, has a pleasant taste, and almost no chips.  Too many too big pieces, yes.  But it's a lot easier to break up big pieces of charcoal than it is to stick little ones together.

To those using Smart and Final -- you can do much better.

Just received 25# of red oak and 25# of peach, 6" splits from Fruitawood.  Looks, feels, and smells great; but I won't be able to try any of it until tomorrow at the earliest -- and more likely the weekend. 

BDL
 
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Royal Oak sources their charcoal from several different countries.  In my experience, some of it's pretty good, and some not so much.

Well, that would explain the diversity of opinions about it. But if I'm going to actually pay for charcoal, I'd like at least a modicum of consistency. And I haven't seen that from the Royal Oak.

BTW, at the Fort we've got a program going to make our own charcoal. Hopefully, everything will be in place by the end of the month. I'm anxious to see how it turns out.
 
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