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What is a Briquette?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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A briquette is a chunk of combustible material that is commonly used in igniting and maintaining a fire, either in a boiler, grill or in an open space such as a fire pit. It is commonly in the shape of a square or rectangle, but can also be found in lump form or other molded shapes. The size of the briquette is dictated by how it will be used. Larger briquettes are often used in manufacturing environment and smaller versions are mostly used in fireplaces and for outdoor food grilling purposes. The most popular briquettes are biomass and charcoal varieties.

The majority of biomass briquettes are made from sawdust or similar wood waste products. The manufacturing process generally involves compressing the sawdust and forcing it into a machine that heats it and extrudes briquettes shaped like small fireplace logs. The particles in the log are held together by a natural substance in the sawdust, so no binders are required.

Commercially produced fireplace logs favored by many homeowners are actually biomass briquettes. A similar biomass briquette is commonly used as a substitute for coal or oil to heat manufacturing plant boilers. It is often preferred over other fuel sources because its use does not release any harmful fossil fuels into the environment. Another popular reason to use biomass briquettes for boiler fuel is that they reportedly are 30% to 40% cheaper to burn than oil or coal.

Charcoal briquettes are commonly used to cook food on outdoor grills, barbecue pits and hibachis. The lump form, typically made from hardwood materials, is favored by some cooks. This preference is generally attributed to the fact that lump charcoal produces considerably less ash than charcoal briquettes.

Depending on the brand, charcoal briquettes can contain many ingredients. Besides sawdust, other wood products may be part of their composition. Starch is commonly used as a binder for charcoal briquettes. Igniting aids are frequently added to some briquettes and generally include paraffin, petroleum solvents, borax and sodium nitrate. Limestone is often added to make the ashes turn white which alerts some cooks that the fire is the correct temperature to grill food items.

A less common use for charcoal, usually in the form of large briquettes or lumps, is as a fuel for commercial road vehicles, ordinarily buses. This is a regular practice in areas where oil is in short supply or completely unavailable. Charcoal powered buses were popular in Japan immediately following World War II and are used today in parts of North Korea.

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Discussion Comments

By anon320354 — On Feb 17, 2013

The alternative energy source available in the industries nowadays are briquettes which are converted from waste.

By anon316142 — On Jan 27, 2013

A briquette plant easily converts available raw materials like cumin waste, groundnut shells and other various waste that is available in ample quantities.

By cloudel — On Jan 09, 2012

Did you know that if your dog eats a use charcoal briquette, he will vomit? I didn't know this until it happened, and my vet told me what was going on.

My dog was very sick, and I was worried that the charcoal she had eaten had poisoned her. The vet told me that activated charcoal is actually what they give dogs to make them vomit up stuff that they shouldn't have eaten, so that was not the cause of her illness.

I wouldn't recommend giving your dog a charcoal briquette, unless your vet suggests it. Whatever my dog was sick with ended up killing her, and though I'm pretty sure it wasn't related to the charcoal, I wouldn't offer it to any of my other animals.

By seag47 — On Jan 09, 2012

@LisaLou – I agree with you. I have eaten food that has been cooked on both gas grills and charcoal grills, and there is something extra special about the kind grilled over charcoal briquettes.

Though I will admit that chicken tastes good on either type of grill, hot dogs and hamburgers need a charcoal grill to get that cookout flavor we have become accustomed to at family reunions and outdoor parties. I tried a hot dog cooked on a gas grill, and I couldn't even finish it. It seemed to have taken on a little gas flavor, and it didn't seem smoky at all.

I grew up going to yearly cookouts at the lake, where the only grills available required the use of charcoal briquettes. The woody, smoky flavor that they impart to the meat cannot be replaced with anything else.

By sunshined — On Jan 08, 2012

We have a wood burning fireplace that we use a lot in the winter. It becomes a part of my morning routine to clean out the ashes, add new wood and get a fire going.

I have found that using chunks of briquettes makes this job a lot easier. Even if I have newspaper and kindling to get the fire started, there were still a lot of times I had to nurse it along.

If I add a nice sized briquette chunk to the fire, it takes off right away and I can get on with other things. I have found that one sawdust briquette goes a lot farther than a handful of newspaper.

By honeybees — On Jan 07, 2012

I gave up using charcoal briquettes a long time ago. It seemed like it took forever to get the coals hot, if I could even get them to light at all.

Sometimes I felt like I used half a container of lighter fluid just to get them burning. I kept wondering how healthy that was for me?

I even tried the charcoal briquettes that were already treated for easy lighting. In the end I decided it wasn't worth the hassle, and bought a gas grill that I use all year long.

By LisaLou — On Jan 07, 2012

I know many people prefer the convenience and easy clean up of gas grills, but I still prefer to use charcoal briquettes when I grill.

I prefer the taste of the grilled food when a charcoal briquette is used over gas. We even have a portable charcoal grill that we take with us when we go camping.

Once the coals have had a chance to burn and get that perfect gray color, I know I will have a great tasting burger or steak. Corn on the cob also has a wonderful taste when you grill it this way.

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