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Choosing the best barbecue briquettes is very much a matter of personal taste. There are two broad categories of briquettes, each for a different type of grill. For charcoal grilling, there are a number of different types of charcoal briquettes, some with added flavors, woods or other properties. Ceramic briquettes are manufactured for use in gas grills and can be used to reduce the amount of fuel required or, if the briquettes have been treated, to impart some smoky flavor to the food. Additional factors that can affect a person's choice of the best barbecue briquettes include how the briquette was made, any special features it has, and the amount of time that it burns in the grill.
When using barbecue briquettes for charcoal grilling, the best ones will be the briquettes that provide the best flavor to the food being cooked. The way charcoal briquettes are made involves combining carbon from burned wood with some type of binder and sometimes other chemicals. This mixture is then formed into briquettes and sold in bags. The base ingredient, which is the carbon, is what burns and provides most of the flavor, meaning different types of base woods can give different flavors, although this will take experimentation to learn one's preferences.
Some barbecue briquettes are treated in advance to make them ignite more quickly. This is sometimes necessary because of the density with which the carbon is packed, possibly making it difficult to start. Briquettes that are treated in this way generally are coated in some type of lighter fluid. This can leave an unpleasant taste on the food being cooked. There are many brands of charcoal briquettes that are not treated in this way, however.
Both charcoal and ceramic barbecue briquettes can be created with chips of hardwood or other flavors mixed in with the carbon. The idea is that the wood will burn and provide a smoky flavor to the food being cooked. Some chefs find these are the best barbecue briquettes, while others do not feel they provide enough flavor for the expense. Another thing to consider is that, on occasion, the flavors added to the briquettes are sometimes artificial or have artificial components.
Ceramic briquettes are used inside of gas grills. These have a reputation for changing the way that food on a gas grill cooks, sometimes providing more even cooking temperatures. The barbecue briquettes also absorb heat and radiate it back into the grill, so the burners can be turned off for some time while the food continues to cook, saving on gas.
When buying charcoal, it can be a lot of fun to choose some that are made with "offbeat" woods that appeal to people in certain locations. An easy example is mesquite, the wood more common amongst Texan barbecue fans than in other parts of the country where hickory might be dominant. Trying those different flavors can make food a little less predictable in terms of taste -- great way to stand out at parties, see?
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