Where to Buy Charcoal in Maryland
As you may have noticed by now, dear reader, I love to grill and BBQ. In any given BBQ season, which I define as the first bit of warm weather in February until the sun sets at 4:40pm in the Fall, I’ll easily go through more than 100lbs of charcoal – I think my personal record was 300lbs one particularly delicious season. That figure may sound startling, i.e., expensive, and it is, but gas grills aren’t that much better.
How long does a propane tank last for a gas grill? It depends on a number of factors, but in general, I’ve gotten 15 hours or so out of my 4-burner, 40,000BTU gas grill. A 20lb tank exchange runs me roughly $15, which is what 40lbs of charcoal typically costs. So, the cost of operating a gas grill vs. a charcoal grill for me is negligible.
That being said, what kind of charcoal does Pop buy? Well, for the uninitiated, the two most common types are lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. Lump charcoal is basically pieces of wood that have been burned down in a low-oxygen environment into charcoal. Briquettes on the other hand are mixed with other ingredients and molded. The general consensus is that briquettes tend to burn longer and more consistently, but lump charcoal burns hotter. I typically use lump charcoal only for quick, high-heat grilling for items like galbi and kabobs; for everything else, I use briquettes.
The only brand I ever buy is Kingsford! Mostly because it’s available everywhere. And please don’t ever buy Match Light or lighter fluid; use a chimney starter. Kingsford also offers Competition Briquettes, but I’m not a big fan because 1) they’re more expensive (about $0.80/lb) and 2) although they light faster, burn hotter, and result in less ash, they don’t last as long as the regular briquettes. Here are some local stores and their prices for regular Kingsford charcoal:
Sams Club: 2-20lb bags: $14.98 – $0.37/lb
Home Depot: 2-20lb bags: $15.87 – $0.40/lb
Lowe’s: 1-16lb bag: $8.48 – $0.53/lb
In my area of Maryland, Sams Club is the best place to buy charcoal briquettes – although you do have to factor in the cost of membership. Additionally, Costco’s charcoal is excellently priced as well.
What about buying charcoal online? Forget about it.
Before you buy a bag, make sure you thoroughly inspect it: feel all over the bag and get a bag that seems to have the greatest number of large pieces. The first time I bought this brand of lump charcoal, I placed several bags in my shopping cart and when I got home, although some bags were great, the majority of them were full of tiny, barely usable pieces and tons of dust.
At last check, neither Sams Club or Costco carry lump charcoal, so the only places I’ve been able to find it is at hardware stores. Home Depot has the 8.8lb bag for $6.99 and Lowe’s has it for $6.97.
And once again, shipping kills any deal you may find online for charcoal.
So even for my most prolific BBQ season, it only cost me $120 to fuel my grill – not a significant dent at all in our budget. It did, however, likely put a sizable dent in the ozone layer above my house. 😛
Finally, the best time to buy charcoal is Memorial day weekend. Usually, Home Depot will have 2x20lb packs for $10 and Lowes has 2-16lb packs for $8, or $0.25/lb! So stock up!
Do you have any recommendations on where to buy charcoal? What brands of charcoal do you prefer?