For many it’s the bird song that announces summer’s arrival, for others it’s the smell of BBQ across the gardens. We check out some charcoal that really is hot.

As a nation, we’ve come of age with BBQ. We no longer cook on rusty tins burning the hell out of Walls sausages, shop bought burgers and suspicious chicken legs. We cook direct, indirect, low and slow, we smoke and we are dirty.

And yet so many of us still buy any old charcoal, or worse still briquettes, and that is such a shame.

Briquettes are bound together with glue and chemicals which means they can’t be added to a BBQ that is in action as they will give off nasty flavours at first. Plus, many contain inert materials such as sand to make them seem good value but end up being inefficient and messy.

There’s also the concern that they may be made with wood from unsustainable sources and that can leave a nasty taste in the mouth as well.

Yes, there are good briquettes, Weber charcoal briquettes for example, but in general lumpwood charcoal is the way to go.

Not any old charcoal though, get the best and you won’t regret it. Good charcoal lights easily and burns smoothly and can be added at any time to top up without affecting the flavour of your food. Unless you want it to. Single species wood charcoal gives great flavours and The Oxford Charcoal Company specialise in it.

They have six single species charcoals from sustainable trees grown in the UK -Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Ash, Alder, Orange Wood, Maple, Cherry Wood and Beech plus a Hardwood blend.

We tried the Sweet Chestnut and the Maple (the latter recommended by DJ BBQ in his new book. We smoked ribs on the Weber Smoky Mountain using Sweet Chestnut and used Maple on the Rotisserie on the Weber 57” Kettle.

The ribs had 8 hours and we poured half a chimney starter of lit charcoal onto half unlit and that chugged along smoothly for almost the entire time, we only had to add a few handfuls more to keep it going in the last 45 minutes.

Normally we’d add wood chunks to the smoker but as we were using flavoured charcoal we held off. The result was a subtle, something different, sweetness that had imbued the whole of the meat not just the’bark’.

We used a whole pre-lit chimney starter of Maple for the rotisserie chicken. 

One chimney full lasted the 90 minutes the chicken took to cook; it’s always best to roast chicken slow on a BBQ to make sure the outside isn’t done before the centre. It tasted gently sweet and with the richness of Maple and a real success.

The 5kg bags of different charcoals come in at around £15, which is obviously a lot more than you’ll pay for briquettes or cheap charcoal, but if you’ve prepped decent food why then use crap charcoal to cook it? And in fact

The Oxford Charcoal Company charcoal burns better and longer than the cheap stuff, so as well as giving great flavour it works out better value too.

And of course, it’s mail order so now there’s no excuse to use anything less than the

Leading BBQ expert, Bill Gardner of has created a food, drink and charcoal pairing chart using Oxford Charcoal. Birch charcoal, for example, is ideal for cooking fish and shellfish such as oysters and served with white wines such as Pouilly Fume, Chardonnay or a White Burgundy. For darker meats, like duck, then Wild Cherry Charcoal is perfect alongside a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.