Smart and Final mesquite lump is re-branded Best of the West. Your review of that sounds right on the money, or at least it's the same as mine. Don't be in such a hurry to throw all mesquite overboard, though. Other mesquite charcoals are usually mellower, and don't produce so much spark, burn as peaky, or get as much ash on the food.
Lazzari mesquite is very good and is mostly what I used for the past few seasons -- but for grilling only as my last smoker burned propane for heat. However, the last 20# bag of Lazzari had way too many small pieces and chips and no one likes paying for waste. The good news is that medium/small pieces light quicker and start pumping out some serious therms PDQ. I'll get a new 40# bag tomorrow and see how that goes over the week.
I've been using CalChar's commercial mesquite off and on over the years, and like its taste -- especially along with oak chunk. The problem with CAlChar is too many big pieces. Because even the average size pieces run large, the charcoal can be a little slow. On the other hand, it's easier to break big pieces up than stick little ones together, even huge pieces work well in my monster grill, and there's little to no waste. CalChar is even cheaper than Smart and Final. $12 for 40#. Of course, it's only available (as CalChar anyway) from the source in SoCal.
As for the non-mesquites...
Royal Oak can go from pretty good to pretty bad, depending (it seems) on where the wood was sourced and the charcoal made. At its best, I've never found it nearly as good as Lazzari. At its worst, pretty awful.
There's supposedly a NEW and IMPROVED Cowboy. About time, too; as there were all sorts of serious issues with the old and unimproved version although it usually had a pretty sweet taste. People are saying good things about the new iteration and I'll try it soon.
Barbeques Galore (re-branded BGE) has moved their SGV store to a large mall, making shlepping big bags of charcoal a huge pain. Not bad charcoal, not cheap, and probably not happening.
You may be right about doing some sort of pre-burn on the wood; but I'm hoping for something that's a little less trouble. Pre-burning chunks and splits is not the same as pre-burning a stick. The smaller pieces catch fire too quickly and are too hard to throttle down. Also, not only am I not sure where or how you'd lean a split against a Fatboy, I don't think it would do much good either.
Adding the first batch of wood earlier and letting it settle down before adding the food might be the answer for the first part of the cook. I could do a better job of timing the wraps and introducing new food too. For instance, I could have waited til I had the ribs wrapped before adding fresh splits, and waited for them settle down before adding the chicken -- but for some stupid reason was trying to get everything to come out at more or less the same time. Too many concussions, probably.
This is going to be a little tricky, I don't want to be offensive or seem like I think I know more than I do... But... BUT... Even if I'm new to a BWS Fatboy, I've been doing this for more than thirty years -- including some catering and some comp -- and I'm asking for answers to equipment specific questions more than for general barbecue advice. Not that I can't use both.