How do you reuse charcoal while still keeping it effective and safe? Learn how to recycle lump charcoal and briquettes the right way with our barbecue guide.
Can you reuse charcoal for grilling or smoking?
The good news for anyone who’s economical with their grilling and smoking is that, yes, you can reuse charcoal. In most cases, charcoal still carries the same burning power use after use, but there are some caveats.
To ensure you are getting the most out of your coals, ensure that you have extinguished your grill properly. This will help to reduce waste while also protecting the environment from excessive greenhouse gas emissions.
To switch the coals off, you can extinguish the flames and then starve them of oxygen. You can do this by closing the grill’s lid and any air vents that may be leading in any air to fan the coals. Try not to put out the heat with water while the charcoal is in the grill. It may cause rust. The great thing about using reused charcoal is that it will not alter the taste of your food.
The best type of coal to reuse is used for fast grilling sessions. It wouldn’t work so well if it was used for low and slow cooking. This way, you still have something to burn and not just ash. You want to make sure that the coals are not burnt through and through and that there’s still something left to salvage.
Will reused or old charcoal still burn hot?
This is a common concern for anyone thinking of reusing charcoal. The good news is that reused charcoal does not lose its heat. It still burns hot, even though it will not be as hot as new charcoal, especially if you use it independently. The trick is in getting it to turn on again. You can rekindle them, but you have to mix the reused coals with new coals to bring the heat up to the same level as cooking with fresh coal. Otherwise, it will be virtually impossible.
To achieve high temperatures when you reuse charcoal, you may need to use more charcoal than before. Used charcoal on its own may not burn as long as fresh charcoal would, which is the reason why you would need to mix the old with the new.
How to store old charcoal
The first thing would be to put out the fire. The best way to do this would be to starve the flame of oxygen. Closing the grill and making sure that air cannot find its way in. if this isn’t effective in immediately extinguishing the fire, you can use water. The issue with this is that you will need to add the extra step of drying out the charcoal before using it again.
To dry it, you can place the pieces of coal in the sun. This process may take a couple of days. Once you have made sure that the coals are dry, ensure there is no ash around the coal, and the individual pieces are clean. This will save you time when you need to ignite them again. This process also helps you separate ash from the actual coals.
After the coal has been separated from the ash, the result will probably be smaller because it has been burning. Then take these and store them in a non-combustible container. You don’t want the charcoal igniting when you don’t need it to. As such, keep it away from anything that could potentially start a fire.
You can also store the cleaned-out and used charcoal in an airtight plastic bag. You will need to make sure that it has cooled down totally before you store it away. The container that you choose needs to have the ability to keep humidity out. You can help the process and make sure no moisture seeps in by placing silica packs in the container. You may also use means such as duct tape to seal the box properly.
How to light old lump charcoal or briquettes
As we have mentioned, the first thing is to make sure that the coal is dry and clean, and ready to be reused. Once you have them in the right shape, you will need to mix the old charcoal with new briquettes. The reason for this is that the old pieces would have been broken down the first time around, and there’s a high possibility that they would have become relatively small.
Once this happens, they will stick together more closely and, as such, will not allow a lot of air to flow through them. The solution to this is to mix the old lumps of coal with new coal. To light the fire, you can use fire sticks, old pieces of fabric, or other materials that quickly catch fire, such as pine. Just make sure that you do not use a petroleum-based product. Avoid using chemicals. The taste can seep into your food.
Lay the fire starting material at the bottom, add the lump charcoal or briquettes on top, and make sure the used bits are nicely mixed in with the new lump coal or briquettes. Light the fire sticks, and that will, in turn, switch the charcoal on. The whole process should take about 15 to 20 minutes. By that time, the coal will be ready to cook on. This method gets the fire going quicker.
Another method would be to lay the old charcoal down first. To maintain the airflow, layer the new charcoal first. This is because they will be bigger and can allow better airflow, unlike the used pieces. Then spread them around, so they are well mixed. Then you can throw in fire starters, which could be any type of wood pieces that catch fire quickly. Disperse them, and then light them up.