Can You Reuse Charcoal? [Grilling & Smoking]

By Ben Isham-Smith


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 grilling guide

Can You Reuse Charcoal for Grilling or Smoking?

The good news for anyone who’s economical with grilling and smoking is that, yes, you can reuse charcoal. In most cases, charcoal retains the same burning power use after use and will not spoil your food’s flavor or aroma.

For the best results, ensure you have extinguished your grill properly. This will reduce waste while also protecting the environment from excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

To extinguish the coals, starve the flames of oxygen by shutting the grill’s lid or air vents. Do not use water to extinguish the fire, especially while charcoal is still in the grill. This will ruin your coals and may cause rust.

The best coals to reuse are after fast grilling sessions and not coals that have been used for low and slow smoking. 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 that there’s still something left to salvage.

can you reuse charcoal grilling guide

Will Reused Charcoal Still Burn Hot?

Reused charcoal will still burn hot enough to grill with, although its temperature capacity will not be as strong as fresh charcoal. For the best results, combine old coals with a handful of new lump charcoal to make ignition easy and cooking temperatures efficient.

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 coals have completely cooled, remove any grease and excess ash from the chamber’s inside. Transfer the remaining charcoal to a non-combustible container, like a covered steel bin. Do not use wooden crates.

Pro Tip: Keeping moisture from your charcoal is crucial. Try storing your coals in a garbage bag with silica packets or with duct tape lining the lid area.

How to Light Old Lump Charcoal or Briquettes

After ensuring the coal is dry and clean, and ready for reuse, combine 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 tightly stick together and restrict airflow through the grill chamber. The solution to this is to mix the old lumps of coal with new coal. To light the fire, use fire sticks, old fabric pieces, or flammable food-safe wood, like pine. Avoid petroleum-based products and chemicals. The taste can seep into food.

Lay the fire starting material at the bottom, add the lump charcoal or briquettes on top, and mix the used bits with the new lump coal or briquettes. Light the fire sticks, and that will, in turn, ignite the charcoal. The whole process will take about 15 to 20 minutes. By that time, the coal will be ready to cook over. This method gets the fire going quicker.

Another method is 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. Then spread them around, so they are well mixed. Then you can add fire starters or any type of wood pieces that catch fire quickly. Disperse them, and light them.

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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