Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: August 22, 2022

If you’re a BBQ lover, you’re well aware of the cost of charcoal. But, instead of getting rid of the barely used charcoal after every cookout, you can reuse it.

I’ve been on a carnivore diet for longer than a decade, and barbecue food is my diet staple. I light up my charcoal grill at least once a week, especially during summer. I’ve perfected how to reuse charcoal over the years, so today, I’ll give you all of my tips and tricks so you can save money on charcoal.

Quick Summary

  • It’s safe to reuse unburned charcoal and all solid charcoal pieces.
  • Old charcoal won’t produce the same heat as the new one.
  • You should follow three steps when reusing charcoal.

Can You Reuse Charcoal?

Burning charcoal on an outside grill

Yes, you can reuse charcoal. More importantly, old charcoal won't badly influence the aroma and flavor of your food. Reusing charcoal reduces waste and greenhouse gas emissions, so it's good all around.

The best charcoal to reuse is the one leftover after a fast grill session. There may even be some unburned charcoal after a fast grill time. On the other hand, the coals that have been used for low and slow smoking will mostly turn to charcoal ash, and you won't have much to reuse.

It's crucial to extinguish the grill properly to be able to preserve old charcoal. You have to shut off all the lids and air vents on your grill so the coals don't have oxygen.

Note: Don't use water to extinguish the fire while charcoal is still in the grill. This will ruin it and even cause rust.

If you want to clean your grill immediately after cooking, you can transfer the coals into a covered metal garbage can or a heat-resistant container. The smaller the metal container, the better, as there'll be less oxygen to feed the charcoal.

You can also put the old charcoal in the charcoal chimney starter if you know you'll be using it soon.

Will Reused Charcoal Burn?

Yes, reused charcoal will burn. However, it won’t produce the same heat as new charcoal. There’ll be a noticeable difference.

The heat that new charcoal makes is more intense because the charcoal briquettes are bigger, and there’s better spacing between the pieces, which lets the oxygen flow freely. Overall, fresh charcoal will burn hotter and steadier.

“Used charcoal is slower to ignite, it has less peak heat, and produces no sparks. Conversely, adding some new charcoal to a pile of used charcoal is a bit faster to ignite.”
Smoking Dad BBQ, Youtube Channel

On the other hand, leftover charcoal pieces are smaller and aren’t as solid as new ones. They are closer together, which impedes the airflow between the pieces. This results in less heat.

However, don’t let this prevent you from reusing leftover charcoal. As long as you appropriately collect and store it, it’ll burn hot enough to grill with. You can combine used charcoal briquettes with new ones for easier ignition and cooking.

Steps to Collecting and Storing Old Charcoal

Burning charcoal graying out

Here’s exactly what you need to do to preserve and prepare your used charcoal for another round of BBQ.

  • The first step is to put out the fire by starving the flame of oxygen. Close the grill so the air can’t get in. If this doesn’t work, use water. However, try to avoid using water as it can clog the grill and cause rust. Plus, you’ll have to dry out the coals.
  • You can collect the coal once it’s cool. Choose the solid pieces and avoid crushed charcoal. Separate the ashes from the solid charcoal because too much ash makes it difficult or impossible to ignite old coals. You can put the charcoal in a frying basket and shake off the ash.
  • The touch test is a good way to determine if the charcoal is worth saving. Squeeze the coals (once they are cool) to check if they are worth saving. Coal that’s too ashy will crumble and won’t light again.
  • Be careful where you store your old charcoal. Make sure to keep it in a dry place without any moisture, such as a shed, a bucket with a lid, or a tub. Or, if you plan to grill again soon, leave the charcoal in the smoker with the lid on to keep it dry.

Lighting Old Charcoal

Close up shot of burning charcoal

You should follow several steps to reuse charcoal briquettes:

  1. Add fresh charcoal — It’s difficult to light old charcoal because there’s restricted airflow. To make it easier, fill up the charcoal chimney starter halfway with new charcoal. This way, the pieces won’t be too close together, and there’ll be unrestricted airflow.
  2. Add old charcoal for grilling — You have two options here: Light up new charcoal or add old charcoal before lighting. Whichever route you go, ensure the charcoal lumps are solid and shake the chimney to eliminate loose ash.
  3. Light up the BBQ — Light up the charcoal in the chimney starter with lighter fluid, wait until the burning charcoal gets the grill hot, and start charcoal grilling when the temperature reaches 450 degrees [1].

FAQs

How Many Times Can Charcoal Be Reused?

Charcoal can be reused once. You can try reusing it more than once, but it’ll be difficult to ignite.

What’s the Difference Between Lump Charcoal and Briquettes?

The main difference between lump charcoal and briquettes is that lump charcoal is best for producing intense heat and fast cooking, such as grilling, while briquettes are best for low and slow cooking.

How Long Do You Let the Charcoal Burn Before Cooking?

Let the charcoal burn for about 20 minutes before pouring it into the charcoal barbecue.

Can Charcoal Be Composted?

Yes, charcoal can be composted. Adding crushed charcoal or charcoal lumps to a compost pile will add carbon, which is crucial for composting.

Can You Add New Charcoal to the Old Charcoal?

Yes, you can add new charcoal to the old charcoal. Just keep in mind that it will probably produce less heat than brand-new charcoal.

Should You Reuse Charcoal?

You should reuse all excess charcoal leftover after a grilling session. You can store it in a deep frying basket or a lid with a container.

Make sure to let the hot coals cool and do a squeeze test to check that the pieces are solid and won’t turn into ash. Combine old charcoal with new for easier ignition.

One of the most important things about reusing charcoal is to buy quality charcoal. We’ve reviewed the six best lump charcoals you can buy today. Check them out and get the best charcoal for your grill.


References:

  1. https://www.kingsford.com/grill-guide/how-to-arrange-your-charcoal

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