Woah woah woah, easy there.
Were you really going to dispose of that charcoal? Don’t you think it wants to live up to its full potential?
That’s right, you can reuse charcoal for both grilling and smoking. Though, there are a few key differences between a fresh hunk of a charcoal and one that’s been through a session already, and it does change the game slightly.
Here’s the break down of when you CAN reuse charcoal, both briquettes and lump, how used charcoal burns differently, how to get the best use from it, as well as when it’s time to toss it.
It’s almost a certainty that there will be charcoal leftover after any grilling or smoking session. Instead of tossing it out after every use, you can very easily reuse most of the charcoal for your next cook.
This not only helps you save some dosh, but if done right, the quality of the cook will remain unaffected.
If you ask me, that’s a win-win.
So, whether it’s lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes, whether it’s for grilling or smoking, you CAN reuse charcoal.
However, there are some crucial parts to this “reusing” process:
- It’s essential to understand how used charcoal burns differently.
- Using the right amount and lighting it properly makes a huuuuge difference.
- You need to know when you can reuse charcoal and when you should toss it out.
Let’s go further.
Does Used Charcoal Burn As Well As New?
The biggest concern when pondering whether it’s worth reusing charcoal is the fear that the coals won’t burn as well.
The reason I know this is because I used to have this exact same feeling.
However, once you get some experience dealing with used charcoal, you’ll quickly realize that all the “reusable” chunks can actually burn just as hot and consistently as fresh charcoal.
Nonetheless, there are a few differences between fresh and used charcoal that you should be aware of.
Firstly, used charcoal pieces are not as big as fresh charcoal pieces. Because of this, the airflow between the charcoal pieces is a little tighter, which can make it harder to light and harder to produce higher temperatures.
Secondly, because used charcoal has been partially combusted already, it naturally won’t last as long as fresh lump charcoal or briquettes.
So, if you’re smoking with used charcoal you can simply reuse the charcoal to start the snake. If you’re grilling you can mix the used charcoal with some fresh pieces to ensure it reaches high enough temperatures for as long as you need.
Reusing Charcoal Briquettes
I personally reuse charcoal briquettes every single opportunity I get.
Of course, I filter out any smaller, broken, or damp briquettes. Plus I usually only reuse them to light the rest of the charcoal or to start my charcoal snake for smoking.
If you’re looking for consistency I wouldn’t put any used charcoal in the middle of the charcoal snake, as it may encourage unwanted temperature fluctuations when it begins to burn.
Otherwise, any used charcoal briquette that has maintained its shape and is still larger than half a briquette is worth reusing!
Reusing Lump Charcoal
In a way, lump charcoal is much easier to reuse than briquettes. Where briquettes rely on their shape to provide a consistent and even temperature, lump charcoal doesn’t conform.
So, whenever you’re looking to reuse lump charcoal just do a few simple tests.
- Is the lump charcoal still big enough (no smaller than 50% of a normal chunk)?
- Is it dry enough to use?
If it passes these tests, then you’re easily able to use up to 25% used charcoal mixed with 75% or more new lump charcoal — experiencing little to no difference in performance!
Don’t Use Water To Put Out The Charcoal!
There’s a few good reasons you shouldn’t put your charcoal out with water.
- If you’re using charcoal briquettes, then water is going to ruin the consistency and integrity of the briquette. Even if you let it dry, it won’t have the same burn quality!
- Pouring water over your charcoal will cause any ash and debris at the bottom to turn to a nasty paste, making cleaning an absolute nightmare, and encouraging rust and wear on your prized grill!
If it’s an emergency then it’s justified to put your charcoal out with water, but otherwise, it’s simply not worth ruining the charcoal and potentially causing damage or wear to your grill!
Should You Store Used Charcoal?
You’ve finished cooking and your meat is now resting nicely. You have a choice.
You can either simply close all the vents and openings to deprive the charcoal of oxygen, smothering it until it’s all out. Or, you can carefully separate it into an airtight metal container to more quickly extinguish them.
The benefit of doing the latter is to preserve as much charcoal as possible, so the chunks will be bigger if you’re going to reuse them.
Either way, once all the charcoal has been extinguished and is no longer hot, you’re going to want to separate the remaining, larger pieces of charcoal and filter out the ash and smaller pieces.
Keep the reusable charcoal in an airtight container to avoid it absorbing moisture and it’ll be ready for reuse on your next light-up!
Firing Up Used Charcoal
Firing up used charcoal is not the same as igniting fresh charcoal. Unfortunate, yes.
The main difference is that used charcoal is often much smaller, providing less room between the chunks for a healthy airflow.
This restriction of airflow can make things harder to light.
If your pieces are too small it’s highly recommended to mix in some fresh charcoal too, allowing things to catch and burn much more easily.
It also helps to use a charcoal chimney here, but the decision is yours.
If you’re having trouble, check out all the best ways to light charcoal. You can choose to dry it out and reuse it, but the quality won’t be the same.
When To Toss The Charcoal
Of course, one thing to note is that not all charcoal is reusable.
The key to a quality cook is through the consistent and reliable burning of your charcoal.
So, as a rule of thumb, if your used charcoal is smaller than 50% of it’s original size, or if it’s absorbed any moisture, then it’s time to toss it.
Of course, it’s up to you as to where you draw the line. But following this guide, you’ll ensure your quality of cook is not impacted!
The same can be said for old or wet charcoal too.
Whether it’s lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes, you absolutely can reuse charcoal.
The key is ensuring the used charcoal is still larger enough (no smaller than half of its original size) and is completely dry.
If you’re reusing charcoal for smoking, it’s best to use all the used charcoal at the start of your snake or to light your other charcoal.
If you’re reusing charcoal for grilling, it’s best to mix 25% used charcoal with 75% new charcoal, to ensure everything burns consistently well.
If done under these guidelines you won’t notice any impact on your cook, and you won’t have wasted any reusable charcoal!