Charcoal is the best and most traditional fuel source for grilling and smoking. It performs exceptionally well at high and low heats and gives off combustion byproducts when it burns which contribute to the barbecue flavor we absolutely adore. There might have been a time you wondered how long charcoal actually lasts for before it goes bad. Or had an old bag you’ve found and want to test to see if it’s still good. But does charcoal actually expire?
Does Charcoal Go Bad or Expire?
In fact, charcoal does not expire, and won’t go bad over time as long as long as it avoids moisture. However, if you’re charcoal has additives, which can help it light, these can expire which makes the charcoal harder to light. This, and if the charcoal has absorbed a lot of moisture are the main reasons old charcoal may not burn as effectively as it should. Whether you’re dealing with lump charcoal or top quality charcoal briquettes it’s important to make sure it burns well, as this will play a big part in the success of your meal.
How Long Can You Keep Charcoal?
So long as your charcoal is kept dry and not exposed to the elements there is no expiry time of charcoal itself. So if you’re using 100% natural charcoal with no additives, you could use it 10 years later and it would still burn just as effectively, so long as it hasn’t absorbed excess moisture.
Using high quality charcoal will also make it less likely to break down into smaller pieces or dust over time. Take a look at the best charcoal for grilling or the best charcoal for smoking.
What Makes Charcoal Go Bad?
The number one contributor that impacts charcoal quality over time is how much moisture it has absorbed. If the charcoal has too much moisture it will lead to incomplete charcoal combustion, this will cause uneven temperatures and inconsistent burning which will affect the sear when grilling or could lead to developing a bitter taste on the meat when smoking.
Testing Old Charcoal
If you suspect your charcoal has been exposed to moisture over time you can do a quick test to see how quickly and effectively it burns. The easiest way to do so is to load up the chimney starter and light the charcoal. If the charcoal looks like it’s struggling to light up, stay lit, or is burning unevenly it’s a good sign that it’s absorbed too much moisture.
If you use lighter fluid to help start the charcoal be sure to let it burn for at least 30 minutes before use. Ideally, you can use a natural fire starter, or sawdust/wood shavings and/or shredded paper as a more natural way of light the charcoal.
How To Dry Damp Charcoal
If your charcoal has been soaked or is quite damp you may not be able to simply dry it out, and unfortunately might have to say your goodbyes. However, if you think your charcoal is a little damp, you can try to dry out excess moisture to return it to a reusable state. Simply spread the charcoal out on some baking paper in full sunlight for a day or two, and then test it by lighting some, or firing up the chimney starter.
if you’ve got damp charcoal, for all your options check out the full guide to what happens when charcoal gets wet.
How To Store Charcoal Properly
Use The Right Type Of Container
Usually lump charcoal or briquettes will come in a thick paper bag. Although convenient, and dry to begin with, the paper can quite easily become damp. It’s best to find a plastic or metal, waterproof container that seals well. So long as the bag remains dry you can simply put the bag into the container for convenience.
Choose A Good Storage Place
Choosing a good storage place for your charcoal is equally important. Doesn’t matter the container, if you leave it out in the open it’s much easier to attract unwanted moisture. It’s best to keep in a dry area undercover. Usually a garage or well covered shed will be fine as long as the charcoal is kept in a sealed metal or plastic container. If you live in a humid area it’s important to take extra care, as it’s much more likely that your charcoal will spoil if not maintained well in a very dry area.
If you’re really in doubt that your charcoal is usable, it’s best not to risk it. It would be tragic to get everything prepared and going only to find out that it’s not burning properly. Luckily charcoal isn’t expensive, but you can always take steps to keep the quality of the charcoal by keeping it in a seal-able, or moisture-proof container, and kept in a dry location away from the elements.