Whether you’ve left your charcoal out in the rain, even for a moment, or if it’s been stored in damp conditions, don’t panic. There are several options you can take, and depending on how wet the charcoal got you may be able to salvage some of your charcoal!
However, depending on the severity and the quality of the charcoal you have you may have no choice but to cut your losses and start over. Here’s everything you need to know if your charcoal gets wet.
What Happens If My Charcoal Gets Wet?
Most experienced grillers know how to store charcoal properly. This is because we’ve all learnt the hard way!
However, it doesn’t matter how experienced you are, unfortunately you can still get caught off guard by a sudden rain shower or accidentally leave your charcoal in a damp place during storage.
When your charcoal gets wet, the moisture seeps into the briquettes or lump charcoal. This makes them near impossible to light. Damp or wet charcoal that does catch fire will likely produce too much smoke and will burn out much more quickly, signalling incomplete combustion.
If your charcoal is only a little damp you can try drying it out in the sun on a baking tray or baking paper. However, drying your charcoal doesn’t work for every type–some brands of charcoal briquettes will likely fall apart and crumble into powder and pieces and will be unusable.
After your charcoal has been wet it doesn’t tend to perform as well as a fresh batch, even when dried. But, for those pieces that do dry out, you can mix them with equal portions of fresh dry charcoal, just to make sure things burn more consistently. However, if your charcoal won’t light, it’s probably because it’s still too damp.
If that’s the case, you can always take the loss and get yourself a new batch.
Can You Use Charcoal After It Has Gotten Wet?
Depending on how wet we are talking, charcoal may either be able to be used with little no to effect, or won’t light at all. If it’s only been drizzled on by the rain, or stored in slightly damp conditions then you have a good chance of drying it out. Particularly if you are using high quality charcoal briquettes, or the best lump charcoal you can get your hands.
Usually it will be obvious if the charcoal is too soaked to dry out as it will be crumbly and lose it shape. This happens more frequently with lower quality charcoal briquettes, or if the charcoal is just too wet.
If you’ve got adverse weather conditions ahead, check out this full guide to charcoal grilling or smoking in the rain, wind, or cold.
Can You Dry Out Charcoal?
You can dry out charcoal, to varying success depending on how wet it’s gotten. If your charcoal only got a little wet then it’s possible to revive it to its former glory. For those that have absorbed a lot of moisture, you can try but there’s a possibility they are too far gone.
To dry out your charcoal, carefully dump the bag onto a dry surface. Take the lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes that look salvageable. Visually you should be able to tell if it’s worth separating, and if in any doubt, your instincts are probably right!
Place the salvaged charcoal on a baking tray lined with baking paper and set in a sunny place, either sheltered outside or inside. Depending on how much moisture the charcoal absorbed the process can take between a couple of hours and a couple of days.
No matter how long you are leaving the charcoal out, always flip it halfway through so that the other side can get direct sunlight too. Once the charcoal appears drier, transfer it carefully into an airtight container to preserve it until you’re ready to fire up the grill.
If it does start to smoke too much or doesn’t light properly however, you may have to rethink using your dried charcoal. Although it might still be usable, it’s not a substitute for a fresh bag.
Using Dried Out Charcoal
While your charcoal might need a little extra help to get started, you can use it just like regular charcoal.
Whether you’re using a charcoal chimney, or any other of the ways to light charcoal, it’s recommended to always mix your dried charcoal with 50% fresh charcoal, if possible. This helps things stay at a consistent temperature and helps the other charcoal along.
For best results, you might want to line the bottom of the grill with new charcoal, then pour the dried charcoal on top. This makes it easier to light the briquettes and get a fire going. If it’s not burning adequately you can always add more charcoal while cooking.
If you have a chimney starter on hand, pile 50% new and 50% dried briquettes into the chimney, and light a bunch of newspaper or other natural starter. Just like normal, once they’re all ashy and have been going for about 15 minutes pour the briquettes into the grill and start cooking as you would normally.
How To Keep Charcoal Dry
Ultimately, keeping your charcoal dry is the best way to avoid this situation in the first place. Store your charcoal in a tight, waterproof container that doesn’t allow moisture to seep in. The bags that charcoal comes in, even if you roll it up well, are not airtight. Therefore, if you want to keep it in the bag you can, but place it into a metal or plastic sealable airtight bin.
Additionally, don’t leave your charcoal sitting outside even if it’s sunny. Like ever. It only takes seconds for a surprise rain shower to soak your charcoal. Keep your charcoal sealed in a covered area until you’re ready to grill, then store them immediately after you’re done.
Finally, make sure to store your charcoal in a cool, dry place with no humidity. If you experience humidity in your area, just be wary and store your charcoal in an airtight container in the driest place you have.
Most people store their charcoal briquettes in the basement, shed or garage. For extra protection, place your charcoal on an elevated space like a shelf so it won’t absorb moisture from the ground. It’s important to note that charcoal does not go bad or expire, so long as it doesn’t absorb moisture.