Can Charcoal Go Bad?

Can charcoal go bad

It is summer. The sun is beating overhead, and the cicadas are buzzing, as the air grows thick with humidity. During this time of year, it is better to try to avoid the sun during the day and wait for the evening when it is cooler, if only ever so slightly.

Most people would think that the reason for waiting for the heat to die down is for relaxing, and they would be partly right. While the evening is the best time to grab a cold one and sit in a comfy lawn chair, it is also the best time to heat up your barbecue.

Even with the excess heat, nothing beats a barbecue with some cold drinks and good friends in the summer months. It may not beat the heat, but it certainly makes it bearable. Yet, you haven’t fired up that beast in almost a year.

Apart from checking it for cracks or dirt, there is something else you need to check as well. That is whether you have any charcoal. If you do, then great! But you also might pause for a moment. It’s been a year, after all, is the charcoal bed? Can charcoal even go bad?

In this article, we will seek to quell your barbecue bad vibes and find out the truth about whether charcoal can go bad or not.

What Is Charcoal?

Charcoal is a substance that is essentially the residue of left-over black carbon when you superheat wood or other substances.

In order to achieve this, wood must be placed in an area that has minimal oxygen, normally a kiln or a charcoal furnace. This area has to have minimal oxygen in it and must also have the ability to be sealed, so no further oxygen can enter it.

Once you have found a suitable area, the wood is placed inside and is burned slowly, but strongly and consistently for a few days – normally 5 or so.

During this point of the process, air is allowed in to make sure the fire keeps burning. Once the burning process has finished, the area or building is sealed to stop any more air entering.

Letting air into the charcoal chamber and onto the charcoal can change the substance before it is complete. The whole point is to drive any water or other impurities to be left with pure carbon residue.

In the remaining heat of the kiln or furnace, these impurities will be driven off leaving you with nothing by carbon, but if the air is let in, it can bring moisture and humidity with it thus ruining your charcoal.

Although this process seems arduous, it creates a substance that burns at a much higher temperature than wood, releases only heat and carbon dioxide, and doesn’t have a visible and dangerous flame, making it ideal for most household applications.

Does Charcoal Go Bad?


Charcoal shouldn’t go bad. It is essentially made of a primary element and goes through a long process to be made, so it really shouldn’t go bad. However, in the right circumstances, it can be more difficult to light than it should be.

The most common problem that makes charcoal more difficult to use is storing it improperly or in the wrong place.

People have a tendency to think that charcoal is tough and unbreakable, but it is highly susceptible to water and other liquids. There is a reason that so much effort is made to drive off water in the charcoal-making process.

If left in a damp area or if the bag the charcoal is in has gotten wet, you will have a very difficult time lighting it. Luckily, charcoal has been made, so it doesn’t retain water, but even after you dry it out, it will take longer to light than it should.

Length of time can also affect charcoal if you are using paper bags to store them. Most charcoal comes in a big paper bag, which is great for recycling but terrible for keeping charcoal long term.

If you live in a dry climate, either hot or cold, then this is okay, but if you live anywhere that experiences regular rains or humidity, then that charcoal will become more difficult to light over time even if stored in a cool, dry place.

Therefore, I suggest ditching the paper bag for a designated charcoal tub or box that can be sealed with a lid.

Keeping air out keeps charcoal in a perfect state to be used, and there is no better way to do this than with a specific box. It doesn’t have to be big, wide, or deep, just big enough and airtight.

If you want some other containers you could be storing charcoal in, here are some options, barring a big airtight box.

A burlap sack or a mesh bag can help to stop your charcoal from becoming moist. These bags are used by farmers and gardeners alike to store onions and potatoes as they prevent moisture from building up on the outside of the vegetables, while still letting it escape.

This can only work in a place where you don’t mind the floor getting dirty, though, as the dust from the charcoal will fall through the holes.

Whatever the case may be, make sure to store your charcoal in a dry place away from direct sunlight. A garage, a basement, or a shed will do the trick. If you do, then your charcoal should keep for many years to come.

Types Of Charcoal

There are a few different things that can be made into charcoal, and each one of these produces a different type of charcoal. So without further ado, here are a couple of different charcoal types:

Lump Charcoal

This charcoal is made from hardwood and can be quite difficult and expensive to get. Traditionally, this was the charcoal that you would make in the past, but as hardwood has become rarer, so too has this charcoal. This charcoal gives off a sweet flavor when barbecuing.

Common Charcoal

This is the standard charcoal you see in the supermarket or DIY store. It is made from either peat, wood, coal, coconut shells, or petroleum.

Activated Charcoal

This charcoal is very similar to and is in fact made from the common type of charcoal but is made for medical use and the filtering of chemicals.

Common charcoal is heated in the presence of gas, which leads the charcoal to develop pores in its structure. These pores allow the charcoal to trap chemicals within itself and thus act as a fantastic medical filter.

There are many more types of charcoal out there, including Japanese and sugar charcoal, but these are the most common in the western world today.

Final Thoughts

Charcoal is made in such a way that it should never be totally unusable. However, it can become much more difficult and arduous to use, if it is not stored correctly or comes into contact with water.

The best way to prevent this is through careful storage of the charcoal in a dry and safe space. It can even last years if you store it right, meaning that that summer barbecue should never be put off because the charcoal won’t ignite.


Annie Plummer
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