Charcoal is one of the best fuels out there. Whether you’re using a barbecue, smoker, or even just cooking on a campfire, charcoal is one of your best friends.
While charcoal is much cheaper and easier to find than regular coal, it will still cost you especially if you go through it quickly.
If you want to save some money you might consider reusing the charcoal you’ve already burned.
But can you actually reuse charcoal, and how will it affect the quality of your grill? Don’t worry, because we’ve got all your answers right here.
This guide will cover whether you can reuse charcoal, and how reusing the charcoal you’ve already burned affects the quality of your barbecue.
What Happens To Charcoal When You Burn It?
First, let’s take a look at what happens to charcoal after it’s been burned. If you have ever cooked with charcoal before, then you know that when it burns the outside turns ashy and white.
The reason why this happens is that the carbon in the charcoal has oxidized (where the burned carbon combines with the oxygen in the air).
This doesn’t mean that the charcoal has lost its ability to burn completely through.
In fact, most of the time, you’ll see people say that charcoal loses about 25% of its weight during combustion.
That means that the majority of leftover charcoal hasn’t been oxidized and can still burn. That said, you won’t be able to get the same results with used charcoal as you get with fresh stuff.
So Can You Reuse Charcoal?
Now you know what happens to charcoal when it’s burned, is it possible to reuse charcoal that you’ve already burned?
The short answer is that yes, you can reuse charcoal. Just because you’ve burned it once already doesn’t mean that you can’t light it again.
However, there are some issues with reusing charcoal that means you might struggle to get a good quality flame.
First, used charcoal is covered in a layer of ash and oxidized material. This isn’t particularly flammable, and as a result, the charcoal is much harder to ignite.
So while there is usable material in burned charcoal, you’ll have to clear away at least most of this oxidized layer before you can reuse the charcoal beneath it.
This also greatly reduces the amount of fuel available, especially if the charcoal previously burned for a long time. Even if there is usable charcoal left over, you might not have a massive amount at your disposal.
You’ll have much better results with old charcoal that was only lit for a short while. The longer the charcoal burns, the more of it gets oxidized and the less usable charcoal you have to work with.
If the charcoal wasn’t burning for too long, then you’ll get much better results than completely charred lumps. You’re also more likely to be left with some completely untouched lumps, and these can be reused without any issues at all.
It might take a while to prepare it for use, and you won’t have as good of an experience, but there’s nothing stopping you from reusing your old charcoal in your barbecue or smoker.
So don’t worry if you’ve spent a ton on some fresh charcoal, only to have to stop burning it after 15 minutes. You haven’t wasted your money!
How Does Reusing Charcoal Affect Its Quality?
As mentioned before, you’re not likely to get as good a quality of fire by reusing charcoal as you will with fresh charcoal.
While reusing old charcoal is a great way to save money and prevent wasting good fuel, there are a couple of sacrifices you’ll have to make in the process.
If you want to keep using the same charcoal, then you need to treat it differently than you would fresh charcoal.
For example, you’ll need to clean off the ash and oxidized material before you start lighting it again. You’ll also need to ensure that you’re getting enough oxygen into the chamber so that the charcoal doesn’t go out.
It’s best to avoid using charcoal that’s been sitting around for a long time, since it will have gotten very dry and hard. This will cause it to burn at a lower temperature and release more smoke.
Because of its smaller size, the lumps of charcoal will be much closer together.
This will reduce the airflow between them; because oxygen is a key part of combustion, a lower airflow means that the charcoal won’t be able to get as hot as it would if it was fresh.
You’ll be looking at a much lower maximum temperature, so bear this in mind if you’re going to be using the charcoal for cooking.
Another factor that will affect the quality of your old charcoal is how you store it. Just like normal charcoal, you’ll need to store it properly to make sure you can light and burn it as intended.
If your charcoal gets damp, regardless of how fresh it is, it will burn at a lower temperature and give off more heat.
The same goes for if the charcoal gets dried out, and failing to remove the layer of ash from the outside can let it harden and render the charcoal completely unusable.
How To Store Old Charcoal So You Can Reuse It?
If you want to keep old charcoal so you can reuse it at a later date, here is how you need to store it.
First, remove any ash and oxidized charcoal from the outside until you’re left with usable lumps. This will stop the layer from hardening and prevent the charcoal from lighting.
Depending on how long it will be before you use the charcoal again, you can get away with leaving it in the barbecue or smoker that it will be used in.
Keep the lid on to prevent rain or water from getting in, and don’t leave it for too long.
Storing the charcoal long-term is a bit trickier. Find a cool, dry spot for the charcoal in a shed or cupboard, and keep it in a large container with a lid.
Metal is the best material, as something like wood will absorb moisture and can rot over time. Keep the charcoal away from moisture, wind, and hot or cold temperatures.
Reusing old charcoal is a great way to save money and reduce costs. While you won’t get the same performance from reusing charcoal, you’ll still have no issues with lighting and burning it.
Just be careful if you’re cooking with old charcoal, as you won’t get as high a temperature.
That said, reusing charcoal is a simple way to stop wasting fuel and money, and you should have no problem using old charcoal in your barbecue, campfire, or smoker!