Can You Reuse Charcoal for Grilling? The Answer May Surprise You


If you’ve ever grilled with charcoal before, chances are you’ve found a few chunks of half-burned charcoal at the bottom of your grill. It seems a waste to throw them out, but reusing them also seems like a grilling no-no. So, can you reuse charcoal?

You can reuse charcoal for both grilling and smoking purposes. Doing so will not affect the taste or quality of your food and is a great way to avoid waste and save money. Every charcoal grill owner can and should reuse their charcoal for these reasons.

Not to mention, there are lots of other uses for used charcoal, all of which we’ll go over in this article! If you’d like to know more about how you can reuse charcoal for grilling and its other purposes, keep reading to learn more.

Will Reusing Your Charcoal Make Your Food Taste Strange?

Reusing charcoal won’t negatively affect the taste of your food. Even if some of it has been burned away, you can still use it the next time. But, you don’t want to only use half-burned charcoal fuel for your next grill session, you want to mix in new with the old. Mostly because it can be challenging to get used charcoal to light. 

Does Reused Charcoal Burn Well?

Reused charcoal does burn well— if you can actually get it to light. The problem with used charcoal is that the pieces tend to be small and can fall together. To get a good fire going, you need to have enough room for airflow between the pieces of charcoal. This is why it’s best to mix in your old charcoal with some new lumps or briquettes. We’ll cover lighting your charcoal for the second time a little later in this article. 

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What Are Some Other Uses For Old Charcoal and Ashes?

Believe it or not, there are several uses for old charcoal and ashes that may surprise you. Most of these uses— other than using the charcoal for cooking again— require that you use natural coal with zero additives. So, if you cook with briquettes, it’s best to just save them for your next grill session. If you use natural lump charcoal, however, you’ve got several options for reusing your old charcoal and ashes. 

Absorb Odors With Old Charcoal

Charcoal is naturally absorbent, so you can use it around the house to absorb odors. You’ll want to remove any ash from your old charcoal before doing this, which is easy enough. Once you have the pieces separated, you can put them in a fine mesh bag or a container with a breathable lid. Then, place the container or bag anywhere you need help with getting rid of odors.

Use Charcoal to Absorb Moisture

Like the method above, you can place charcoal in a fine mesh bag or wrapped in some old clothing to help prevent rust. A little bit of charcoal in a toolbox or placed around a shed can help absorb moisture and prevent rust on metal items. 

Use Old Charcoal as Fertilizer

A little bit of crushed charcoal can do wonders for your garden. People have been using charcoal to remove toxins and add nutrients to soil for centuries. But, too much can have a detrimental effect, so don’t go overboard. A rule of thumb is no more than a pound of charcoal for every 2 square feet of soil.

Adding a little bit of charcoal to your compost pile can also help to make your compost rich and healthy. Just don’t add the ashes— they contain too much alkaline. 

Use Charcoal Ashes For Pest Control

A little bit of natural charcoal ash can help keep aphids away from your tomato plants and slugs from getting into your garden. But too much ash can throw your garden’s pH balance out of whack, so be careful how much you add. Sprinkling ash around your garden can deter some pests until it gets wet and loses its deterrent properties. 

How To Extinguish Your Charcoal For Later Use

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Now that you know that you can use your charcoal for more than just cooking your food, you may be wondering how best to put it out when you’re done. After all, if you let it burn down, you won’t have any leftover charcoal.

The best way to put out the fire and save some charcoal is to close the lid and the vents on your grill. Without oxygen flowing into your charcoal grill, the fire will soon extinguish. Wait for 24 to 48 hours for the charcoal to be cool enough to touch, then you can separate it from the ash and do what you want with it.

Another good way to do this is to safely scoop your ash into a metal container with a lid. You’ll want to be mindful of where you place the container with the hot coals in it, because it will get hot. Once you have the coals in the container, put the lid on it to starve the fire of oxygen. Once again, you’ll want to wait 24 to 48 hours for them to be safe to touch. 

Lastly, if you absolutely can’t wait a day or two for your coals to extinguish, you can use water in a heat-resistant container and tongs. Carefully remove the hot coals from your grill with the tongs, and transfer them into the water, which will extinguish them quickly.

The problem with this method is that you can’t use the coals again right away. Once you’re sure they’re safe to remove from the water, you’ll have to set them in the sun for a day or two to dry out. But, once they’re dry, you can use them for grilling again.  

How To Separate Charcoal From Ash

The best way to separate charcoal from ash is to use some sort of sifter. If you don’t already have one, get a kick ash basket. They work great for this purpose.

An excellent way to tell if your charcoal is okay to use again is by applying a little pressure. If you grab a cold piece of charcoal and squeeze it, you’ll be able to tell if it’s still good. If it’s mostly ash, the coal will break apart in your fingers. If it stays together, you can reuse it the next time you grill!

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Lighting Your Charcoal— For the Second Time

Once you’ve let your old charcoal cool and then separated it from the ash, you can use it again. But, getting old charcoal to light can be difficult because the pieces tend to be small and don’t allow for the airflow needed to start a fire.

To avoid the frustration of trying to get old charcoal to light, simply mix it in with new charcoal. Whether you’re using a charcoal chimney starter or simply piling the charcoal in your grill, you’ll want to layer the old and the new. This will allow for enough airflow to get a good fire going.

You can also reuse your charcoal if you’re going to be cooking long enough to warrant adding more fuel to your grill. You can keep the old charcoal to the side and use it to keep your cook fire going by combining the old pieces on top of the new, burning coals. If you start to save your half-burned charcoal regularly, you’ll be surprised at how much money you can save. 

In Conclusion

You can absolutely reuse charcoal. It will save you money, and can also be used in several different ways. If you don’t want to reuse your charcoal for cooking, you can use it as an odor absorber. Or, you can use it to replenish your garden soil and add nutrients to your compost pile. You can also use charcoal ash to keep some types of pests away from your garden.

Just remember that it’s best to only use all-natural, additive-free charcoal for anything other than cooking. Most briquettes have additives that can be detrimental to your soil, garden, and compost.

The best way to put out your coals is to close your grill vents and make sure the lid is secure. Starving the coals of oxygen will cause the fire to go out and will usually leave behind some usable chunks of charcoal. Separate the usable pieces from the ashes using a kick ash basket or a similar sifter. 

However, you can also place the hot coals in a heat resistant container or a bucket of water, if you really need to. Don’t douse your coals in water while they’re still in your grill. The change in temperature can cause cracking, and the water can cause rust. 


Anytime you’re handling hot coals, it’s a good idea to wear protective gloves to avoid burns. Thanks for reading. Be careful and happy grilling!

Justin

Justin Childress is the creator of Sunshineandplay.com. He is also a devoted husband and father of his 1 year old son Gabriel. Justin enjoys spending time with family, reading, and, of course, contributing to Sunshineandplay.com.

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