I would save a dollar or two if I can on almost anything, but risking the quality and the taste of my food is where I draw the line.
That is why I wondered whether resuing charcoal for grilling and smoking would degrade the quality of the food I cooked during our barbecue last weekend.
Charcoal is a perfect fuel type as it burns slowly but still gives enough heat to cook food at either high or low temperatures.
It can also give a little bit of that authentic barbecue flavor to the nice food. Saving and reusing charcoal can save money but there are some limits.
Charcoal can still burn out but there are frequently the remaining embers that do not burn out and it makes me wonder whether you can use it for the next barbecue or not.
This post has some interesting information about charcoal and how you can reuse it to save some coins.
Can You Reuse Charcoal For Grilling Or Smoking?
Yes, you can reuse charcoal for grilling or smoking food, and this is a good way to save money and is a huge advantage of charcoal grills compared to other types of grills.
You can use the leftover charcoal for the next cooking session most of the time. If the grill or smoker is extinguished properly you can save as much charcoal as possible.
You can use Charcoal for grilling and ‘fast and hot‘ cooking methods. Charcoal burns hot when reusing in most cases but it is not as good in low and slow cooking.
While leftover charcoal can produce heat, it will not last long for cooking sessions like smoking. But, you can use it to produce the needed heat for smoking.
Again, you have to extinguish the grill properly to save the charcoal inside the firebox and reuse them properly.
How To Reuse Old Charcoal
First, extinguish the remaining charcoal in the grill. You can do this by closing the grill’s lid and all the vents to suffocate the flames inside.
If you need to clean the grill immediately, then you can extinguish the charcoals by dipping them one by one in a bucket of water.
Allow the charcoals to dry and follow these simple steps to reuse them for grilling or smoking.
Start with fresh charcoals and fill up a chimney starter halfway with the fresh charcoals. You will still be using the old charcoals but it is easier to start with a fresh batch of charcoal.
The old charcoals will have smaller sizes and can block the chimney’s air vents, and they will also sit closer and block proper airflow, making it hard to start with old charcoal.
Add the old charcoal to the chimney starter until it is full. Shake the chimney over a bucket or a garbage bag to release any loose ash.
Light up the chimney starter from the bottom so the fresh charcoals will light up first and easily let the fire climb up to the older charcoals.
Once the charcoals light up, place them in the grill’s firebox and you are ready to cook.
How Many Times Can You Reuse Charcoal?
You can use charcoals once after saving and storing them in a dry place. Chances are, charcoal will burn out on the second cook so it will be almost impossible to use it for the third time.
This also depends on how long the charcoals were burning during the first use. If you use charcoals for only about an hour or two, they will most likely be able to ignite the second time.
Some types of charcoal that will last longer while others do not. You cannot reuse some charcoals brands for a second time but will they be able to burn hot the second time?
Will Your Old Charcoal Burn Still Burn Hot?
We now know that old charcoal will still re-light and can be used for a second time but will it still burn hot? Yes, reused charcoal will not lose heat but it will burn for a shorter time.
The old charcoals will not burn as hot as the new ones, especially when you use them independently.
If there are no new and fresh charcoals, the old charcoals will not burn as hot or the grill will need more charcoal. So the burnt charcoals need to be stored properly to save as many as you can.
How To Store Charcoal?
The first thing to extinguish the charcoal grill by closing the lid and all the vents. This prevents air from igniting or feeding the flames inside the firebox.
If this method is ineffective, you can extinguish the charcoal by water. The downside here is that you need the charcoals to dry before using them again.
Drying the charcoals is easy as they can be left under the sun to dry. Once dry, you can clean the charcoal by shaking off the remaining ashes.
Once clean and dry, store the charcoals in a non-combustible container or a zip-lock bag if there are not many. The goal is to prevent moisture from getting to the charcoals and heat as well.
Putting a silica pack in the bag or container with the charcoals can also help. Ensure that the charcoals are completely dry and cool before placing them in the container to keep moisture out.
Can You Use Charcoal After Wet?
Yes, as long as you dry the charcoals after extinguishing them with water, they will still burn and can be used for another round of cooking.
There are cheap types of charcoal that will simply crumble when wet, and some will not produce a lot of heat when you reuse them so this depends on the quality of charcoals.
There is nothing lost in trying so after extinguishing the charcoals with water, you can test if they will still ignite after they are dried. But how will you reignite them?
Can You Re-light Old Charcoal?
It is easy to re-light old charcoal using firestarters like sticks, fabric, or pine needles. It will also be easier with the help of new and fresh charcoals.
Relighting the old charcoals might take around 15 to 20 minutes when lit independently. Putting new and fresh charcoals first in the starter will be easier.
It is important to remember never to use chemicals such as lighter fluid to relight the old charcoals as the chemicals can seep through the food.
The old charcoals will burn cleaner when relit with new and fresh charcoals.
Can You Add New Charcoal To Old Charcoal?
Yes, the old charcoal will burn or light up easier with the help of new charcoal. New charcoal is larger and will allow better airflow to light up the old charcoals.
You can also add new charcoals while cooking but it is better if the new charcoals light up before adding to the grill firebox to keep a consistent temperature.
Whether BBQ grilling or smoking, you can add new charcoals to old charcoal to heat the grill or keep consistent heat.
As a rule of thumb, it is best to use 75% new charcoal and 25% old charcoal to maintain the heat.
This will also improve the grill and turn the old charcoals to ash once they use up all their energy.
What To Do With Charcoal Ashes
Charcoal ashes should be disposed of properly. That goes with either lump charcoal or briquettes as there is not much use for ashes from charcoals.
Charcoal made from all-natural wood can produce more ashes but you can throw these ashes in the compost pit.
Other types of charcoal that you process with chemicals should be wrapped in aluminum foil and thrown in the garbage, preferably in the landfill cart.
Lump charcoal and briquettes produce different types of ashes but lump charcoal is better as it does not have any chemicals.
On the other hand, Briquettes are made with some binders and fillers and are carbonized you can dispose them in the garbage instead of the compost pit.
This is not the only difference between lump charcoal and briquettes, however. They have different compositions so they burn differently even at the second use.
Which Is Better For Reusing: Lump Charcoal or Charcoal Briquettes?
The answer to this question depends on the cooking method you use, so let us dissect each to know which type of charcoal is better at cooking.
Lump charcoal is better for reusing when grilling at high temperatures. They burn hot and fast so using them in smokers will not yield the expected results.
There are lump charcoals for smoking and they can be easily tested to see if they are still good to be reused or not. The same goes for lump charcoal used for grilling.
To test lump charcoal, use tongs after extinguishing the lump charcoal and lightly press the old charcoal. If the lump charcoal breaks down easily, it is best to get rid of it.
Lump charcoal burns naturally and burns hot and fast so resued lump charcoal is better for grilling.
Charcoal briquettes are compact sawdust that has been carbonized so they are better for smoking since they burn cold but they burn longer.
Leftover or used charcoal briquettes will still have a longer burning time than used lump charcoal so they are better for low and slow cooking.
Old briquettes still need fresh briquettes to light up properly and so the cooking process will not come to a pause halfway through it because the old briquettes burnt out.
Both lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes might not last that long during the second use but the used charcoals have other uses besides cooking.
Other Uses For Charcoal
Compost NourishmentIf the compost pit smells like ammonia, charcoal can help by absorbing the smell and adding carbon, which can help with the ammonia and the overall nourishment of the compost.
Some people consider charcoal as black gold because charcoal can add nutrients to the soil like how it does with compost pits.
Crushed charcoal is also proven to revive and improve depleted soil and does a better job than compost or manure.
You might have noticed the charcoal on your mom’s orchids. This will help make beautiful flowers as well.
2. Rust Reducer
Charcoal does a great job of absorbing moisture so one trick I learned recently is placing the charcoals in a wire mesh and placing it inside my toolbox to absorb moisture and reduce rust development.
3. Keep Air Fresh
Placing charcoals in an open bowl or perforated bags will help absorb moisture and odors. This can work great in shoes and even in refrigerators that smell.
4. Upset Stomach Remedy
Activated charcoal is included in medicines and during ancient times, charcoal was used to remedy diarrhea and upset stomachs.
Chewing on a small piece of charcoal will help the body absorb toxins for a better feeling.
5. Shine And Polish
Carbon can be used to remove rust and to polish silverware but it can also make your teeth shine. Toothpaste with charcoal is a thing and they are effective in cleaning the teeth.
You can use charcoal to play on the pavement with the kids. You can draw with charcoal and play games like hopscotch or just simply let kids enjoy drawing as charcoal can be washed off easily from concrete.
So aside from grilling BBQ or smoking meat, there are several uses for charcoals and there is no need to throw away the leftover charcoals in the firebox after cooking.
It can help save money in the long run as there is no need to buy charcoal every time a cooking session is up.
Reusing the leftover charcoal in the firebox will cook just about anything.
They help the environment and there is no need to worry about the quality of food cooked as used charcoals will cook foods just as good as fresh ones when done right!