Tips On How to Reuse Charcoal for Smoking and Save Money

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Last Updated on July 15, 2021
Doug Stephen

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research, he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.

reuse charcoal for smoking

Barbecuing can be fun, exciting, and utterly fulfilling. Unfortunately, the costs associated with grilling even the simplest BBQ recipe can leave a huge dent in your finances. 

You have to buy the meat, ingredients, and raw materials like charcoal or briquettes. Most importantly, you have to acquire, rent, or borrow and set up a grill to complete the jigsaw. All these activities cost quite a bit of cash.

To make it worse, most grillers usually dump leftover coal as soon as the grilling session is over, instead of saving it for the next barbecue. 

And this brings us to the big question – can you reuse charcoal for smoking?

Well, the short and simple answer to this question is YES. You can reuse charcoal for smoking and save some cash. Here are a few tips on how to go about it.

1. Steps on how to reuse charcoal for smoking

briquettes

It is always a good idea to preserve your leftover charcoal soon after completing your smoking exercise. The whole point is to save as much charcoal as possible for your next cook. 

One of the best ways to do so is to extinguish the burning charcoal by shutting off the vents of your grill. Charcoal requires oxygen to burn thus shutting off the vents will cut off the oxygen supply by restricting the amount of air flowing into the grill.

If you are not planning to use your grill anytime soon, then you should clean it up immediately. Don’t let the coal remain in the grill if it is still burning. Instead, transfer the coal to a heat-resistant container that has a lid and cover it. The flames will die out naturally within a few minutes.

You can reuse your leftover charcoal at any time as long you keep them dry. 

Here are THREE simple steps on how to reuse charcoal for smoking.

Step 1 – Start with Fresh Charcoal

Lighting old, leftover charcoal requires a lot of time and effort since burned coals sit closer together and somehow restrict airflow paths. To avoid the struggle, you should fill up your chimney starter halfway with fresh, solid charcoal, which is much easier to light.

This makes a lot of sense given that fresh charcoal does not rest close to each other. The spaces between the coals allow for unrestricted flow of oxygen, which is necessary for combustion. 

Step 2 – Add the old charcoal

At this stage, you have two options. You can fire up your fresh charcoal and then add the old charcoal, or you can add the old charcoal before lighting the chimney. Whatever your preferences, make sure your old pieces of charcoal are solid and can hold together under pressure. You can test this by squeezing the coal with your fingers.

Step 3 – Light up your grill

Light up the charcoal in the chimney starter as usual and transfer the coal to your grill once it begins to burn.

2. Can old leftover charcoal burn as hot as new, fresh charcoal?

leftover coals

The heat produced by leftover charcoal and fresh charcoal is obviously not the same. You will notice a slight difference in how new and reused charcoals burn. 

The heat produced by new pieces of charcoal is intense since the coals are usually bigger with better spacing between them. This allows for oxygen to flow between the airspaces freely. In turn, the fresh coals will burn hotter and raise the temperature of your grill steadily.

Conversely, reused coals are smaller and are not as solid as fresh coals. This means they tend to sit closer together, restricting airflow between the coals. With limited oxygen supply, reused coal cannot burn as hot as fresh charcoal. 

This explains why it is so difficult to light up recycled coals and maintain the same high temperatures as when using fresh charcoal.

3. How many times can you reuse charcoal for smoking?

Many grillers make the mistake of disposing of leftover charcoal once they finish cooking. Throwing away leftover coal is not only a big waste of money but also a waste of resources. 

You can reuse charcoal for smoking more than once as long as the coals are a bit solid and can withstand pressure. Charcoal is a recyclable resource, meaning you can use it several times, in different cooking sessions. 

You only need to put off burning coal immediately after the smoking exercise and store it in a dry place until your next barbecue.

4. How to collect and store leftover charcoal for reuse

How you collect and store leftover coals will determine if they will remain reusable for your next barbecue. When collecting charcoal for reuse, you should pick the most solid pieces and separate the ashes from the rest of the leftover pile. The presence of excessive ash will prevent the old coals from igniting.

One way to ensure you pick the right pieces is to place the old coals in a frying basket and shake off the excessive ash. You can also squeeze the remaining pieces to determine whether they are worth keeping for your next barbecue. If the coals are too ashy, they will crumble under pressure and not light.

The site that you pick to store your charcoal is equally important. Ideally, it should be completely dry and moisture-free. Storing your charcoal lumps in a damp place will only make it more difficult to light them.

5. Benefits of reusing charcoal for smoking

The benefits of reusing charcoal are almost endless. Here is a list of some of the most prominent 

Saves money

As mentioned earlier, hosting a barbecue every other week can be costly, given that you have to buy charcoal and other raw materials every time. However, you can cut down on costs by opting to reuse leftover coal from the previous cooking session.

Eco-friendly

Recycling and reusing leftover charcoal is an eco-friendly practice. It prevents the wastage of resources since we don’t have to cut down more trees and lumber to make charcoal.

Doug Stephen

Doug Stephen

Final Thoughts: Reusing Charcoal for Smoking

As you can see, it is possible to reuse your leftover charcoal lumps. All you have to do is to collect and store them properly until your next smoking or grilling exercise. Even though it does not burn as hot as new charcoal, reused coals are still capable of doing the job.