How To: Don't Burn Money — Reuse Your Charcoal Instead

Don't Burn Money — Reuse Your Charcoal Instead

This is a familiar scenario: you light up the grill, get cooking, eat the fruits of your labor, then clean up every trace of your barbecuing once you're finished — except maybe the hot charcoal, which usually gets dumped right before the next cookout.

But instead of tossing every piece of that barely-used charcoal every time you start the grill again, Cooks Illustrated suggests using those coals one more time. Even though they've been burned once, they'll reignite a second time. So it's a big waste of money if you're throwing them away after one use.

You'll save money, you'll be kinder to the environment (less waste, right?), and you'll look like a real grilling pro at your next cookout.

Image by Heather/Flickr

How to Reuse Charcoal in 3 Easy Steps

Here's the trick: The next time you're finished grilling, don't let the coals slowly die out. Instead, cut off the oxygen supply and stop your charcoal from burning as quickly as possible.

Even if there are still flames, sweep the coals into a heatproof container with a lid (Cook's Illustrated suggests a covered metal garbage can). With no air supply, the flames will disappear, and your charcoal won't burn beyond salvation.

Once your charcoal has cooled, see below for how to reuse it next time.

Step 1: Start with New Charcoal

Fill a chimney starter halfway with fresh charcoal. Although you'll be using your partially burned coals, filling the entire starter with only second-round coals will make it difficult to get a fire started, as the smaller-sized burned coals cut off airflow paths and rest closer together.

Step 2: Add the Used Charcoal

Top your chimney starter off the rest of the way with your used charcoal, and shake the chimney over a trash can to release any loose ash.

Image by ZYDECOPAWS/No Excuses BBQ

Step 3: Light 'Er Up & Go

Light your charcoal as you normally would, and get your grill heated and ready. Then throw on a nice juicy steak, fruit, salad, or whatever, and enjoy.

Image by Joshua Resnick/123RF

Low & Slow Is a No-Go, Though

It's important to note that the best charcoal batches to reuse are those that were first lit for a quick grilling job rather than the low-and-slow type. As Cook's Illustrated notes, the shorter the length of time a batch of charcoal burns, the more pieces there are that are only slightly used.

Even with some coals more burned than others, the entire batch will reignite perfectly. Give your charcoal a quick glance after each round of grilling, and see just how much you can salvage for a thrifty second batch. Your wallet and Mother Earth will thank you!

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Cover image via Stephen Denness/123RF

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