What to Do With Charcoal After Grilling

The thinking person’s guide to what to do with the charcoal post-grilling.

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The weather’s getting nice, which means it’s time to dust off the kettle, and fire it up for the grilling season. As much as you like cooking in the confines of your kitchen, nothing beats grilling outside over an open flame.

But when you’re done grilling and your belly’s full, what do you do with all that charcoal? Believe it or not, used charcoal can be very handy to have around the house. Below, we show you what you can do with the charcoal after the cookout.

Can You Reuse Used Charcoal for Grilling?

You can reuse certain pieces of charcoal for grilling. But first, you need to let them cool and collect them safely. So let’s talk about the best method for safe collection of used charcoal.

After grilling, smother the fire by closing the lid and shutting the vents, then let the grill sit for a day or two. Patience, as they say, is a virtue: the longer you let the embers cool, the safer it is.

Once the coals have cooled completely, use a sieve to filter out the leftover whole pieces from the ashes. You want to keep only the pieces that stay firm when you squeeze them. If they crumble under the pressure, they are just ash.

Shake the ashes off—and store the used coals for another day.

Now, when it comes to lighting them again, there are a few things you should know about using used charcoal for grilling:

Some time ago, the folks at Cook’s Illustrated tried to light a chimney starter filled entirely with used coals.

They failed.

The used coals nested so tightly together in the that they obstructed the air supply and the fire could not start. So, when reusing coals, what you want to do is fill the bottom half of the chimney starter with new coals and put the used coals on top.

Storing the Charcoal

Storing your charcoal will mostly depend on when you next plan to use it.

If you plan to light your used charcoal soon, you can leave the good lumps in the grill and filter them out in a few days. This is the quickest and easiest way to store used charcoal while keeping it nice and dry. Of course, you will need to keep the lid on the grill while you store them in it.

If you have no immediate plans to use your old charcoal for grilling, you can store it in a metal container with a lid, tucking it away in an area a safe distance from your house and with non-combustible material, like a shed.

Charcoal Briquettes vs. Lump Charcoal

How much of the embers you can save and reuse for grilling depends on the type of charcoal you use. It should be noted that when using charcoal briquettes with additives, reuse is limited compared to lump charcoal.

As you may know, briquettes are made from compressed sawdust and other industrial waste. They’re uniformly shaped—and burn cooler and longer—but they also fall apart faster. Lump charcoal, on the other hand, is made from charred wood that burns faster and hotter, but holds its shape better.

Wood chunks and split logs, the largest in size and the slowest to burn, are the most reusable type of grilling fuel. But they aren’t every griller’s fuel of choice; you will mostly find them in the kettles of pitmasters and seasoned grillers.

Ashes to Ashes

When it comes to charcoal, only ashes from lump charcoal can be saved and reused.

Ashes from charcoal briquettes that contain chemical additives should be disposed of safely—either by being wrapped in foil or dumped in a metal container with a lid such as a used coffee can.

You can then throw the latter away with the rest of your trash.

Other Uses for Used Lump Charcoal

Apart from grilling with it, here are some other ways to make the most out of used lump charcoal.

Compost heap. You drastically increase its carbon content by mixing your used charcoal lumps into your compost pile. A good way to know if your compost needs more compost is to sniff it. If it smells like ammonia, then you need to add carbon.

Cover imperfections. If you’ve got scratches on dark wood furniture or floors, you can use lump charcoal as a temporary “stain” until you fix the imperfections with a more permanent solution.

Freshen up the air. You can also place pieces of lump charcoal in open bowls or poke some holes in ziplock bags and place them in areas like lockers, drawers, cabinets, and your refrigerator to help reduce odors.

Try hanging a few around your cat’s litter boxes or under your dog’s bed. However, we should note that lump charcoal is not the same as activated charcoal and does not last as long.

For the flowers. If you have freshly cut flowers you wish to preserve in a vase, try dropping a lump of charcoal in the water just under the cut stems. This will keep the water clear and clean, helping your flowers last longer.

Mulch. You can use lump charcoal chunks by breaking them into 1-inch pieces and spreading them around your garden or under bushes to keep your soil moist and fight weed growth.

Entertainment for the kids. Don’t bother buying store chalk when a nice piece of lump coal will do the trick. You can use it for drawing hopscotch squares or any other sidewalk game. Plus, it’s super easy to clean. Just wash it away with your hose.

Preserve driveway deicer. Before you store your rock salt as a deicer this winter, mix in a couple of pieces of lump coal in your bucket or bag. The pieces will soak up any dampness preventing the rock salt from caking or freezing together.

Halloween decoration. If you’re building yard decorations like a scarecrow for Halloween or your own Frosty the Snowman for Christmas, lump coal makes the perfect set of eyes.

Orchid assistance. Orchids are flowers that benefit from the alkalinity of lump charcoal. Mix a few small pieces in with your potting media, such as wood chunks or bark, to provide your orchids with nutrients that will help them grow.

Rust buster. You can keep tools from rusting in your toolbox by placing a couple of lumps of coal in with the tools. They will absorb the moisture, keeping metal tools from oxidizing.

Gardening Uses for Charcoal Ash

Lump charcoal ash is also pretty handy to have around the garden.

It raises your soil’s acidity; you can use lump coal ash to treat the soil around plants like azaleas, blueberries, and hydrangeas. The ash also works to help deter certain insects and animals like raccoons from digging up your garden.

Lump charcoal ash also promotes the growth of clover, which bees love. This promotes pollination. It also acts to suppress weeds and absorb toxins in your soil.

Conclusion

If you’ve got leftover lump charcoal from grilling, there are lots of ways you can put both the ash and coal to use. However, keep in mind that used charcoal briquettes with chemical additives can only be used for grilling. Otherwise, you need to dispose of them safely.

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