Charcoal fuels our evenings around the grill — it brings people together. Those dark lumps and briquettes might not look like much, but they can reach extraordinary temperatures, ensuring delicious meals with the most familiar smoky scent.
The question is, does charcoal expire? Charcoal is a type of carbon made of organic matter or wood at high heat in a low-oxygen environment; the result is a type of fuel that will last for years and decades if you store it properly.
Having said that, charcoal needs care — it can go bad and bad charcoal is a sure way of ruining the fun. Does charcoal expire? It doesn’t, but it can go bad.
Three Factors That Affect Charcoal’s Shelf Life
The Charcoal shelf life is limitless. The carbon-based fuel will last a lifetime and won’t deteriorate, no matter how old it is. Is this the perfect all-natural fuel for grilling? It is. You can store lump charcoal and briquettes indefinitely at home, ensuring endless hours in front of the grill.
Charcoal can break and be turned into dust if mishandled and become a mushy mess if wet. Still, if stored properly, charcoal has a long storage life. These are the three factors that affect charcoal’s shelf life.
Moisture is the number one factor that can ruin your charcoal. Of course, if the coal gets soaked, for example, if it was stored in a flooded basement, chances are it will be entirely ruined.
Still, even the ambient humidity can dampen charcoal, making it less efficient and hard to light. Charcoal is porous, which means it is highly vulnerable to humid air.
If your charcoal is moist, spread it on a dry surface under the radiant sun. Turn it occasionally if need it to ensure it is completely dry. You’ll be able to use the charcoal as if nothing happened.
Mold grows in humid places, and if your charcoal has been moist for a while, there’s a good chance some mold will grow on it.
Moldy charcoal might have a funky, earthy smell. And although you can dry it as detailed above, the mold is impossible to remove, and it can have an unexpected influence on the food cooked with it. Mold is generally harmless but is organic matter, sometimes in decay.
If you have moldy charcoal, throw it away. Keep in mind that not all mold is visible, so inspect each lump for signs of organic matter and off-putting smells.
3. Chemicals in the Charcoal
Pure charcoal won’t go bad, but not all charcoal is created equal. Low-quality briquettes, for example, have added chemicals that bind charcoal dust in those pretty dark pillows. Even if charcoal itself is impervious to time, those additives aren’t. An easy way to spot expired briquettes is by ensuring they’re not crumbly.
Crumbly briquettes might mean that the chemical used to bind them has evaporated. In this case, throw the batch away and get new briquettes. You won’t have this problem with natural types of charcoal.
How to Tell If Charcoal Has Gone Bad?
- If your charcoal is moist at the touch, you’ll have sun-dry it before use.
- If the charcoal looks or smells moldy, it might be too late, and you’ll need to replace it.
- If your charcoal briquettes have an unusual color or are crumbly, they might have lost their structural integrity and will be of little use on the grill.
The good news? As long as you store your charcoal in a safe place in the right environment, you won’t have to worry about charcoal going bad. It will last for ages!
How to Store Charcoal Like A Pro
To keep your fuel safe, you must know how to store charcoal. After all, if you grill often, it’s always a good idea to have a big pile in the shed. There’s nothing worse than running out of charcoal during a grilling session or leaving the fun to get a fresh bag.
Storing charcoal is never a bad idea, but if you want it to be in decent shape, you must keep it properly. And if you were wondering, no, storing charcoal is not dangerous. Although people have reported spontaneous charcoal combustion over the years, it has only to do with house coal at immense pressures, not lump charcoal or briquettes.
1. Keep your charcoal away from moisture
Moisture is charcoal’s number one enemy, so never keep your charcoal outside. Even if the kraft paper bags have a plastic film protecting their contents from moisture, it only takes a small hole in the bag to ruin the entire batch.
Even if you keep your charcoal inside, ensure it is not damp, like some basements, and away from water sources or places with high humidity. As long as the charcoal is dry, it can be used almost indefinitely, so don’t let it get wet!
2. Store Charcoal in Metal or Plastic Containers.
How to store charcoal properly depends on where you keep it and how you hold it. Transferring the charcoal from an open bag to a metallic or plastic container ensures it will be ready for the next time you light up the grill.
Both metal and plastic are fireproof and not likely to cause an accident. A metallic container might rust over time, and plastic can become frail. Still, these containers will do the job just right for medium-term storage. Currently, there’s no need to store more charcoal than you’ll need in the season.
3. Ventilation is Key
Keep your charcoal in a ventilated area. Closed environments are most likely to accumulate humidity, and yes, you can store charcoal in your home as long as it doesn’t bother anyone.
A plastic charcoal caddy, a plastic trashcan with a lid or plastic storage bins are suitable alternatives for storing charcoal. Metallic trashcans with a lid are also common. Still, if the charcoal is still in its original bag and sealed, it’s better to store it in its bag, even if you keep multiple bags in a larger container. When you open a bag, you expose the charcoal to the environment.
Before we wrap this guide on charcoal, let’s answer this month’s frequently asked questions. Undoubtedly, more people are gaining interest in proper grilling, a win for grill lovers worldwide. Do you have your own questions about grilling? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to answer them.
Is Cooking with Charcoal Good For You?
Grilling food is healthy for many reasons. For starters, grilling is one of the fastest ways to cook food, meaning you have more time to spend time with your loved ones. Grilling with charcoal also gives you a sense of pride and brings people together — that’s healthy, too! And it's perfectly suited for our electric firestarter Looft.
Still, grilling can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, leading to rare fires and injuries. On top of that, exposing yourself to carbon monoxide can be life-threatening, which is why we recommend grilling outdoors. Ensure plenty of ventilation and keep an eye on the fire — you’ll be fine!
Should I use Charcoal or Wood?
Although charcoal and wood look like alternatives for one another, they’re not. Still, charcoal and wood can work together to achieve different results. You can always grill with charcoal if you’re making steaks or burgers, but if you’re smoking or barbecuing meat, you might want to use smoking wood to flavor the food. Even in these cases, using charcoal and wood as a team is effective.
Remember: charcoal brings the heat, and wood takes care of the smoke. You can even turn your grill into a smoker if you play around with the vents and use the proper smoking technique!
Should I Grill With Charcoal or Gas?
Gas grills are just as popular as charcoal grills, but they’re pretty different. Charcoal grills reach higher temperatures and give the food a smoky flavor. A typical charcoal grill is also less expensive than sophisticated gas grills.
On the other hand, gas grills offer a quick startup; you don’t have to wait as long for the grill to reach the desired temperature. These grills are also versatile, as you can control the flame to cook more delicate foods.
Which is better? That’s up to you. You know we’re charcoal fanatics, but you do you. Gas has made grilling more efficient, but it lacks the excitement of cooking over crackling embers!
How Much Charcoal Do I Need?
One of the most frequent questions regarding charcoal after today’s topic, do charcoal expires, is the amount of charcoal needed for an evening out around the fire. The answer depends on what’s for dinner and how much food you will cook.
Generally, for simple stuff like burgers and dogs, 15-20 coals are all you need for a quick 20–30-minute session: between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds of charcoal. If you’re working with several thick steaks, you’ll need twice as much! Having between 50 and 100 briquettes guarantees long hours of grilling at stable high heat, especially if adding fresh fuel to the fire every hour or so.
How to Light Charcoal Fast?
Although the charcoal chimney has proved to be dependable for many years as an efficient way of lighting charcoal, today, we have better, faster and less messy alternatives. Have you tried a Looft Lighter?
A Looft Charcoal Lighter, a hand-held appliance that delivers a superheated airflow, can light charcoal evenly in just under a minute — you’ll see the first sparks within seconds!
There’s a battery-operator Looft Lighter for grilling out in the open and one with a standard outlet for backyard grilling. Lump charcoal, briquettes or chunks of wood; that’s your call; a Looft will light them all.
Tips for Cooking With Charcoal
Now that we’ve covered the basics of grilling with charcoal; now that you know how to take care of it; let’s go over a few tips that can improve your grilling skills. Tips for cooking with charcoal for amateurs and pros alike.
1. Don’t Use Lighter Fluid
Lighter fluid might seem to be a quick way of lighting up the grill, but it is inefficient and taints your food with awkward flavors.
There was a time when lighter fluid seemed to solve all our problems, but now, no skilled grill enthusiast uses it. As the liquid burns, it lights up anything around it, including charcoal, but this is not always an even process, resulting in poorly lit grills. And then you have that lighter fluid taint – it will ruin your food! And there are plenty of alternatives.
If you want to light up the grill efficiently and evenly, a Looft lighter is a game changer. Light up all the coal in less than a minute — no hassle.
2. Use Smoking Wood
Wood chips are a lovely way of adding layers of flavor and aroma to your food. Although not always necessary, there’s no doubt some types of food benefit from a bit of smokiness!
Creating “smoke bombs” with woodchips inside a foil pocket is an easy way of controlling how fast the wood burns and how it affects your meat. Ensure you place them over red-hot embers, ideally on one or both sides of the grill, without blocking the vents.
Use wood chips directly on charcoal for quick stuff like burgers and steaks, and don’t forget to experiment with distinct types of wood — you’ll undoubtedly like one over the others.
3. Open Those Dampers
All grills have vents or dampers, and although inexperienced grill enthusiasts don’t mess with them much, seasoned grill experts know that vents are as crucial as charcoal.
Opening the vents results in more air intake, therefore, a higher temperature. Even if charcoal seems to burn uncontrollably, the air available to it determines how hot they get and how fast they burn.
Measure your temperature often and adjust the vents to get the desired temperature during your grilling session. Generally, open the intake damper first and partially close the vents until you get the desired cooking temperature.
4. Indirect Heat is Your Friend
Fire is your friend, and intense heat is a beautiful way of giving your meat that perfect crust. Still, not all cuts of meat are the same, and some call for a gentler and slower method — indirect heat.
A “cold zone” on your grill is ideal for cooking meat that needs time to tenderize. From pork tenderloin to a grilled whole chicken, indirect heat can give variety to your menu. After all, having patience is part of grilling, and letting the meat take its time can only result in one thing — perfection.
5. Use a Meat Thermometer
Cooking meat over an open flame is hard enough already, especially if you’re aiming at specific doneness. That’s where the meat thermometer comes in. Even the most skilled grill enthusiasts have a thermometer in hand, and it’s because they know the difference between perfect steaks and so-so meat is a matter of minutes.
Thermometers are easy to use and inexpensive, and they can take your grilling game to the next level. Perfect meat every time. Even if we all get steaks right without a thermometer occasionally, you shouldn’t rely on luck — be consistent; that’s the secret.
Let’s Get Grillin’
Grilling with charcoal is more than a cooking method; it’s a hobby! There’s immense pleasure in making food for your loved ones on the fire and enjoying an evening under the radiant sun. Grilling is also a skill, which means you get better at it. It’s no surprise people spend their lives perfecting their grilling game — the result is well worth it.
Now that you know the answer to, does charcoal expire, what charcoal’s shelf life is, and how to store charcoal, you’re ready to get that fire going. Call some friends over and open yourself a cold one. All year is grilling season if you do it right!