A Burning Question: How Long Does Charcoal Last?

August 21, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Stored charcoal can last indefinitely if stored properly. As for burning, it can last for two to five hours, depending on the type.

When people ask me how long does charcoal last, they usually mean one of two things. Either they are curious about how long coals can be stored for or how long coals burn in a BBQ. Luckily, I have answers for both.

In this post I will give you insight into making charcoal last in terms of storage as well as burning. Let’s get started!

How Long Does Charcoal Last

Can Charcoal Briquettes Expire?

Well, technically, charcoal can’t expire or go bad, per se. It can actually last an indefinite amount of time in most instances. This, however, is provided that the charcoal is stored properly. If it isn’t, then the coals will absorb moisture from the surrounding environment.

Needless to say, once absorbed, it is quite difficult to light the coals or the charcoal grill. Thus, the longer that the charcoal is stored for, the greater the chance of it going “bad”.

charcoal on black grill

Another thing to take note of is that some charcoal is infused with lighter fluid to help them light more quickly. With time, these additives may wear off. Once again, this means that the charcoal will not be easy to light as before.

How Long is Charcoal Good For?

As mentioned, there isn’t an expiration date for charcoal. However, this can vary depending on the brand that you are buying. Thus, you should always check the bag or label to determine if there is a “best by” date on it.

As mentioned, there are some coals that have additives. Even stored properly, these may still wear out in about a year or two. Keep in mind that this timeline can vary based on the manufacturer.

How to Know If Charcoal is Old?

Of course, you can’t really tell if the charcoal is good or not simply by looking at it. This is why I would recommend lighting the coal well before you get your barbecue started.

You can choose to use a chimney starter or lighter fluid to get the coals going. You don’t have to use too many, just a handful will be enough to test if they are suitable or not. If they light quickly or in a timely manner, then they are good to go.

It is also a good idea to time how long they stay lit as well.

Can You Dry Wet Charcoal?

Can’t bear to throw away a big batch of charcoal without using it? Well, you might be able to salvage the coals. You should know that this will only work if the charcoal is a little damp. If it is very wet then you will have to throw it away.

Take the charcoal out of the bag and place it on trays, baking paper, or even newspaper. Lay these out in full sunlight for at least a day. You may need to leave them there for longer to fully dry out.

Is It OK to Use Old Charcoal?

It is only natural to wonder if you should even be using old charcoal. Is it safe to work with?

While charcoal that has been setting around for a while is safe to use, it doesn’t always mean that you should use it. If you run the above test and find out that the coals still work, then you are fine to use them for grilling.

On the other hand, if they dont light as well as you need them to then it doesn’t make much sense for you to struggle with them. In this case, it is time to invest in fresh charcoal.

How to Store Charcoal Properly?

As stated, proper storage of fresh charcoal is important.

First, make sure to close the bag properly. Roll down the top and then seal it so that nothing can get in. You should also be careful of where you are storing the bag. I would advise to keep it in a dark, cool place. It should be away from any heat sources.

At the same time, place the bag in a dry location – avoid any spots with damp. If you don’t barbecue too often, it is a good idea to check on the bag to make sure that no moisture has gotten in.

How Long Will Charcoal Stay Hot For?

If you are curious about how long will charcoal grill stay hot, it can be tricky to narrow down burn times for this process.

On average, it takes the coals about five to ten minutes to reach high heat. Once the coals have smoldered for about twenty five to thirty minutes, the temperature will reach medium heat. After this point, it will get progressively cooler.

How Long Does It Take for Charcoal to Burn Out?

There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question. This is largely because there are two types of charcoal – briquettes and lump charcoal.

Lump charcoal lights faster and burns hotter. As a result, it burns out that much faster. Although the time can vary based on various factors, I would say that lump charcoal may last around two to three hours in a charcoal grill.

As for the briquettes, these are slower to light, but the burn time is longer. This means that you can get up to four to five hours worth of grilling out of them.

Will Charcoal Burn Itself Out?

Yes, eventually hot coals will burn itself out. Lit charcoal eventually turns to ash. Once this happens, the charcoal fire will automatically go out on its own. Of course, it is important to always keep an eye on the fire and to keep it under control.

How Much Charcoal Should You Use for Your BBQ?

Another question that I am asked quite often is how much charcoal should I use in my charcoal grill? Well, this all depends on a few different factors.

charcoal slabs

To begin with, there is the size of the grill. For smaller charcoal grills, 15 to 30 briquettes will do. With larger models, you may need to use between 50 and 75.

You will also need to think about the temperature at which you would like to grill at. The higher the temperature, the more coals you will need to use.

Now, I always advise people to use a chimney starter when lighting a grill. Therefore, you need to be mindful of how you fill it up before you get the grill going.

If you want to cook the food low and slow, then fill the chimney up one-fourth of the way for a grill of any size. For medium cooking temperature for a mid to large sized grill, fill the chimney up halfway or three-fourths of the way.

If you want the grill to burn hot, then fill the chimney starter to the top.

How Do You Keep Charcoal Going for Hours?

Want to know how to keep that fire burning? Here are the the top tips to follow:

Use Good Quality Charcoal

Avoid using cheap charcoal even if seems like a good bargain. Good quality charcoal burns hotter and longer and will result in less hassle while grilling. So, do yourself a favor and invest in the coals wisely.

At the same time, always use new charcoal whenever possible. Unless you are sure that you have stored the fuel properly, I would go ahead and buy a new batch. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Create a Pile of Coals

If you are like a lot of people, then you lie your coals flat in the grill. However, this is in effective as it means that all of the charcoal burns at the same time.

You are better off piling the coals onto one side of the grill in a pyramid fashion. This way, the coals are heated top down, ensuring that they last longer.

This method is also excellent if you want to have a grate where the temperature is lower for more delicate foods.

Stoke the Fire

If you aren’t a fan of the pyramid design and prefer to have your charcoal flat, then you may want to consider stoking the fire at intervals. This way, you keep the coals moving and ensure that they burn more evenly. This helps to keep the heat going.

Add More Charcoal

It should go without saying but despite your best efforts, the charcoal in your grill is going to burn down. At this point, you need to introduce new coals. It is the only way to keep the fire going.

Now, when you do this, make sure to open the vents in your grill. This way, you can ensure proper airflow, allowing oxygen to reignite the fire so that the coal that you have just added can ignite. Remember, fire can’t thrive with less oxygen.

Add Lighter Fluid as a Last Ditch Effort

I don’t approve of using lighter fluid for grilling. It adds a weird taste and smell to the food. And, if you aren’t careful, it can turn your BBQ into a fire hazard.

However, you will always find at least one person recommending it. This is because it offers a high and steady burn. It is also great for getting coals burning quickly.

If you are planning on using this fuel, then at least follow this method. Pile a small amount of charcoal in the grill and spray a little bit of fuel. Then, light this on fire. Once you have this going, pile on more charcoal to mask this pile.

This is what you need to know about how long you can store charcoal for as well as how long it can burn for. Now that you are all covered, you can make sure to make the most of your charcoal!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. Pitmaster Central is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for website owners to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon (.com, .co.uk, .ca etc) and any other website that may be affiliated with Amazon Service LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Keep Reading
Copyright 2024 Pitmaster Central, all rights reserved.