Does Charcoal Go Bad? (Q&A)
I remember one weekend years ago when I was at a barbecue party.
My friend set up the grill, and brought out a bag of charcoal he kept in storage, only to realize that it wouldn’t light up anymore. I can't remember what he did afterwards, but I remember him asking, “does charcoal go bad?”.
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What is Charcoal?
Charcoal is produced by slow heating of wood without oxygen to produce a black carbon residue and ash. Charcoal is typically used for cooking, grilling and as a source of fuel.
The most common type of charcoal is the briquet charcoal and the lump charcoal.
A briquet is a compressed block of wood by-products (like sawdust) combined with additives to help it ignite faster and easier.
A lump charcoal is charcoal in its purest form. It is made from hardwood and does not contain any chemical or additives.
What are the different kinds of charcoal?
It may seem as if charcoal only differ in terms of size and shape. However, there are actually are different types of charcoal that you can use for cooking.
- Pressed charcoal briquets are the most common type of charcoal available in the market. These are the regular charcoal that we use to grill food. Charcoal briquets are composed mainly of small pieces of wood and organic materials pressed together into briquets. Chemical binders and igniters are added to make it light up easier and last longer.
- Pressed charcoal briquets are the same as the pressed charcoal briquets. The only difference is the addition of smoking wood flakes like mesquite and hickory to add smoke flavor to the barbecue.
- Match lighting charcoal are the type that you can ignite using a matchstick. These are also the same as the pressed charcoal briquets but contains more chemical to make it ignite faster and easier.
- Lump Charcoal are the best charcoal to use for grilling or barbecuing. Lump charcoal is composed purely of hardwood pieces. The hardwood pieces emit a more intense heat and natural smoke flavor when grilling. It lights up faster and easier even without chemical binders or igniters. However, lump charcoal is more expensive and not normally available in your local supermarket.
Why use lump charcoal and not firewood?
Lump charcoal is made from hardwood firewood and does not contain the chemical aroma that is present in pressed briquets.
If lump charcoal is made from firewood, you are probably wondering why not just use firewood instead.
Firewood is great for cooking but it takes a long time for firewood to burn and the fire is more difficult to control than charred lump charcoal.
Does charcoal go bad?
Charcoal will not expire unless you burn it. However, the chemical and additives used may wear off in time.
Prolonged exposure to moisture can also affect the quality of your charcoal.
Once the chemicals that help ignite a spark in briquets wears off, it will not light up even if the charcoal itself is still good. If you have a lot of briquets stored and do not want it to go to waste, you can try saving them by pouring a bit of fluid on the charcoal.
Both briquets and lump charcoal absorb moisture. To save them, you can dry them out under the sun. Once fully dry, you can use them again.
How to store your charcoal:
Here some tips you can follow to keep your charcoal in good condition.
- Store your charcoal in a dry container. If possible, keep the leftover charcoal sealed in its original bag.
- Keep it away from water. Do not let it get wet or absorb water.
- Humidity can affect your charcoal so keep it in place that is not humid to avoid moisture absorption
- If you are using smoked flavored wood, it is best to check the manufacturer for its shelf life but some brands last 1-2 years before the smoke flavor wears off.
- Lump charcoal has an indefinite shelf life but you still need to keep it from absorbing moisture.
Now that you know a little bit more about charcoal, I hope that it has also answered your question as it did my friend. Charcoal per se does not expire. All you need to do is make sure that it is stored properly and it will last a long time.