Does Charcoal Go Bad? Tips for Proper Storage and Drying

If you have a charcoal grill, then you likely have quite the supply of charcoal on hand. But does charcoal go bad? We have the answer!

In this article, we’ll go over:

  • Whether or not charcoal goes bad
  • Tips for storing charcoal
  • If charcoal can spontaneously combust
  • And much more!

Does Charcoal Ever Go Bad?

Charcoal grills are an integral part of getting that delicious smoky flavor in your meats. But the worst part of owning a charcoal grill is running out of charcoal, so you probably like to have a couple of bags on hand. But does charcoal go bad?

Charcoal is a man-made product and it should never expire or go bad in the lump charcoal form as long as it is stored in a dry place. If you use charcoal briquettes, however, it is possible that other ingredients in the briquettes could expire, meaning this type of charcoal often has an expiration date on the bag. 

Related >> Best Lump Charcoal For Smoking

Want to learn more about charcoal and whether or not it expires? Let’s look at all the information about charcoal so you can be well-informed. 

How to Store Charcoal

As mentioned above, charcoal has an indefinite life span as long as it is stored properly. Proper storage for charcoal is a cool and dry place. It is also best practice to store charcoal in an area where there are fewer temperature swings than outdoors, like a shed or your garage.

You can easily store the charcoal in the bag it comes in, just ensure you have a way to close the bag like a clip. You can also put the charcoal in a bin or bucket. Kingsford has an official one called a charcoal caddy. 

We recommend one of the clips below which also functions as a carrying handle for your charcoal bag. 

Kingsford Charcoal Storage Container
$50.27 $43.50
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Bag Buddy; Carry, Pour and Seal; 2 Pack
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Does Water Make Charcoal Go Bad?

You may have noticed that we recommended storing your charcoal somewhere where it can be kept dry. Does this mean water makes charcoal go bad?

Not necessarily.

Charcoal is a porous material, meaning it can soak up moisture when presented with it. (i.e. left out in the rain). In most cases, even after being wet, the charcoal will still light and burn just fine.

The problem is, if it is left in a wet environment for a long period of time it could begin to disintegrate. 

Which, if your charcoal disintegrates, it’s not very usable. So while it hasn’t rotted, we do consider this to be bad because the charcoal is no longer usable. 

If you have a bag of charcoal that was left out in the rain in a single incident, it is likely still okay to use–just let it dry before trying to light it. But if you have left your charcoal out in the water all winter, then it may no longer be a bag of charcoal come summer. 

Related: Can You Add Charcoal While Grilling?

How to Dry Charcoal

Have you just found a bag of charcoal that was left out in the rain? You’re not alone. This happens all the time, and the good news is you can easily dry your charcoal. 

Grab your charcoal and spread it out on some baking paper in your yard. Ensure it is placed where it will get lots of sun (and check the forecast to ensure there’s no rain!) Let it dry for one to two days and it should be good to go!

If you come back after two days and your charcoal is still wet, then it is probably time to say goodbye and buy a new bag. 

Editor’s Note: Never, ever try to dry charcoal in your oven or microwave! 

Fogo Super Premium Oak Restaurant Quality All-Natural Large Sized Hardwood Lump Charcoal for Grilling and Smoking, 17.6 Pound Bag
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What is Charcoal?

Charcoal is made by burning a carbon-rich material and allowing it to come in contact with oxygen. This process decomposes the wood, turning it into carbon or what we know as lump charcoal. 

The reason we do this is because charcoal or carbon burns much longer than regular wood does. It is also more lightweight and easier to carry around on the go. 

Lump Charcoal vs. Charcoal Briquettes

There are two main types of charcoal, lump charcoal and briquettes. Lump charcoal is the randomly shaped pieces of charcoal which are only made with burned wood. 

Briquettes, on the other hand, are fashioned in a certain shape and have additives added to them. While most people prefer the natural lump charcoal, there are some of these additives which can be beneficial for longer cook times and ignition ease. 

You can learn more about it in our article comparing the two: Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes. 

Regardless, briquettes, because they contain additives, can go bad over time. This is because they contain many materials which aren’t wood, like sawdust, mineral char, limestone, and starch.

If you prefer briquettes, always make note of the expiration date when you buy the bag. If you transfer the briquettes into another container, ensure you write or tape the expiration date to the container so you can use the briquettes before that date passes. 

Do note, however, that lump charcoal is much more likely to survive moisture than briquettes. So if you live in an area where your charcoal getting wet may be inevitable, we recommend lump charcoal. 

Related >> Charcoal Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal (Which is Better?)

What About Charcoal That Contains Lighter Fluid?

Charcoal which contains lighter fluid must be kept in a sealed bag. This is because the lighter fluid can evaporate off the charcoal before you use it. Meaning you could’ve just paid extra for charcoal that is just as difficult to light as normal charcoal. 

This doesn’t mean that the charcoal has gone bad–it is still safe to use, it will just no longer be as easy to light as it was before. So have your chimney ready! 

Can Charcoal Spontaneously Combust?

So this is just a rumor. Your charcoal will never spontaneously combust. Maybe back in the day when homes were fueled by coal heating, but in the 2020s, when you are grilling with charcoal, there is no chance it will combust. 

For charcoal to combust, there must be a tremendous amount of it, think a train car load, in your backyard and a lot of pressure. Three large bags used for grilling will never be a combustion concern, we promise–even if you need to leave some laying out in the sun to dry. 

But if you had a bag of charcoal and came back to find it full of ash, this happened because your charcoal got wet and disintegrated–not because it combusted. In this case, just toss out the bag of ash (or use one of our techniques for reusing it) and buy a new bag. Try to keep it dry this time so you can use it 

Charcoal FAQ:

How Long Can You Keep Charcoal?

Charcoal can be kept in your garage indefinitely, as long as you store it somewhere where it won’t get wet with the bag closed or sealed. 

What Makes Charcoal Go Bad?

Charcoal never goes bad, but moisture or large temperature swings can cause the charcoal to disintegrate to a bag of ash, rendering it useless for your next BBQ. Moisture can also make it difficult to light your charcoal and lead to uneven cooking. 

Is it OK to Use Old Charcoal?

Absolutely. You can use charcoal that has been sitting in your garage for a decade as long as it is dry. You can also go through a pile of previously burned charcoal and grab the large pieces to reuse–just make sure you mix these pieces with new charcoal as well. 

What is the Shelf Life of Charcoal?

Charcoal with no additives has an infinite shelf life. If you have purchased charcoal which is pretreated with lighter fluid, its shelf life is 1-2 years before the lighter fluid will evaporate. You can still use the charcoal, it will just no longer have any additives that made it special in the first place. 

Should I Stockpile Charcoal?

If your home is anything like ours, then a pile of charcoal is a must. We recommend always having 3-4 bags on backup. You never know when all your friends and family might come over for a large BBQ!

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Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I love this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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