Does Charcoal Go Bad? The Answer May Surprise You!

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Does charcoal go bad? This question has crossed my mind many times, mainly the moment I am about to open the charcoal bag to grill for the first time in a while.

No matter how many fuel sources humans come up with, charcoal will always remain the classic choice for grilling.

It works well at both high temperatures and low temperatures, and gives the meat an incredible spoking flavor that everyone loves.

Despite this favoritism, many people are actually unaware of whether or not charcoal expires.

After all, lots of things expire, even things that aren’t food.

Does there come a time when charcoal is no longer safe to use, simply because of how old it is? 

Simply put, no, charcoal does not expire due to the passage of time. However, there are some other scenarios we discuss below that may make charcoal a bit troublesome to use.

In this article, we will cover the specifics of why charcoal does not expire.

Also, what situations you actually do need to worry about in relation to how it can become harder to use.

What Can Make it More Troublesome to Use?

The main thing one needs charcoal to do for them is ignite. You need it to burn, and burn well.

Otherwise, it isn’t going to do a very good job with pretty much anything that you need it for.

While it will not expire over time (as in, it will not become completely unusable), it may become less efficient over time.

The first culprit for this can be the absorption of moisture over time.

If it’s is not stored in a very dry place, it can be exposed to moisture.

When it is exposed to moisture, charcoal will not burn as easily. It’s not even that the charcoal has to be wet.

If it gets stored somewhere that water can get to it, it can seep directly into it over time.

It may even may have a tough time igniting and burning properly.

That’s the second thing to keep in mind, even though charcoal itself may not expire.

That would be the case if it has any additives added to it that do expire.

Some charcoal has additives that help it burn better, and without it, said charcoal gets harder to use.

Ultimately, neither of these things make charcoal completely unusable, so it would be wrong to say that charcoal in and of itself “expires.”

However, it may become so inefficient over a long period of time that you would still be better off just buying new charcoal.

That said, if you have an old bag lying around, there’s no harm in seeing if it burns well still.

About How Long Should You Keep Charcoal?

OK, so charcoal doesn’t necessarily go bad over time, it just has a chance of getting less effective.

That being the case, how long should you bother keeping a bag it?

Is there a certain point in time in which you would just be better off buying new charcoal?

Well, it depends on what type of charcoal you have and how you have stored it.

As mentioned previously, charcoal being exposed to moisture will reduce its effectiveness, sometimes quite significantly.

But what if you store it somewhere where moisture is not a problem?

Somewhere where it is dry as a bone and never absorbs any moisture at all?

Well, so long as you are using all-natural charcoal, you could keep it effectively forever.

It has to be all-natural because of the aforementioned additives situation.

If the additives go bad, the charcoal gets worse, and thee isn’t much you can do to extend the life of the additives.

But if you have no additives to worry about, moisture it’s only enemy, and that means you could use it way down the line if it’s kept dry.

That could be a year, five, or even a decade (and potentially much longer).

Depending on the quality of the charcoal you have, it may be more likely to crumble into small pieces over time (if it is low quality).

But technically, those pieces will still be able to burn very well, they just won’t be a good size for the job.

How Can You Tell If Charcoal is Still Good to Use?

Yes, actually you can.

If you are worried about the quality of your coal, you can use a chimney starter.

Though finding any suitable place to burn it works well enough and light some of the charcoal in question.

Once you do, you are going to want to watch how exactly it burns to determine if it is good to go or not.

If it struggles to ignite at all, that’s definitely a bad sign and you will want to grab a new bag.

But even if it does manage to catch fire, that doesn’t mean it’s good to use.

It may have trouble staying lit after it does catch fire, which is also a problem for cooking.

Even if it manages to ignite and stay lit, you’ll have to see if it manages to burn evenly or not.

If it burns unevenly and inconsistently, it could spell a disaster for your grilled meal.

The sear could become uneven as well due to this, and that nice smoky flavor you want to get can instead become bitter and unsavory.

So, needless to say, this is also something you don’t want to happen.

Can You Save Damp or Wet Charcoal?

Maybe you like to be as efficient with your money as possible, and don’t want to buy new charcoal if you don’t have to.

Can you save it when it has gotten wet and possibly restore it to its former glory?

Well, maybe.

If your coal has gotten absolutely soaked, then there is no saving it, and you’ll just have to discard it.

But if it has only gotten a little damp, there may be something you can do for it.

The easiest thing to do is lay it out on a baking sheet in direct sunlight for a few days.

As long as it doesn’t rain, this may make it usable again.

Just be sure to test the charcoal after this treatment to see if it really is worthy.