Does Charcoal Go Bad?

If you love to grill outside, you likely have bags of charcoal ready at all times, but if you have an older bag, you might be wondering if charcoal can go bad.

No, charcoal cannot go bad. It can, however, become a little less effective in certain circumstances, and this article will tell you why.

Bad charcoal burning

Reasons Charcoal Might Not Light

Charcoal briquettes will not go bad or expire, but they always work best when they are kept dry and not allowed to soak up any moisture.

There are two reasons why charcoal might have a hard time lighting up properly:

  1. The charcoal you’ve purchased might contain some type of additives. While the charcoal itself won’t expire, those additives might.
  2. The briquettes might have soaked up moisture, which makes it even more difficult to light them.

The type of charcoal you buy also makes a difference. Some are sold as lump charcoal, while others are known to be high-quality briquettes. The latter is better charcoal in many ways, which means it usually lights much better.

Basically, if you keep your charcoal as dry as possible through the years, it is going to light up immediately every time.

Grill with bad charcoal burning

Keeping Charcoal Dry

If you want to know how to keep your charcoal in good shape year after year, the smartest thing you can do is keep the charcoal dry. This means that if you’re using 100-per-cent natural charcoal that has no additives and you keep it away from dampness and moisture, you can take the bag out 10, even 15 years from now, and it should work great.

If you can’t keep the charcoal completely away from dampness, consider putting it in an airtight container of some type so that no extra moisture gets into the briquettes.

The overall quality of the charcoal is also significant. For instance, over time, cheaper or inferior charcoal can break down into smaller pieces or even dust. High-quality charcoal will not do this, and the charcoal that does break down like this is naturally going to be more difficult to light, regardless of how dry you keep it.

How Can You Tell if the Charcoal Is Good?

If you’ve found an old bag of charcoal and you want to make sure it hasn’t soaked up too much moisture, use your chimney starter with the charcoal underneath and watch what happens. If it won’t light up, quickly goes out after it lights up, or burns unevenly, it has probably absorbed too much moisture, and, therefore, you need to throw it away.

Naturally, if you find any wet charcoal in your collection, it won’t be any good. The thing is, it can sometimes absorb small amounts of moisture and still not light up properly.

Sometimes newer charcoal can be impossible to light, and older charcoal may light up immediately. If you’re testing out your charcoal to see if it is still nice and dry, and if you use lighter fluid to do this, make sure you light the coals and let them burn for 30 minutes or longer before you use it. The way the charcoal reacts will let you know for sure what condition it’s in.