What happens when charcoal gets wet? Is it still safe to use it? There may be more than one answer, which is what prompted us to compile this guide. Keep reading and we’ll discuss it further.
Can Charcoal Get Wet?
Charcoal absorbs moisture easily. If it’s wet, it may not light or burn efficiently. You can try to resurrect it by drying the coals out in the sun, but if it’s completely saturated (or if it was an inferior product to begin with), this might not be enough. Keep charcoal stored in a sealed container to prevent it from getting wet.
How Does Charcoal Get Wet?
The first and most obvious answer would be that you accidentally left the bag outside during a rainstorm. This happens frequently, as people get so distracted by the beautiful summer weather that they forget to check the forecast.
That’s not the only way charcoal might get wet. It’s a porous material, which means it absorbs moisture very easily. Storing it in damp or humid environments can have an effect on the quality as well.
Can Charcoal Get Wet?
It can, and it does. The question is, can you still use it afterward? That depends on the severity of the damage, as well as the overall quality of the product.
If the charcoal is completely saturated from exposure to rain, it might not be salvageable. But if it’s only a little bit damp, you should be able to save it.
It’s also worth noting that high-quality products tend to absorb less moisture. They respond better to the damage control techniques we’re here to discuss, too. Whenever possible, opt for the good stuff over cheap store-brand charcoal.
Does Wet Charcoal Go Bad?
Damp charcoal doesn’t spoil in the usual sense of the term. It’s still safe to use. The problem is that it might not ignite. Even if it does, the fire will probably burn out too fast and create plenty of foul smoke to boot.
By all means, try lighting your charcoal after it’s gotten wet, especially if you’ve taken one or more of the steps described below. But if it doesn’t perform well, you’re better off throwing it out and starting with a fresh batch.
How To Salvage Wet Charcoal
When I first started getting serious about grilling with charcoal, I had no idea that there were right and wrong ways to store the product. I just left the half-opened bag sitting in my garage. As a result, the briquettes were often damp to the touch.
If this happens to you, there’s no need to panic. Spread out a few sheets of parchment paper and spread the charcoal on top, making sure it’s in a single layer. Leave it in direct sunlight for at least a day.
The drying process might only take a few hours, but it’s better to give it a day or more. Depending on how wet the charcoal is, it could take up to two days to dry completely.
It’s a good idea to turn the charcoal over after several hours. That way, both sides will be exposed to the light and warmth. When the pieces look and feel drier, transfer them to a sealed container to keep them from getting wet again.
After that, the charcoal should light efficiently enough. But the trick doesn’t always work. If the charcoal falls apart when you try to transfer it to either the paper or the container—crumbling into pieces or dust—it’s no longer usable.
You might also try mixing the dried pieces with an equal portion of fresh ones. This can help the fuel deliver a more consistent fire. If it doesn’t, the coals are still too wet to burn and should be discarded for a brand new batch.
Briquettes vs. Lump Charcoal
Does it make a difference if you’re talking about charcoal briquettes or hardwood lump charcoal? It might. Again, it depends on how serious the damage is.
If the charcoal was only exposed to some light drizzle or less-than-ideal storage conditions, then there’s a good chance you’ll be able to dry it out. But if you left it outside overnight and it rained the whole time, your chances aren’t good.
It’s always better to invest in a quality product when it comes to charcoal. Use the lump variety whenever possible. If you must revert to briquettes, make sure to buy them from a reputable company.
How To Use Dried-Out Charcoal
Charcoal that’s gotten wet and then dried in the sun might need a little more coaxing than fresh charcoal. Again, try mixing it with some new stuff just to give it a fighting chance.
Line the bottom of the grill with fresh coals, then put the dried ones on top of that. That way, you can easily add more charcoal if it isn’t burning that well at first.
When using a chimney starter, use a combination of fresh and dried coals. Light the fire as you normally would. If it doesn’t seem to be working, discard the batch and start over using only fresh coals.
Tips on Keeping Charcoal Dry
After suffering through a few batches of damp charcoal, I invested in a large plastic tub with a tight-sealing lid. They’re inexpensive and available at retailers such as Walmart.
Some companies like Kingsford offer weather-proof containers designed to hold charcoal or wood pellets. These might come in handy if you have to store your fuel outside, but as long as the container is sealed and kept in a sheltered area, you should be fine.
Speaking of which: Storing charcoal in the shed, barn, or garage is one of the best ways to preserve it. If you don’t have a suitable outbuilding, consider constructing a small shelter near your grilling area. Even if it’s only made of four posts and a roof, it will help keep the rain off the fuel supply.
There’s no need to take the charcoal out of the bag before transferring it to the container, but I usually do because it’s more convenient. The bag itself is not airtight, so don’t make the mistake of leaving the charcoal in there without further protection.
Charcoal is at greater risk of getting wet in humid climates. If you live in one of these areas, think about buying a dehumidifier for your shed or garage. That should help keep the charcoal in prime condition.
Another thing to consider: Charcoal can also absorb moisture from the ground. Consider keeping the container on a shelf or platform for further protection.
Finally, don’t be tempted to leave charcoal sitting out, even if the weather is sunny and warm. Rain showers can come out of nowhere. What’s more, you might forget you left it out there, so even if it doesn’t rain for a while, you’re still taking a risk.
The Bottom Line
A batch of slightly damp charcoal isn’t the end of the world, and it won’t do you any harm to try burning it. The trick is knowing when to cut your losses and start over with a fresh batch of coals.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!