Storing Charcoal: A Simple Guide to Long-term Storage for Emergency Use

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It’s summer! Summer means barbecues, and barbecues mean grills. And grills need fuel. Of the potential fuels for grills, storing charcoal long-term is the easiest and safest for a prepper.

Add the fact that it’s cheap, lightweight, and regularly goes on sale in the summer, and we have a real prepper winner!

And the cherry on top? Unlike propane and many other fuels, you can make your own charcoal if a disaster lasts long enough.

image: charcoal briquets burning in a grill

How to Store Charcoal

Charcoal is a much safer fuel to store. Briquettes, in particular, are one of the most popular. However, it is still a fuel, so it’s important never to be careless about how and where you store it. Here are things to keep in mind:

How long can charcoal be kept?

When properly stored to protect them from moisture, charcoal briquettes keep indefinitely. And as already mentioned, it’s one of the safer fuels to store in bulk for the long term.

Also, choosing a briquette that doesn’t have lighter fluid added is best for extended storage. The lighter fluid will gradually evaporate and be of no use. It’s better to store lighter fluid separately if you want it.

I’m going to be harping quite a bit on the evils of moisture in regards to charcoal, so let’s talk about why for a moment.

What happens when charcoal gets wet?

If you’ve ever tried to make a fire with wet kindling, you know the odds are NOT in your favor.

Charcoal briquettes are made from leftover wood pieces and sawdust, so they’re basically compressed kindling. If they get wet, damp, or absorb moisture in any way, they’ll become difficult, if not impossible, to ignite.

Can you dry out charcoal that got wet and use it?

Yes. And no.

If it’s still in lump form, you can dry them in the sun. To do so, spread them in one layer in a sunny location. Then, every day or so, flip the coals over to expose the other side to the sun.

Simple, right? The tricky part is knowing when they’re completely dry to the center.

How long that takes depends on how wet the charcoal is and how hot your location is. They’ll take longer to light if they don’t get completely dry.

However, if the charcoal crumbles before or after drying, it’s useless for cooking.

And because of the additives used to make commercial briquettes, don’t use those crumbles as fertilizer or biochar. (More on biochar later in this article.) Any charcoal that is only wood and has no additives, though, could potentially be “recycled” for the garden.

So there you have it. Moisture is the archenemy of charcoal, so choose the most protective storage container you can.

Choosing a storage container for charcoal

Charcoal briquettes are made from sawdust and wood scraps. As such, they need to be dry to light. Therefore, a moisture-proof container with a tight lid is critical.

  • Metal containers –  Metal is fireproof and not as porous as plastic, which can allow some air and moisture in over time even when sealed. Since metal, unlike plastic, can rust out if left on a damp surface, it is vital to elevate metal cans a few inches off the ground. One common method is putting several bricks underneath or a wooden pallet. Then, seal it shut with aluminum duct tape to keep humidity out.
  • Plastic buckets – For truly long-term storage, use an airtight plastic bucket and seal it shut with caulk to keep the humidity out. 5-gallon buckets are a nice size, and so are powdered laundry soap containers.
  • Other containers – Yes, that’s quite broad. However, if you look around at what you’ve already got in terms of barrels or containers, you may find you already own something that could work. Think outside the box. Also, when you’re thrifting at yard sales, keep an eye out for suitable containers. This doesn’t have to cost a fortune, so don’t spend money you don’t have!
  • Silica packs – To be absolutely sure the charcoal is dry, toss in a handful of silica packs to absorb any stray moisture. Just know it will take a whole lot more of these desiccants than a five-pound bag of flour does!

Choosing a storage spot for charcoal

Store charcoal out of the sunlight in an area that stays cool but not damp. If you have a basement that is either naturally dry or where you run a dehumidifier regularly, that’s a great choice.

Outdoor sheds can be a good place, but be sure the containers are well sealed, off the ground, and not near a window/direct sunlight. We always have 40+ pounds of charcoal stored in the garage, and since the garage stays dry, the charcoal works just fine when it’s time to be used.

Using Charcoal for Cooking

Using charcoal for fires and cooking is one way to pick up an off-grid living skill.

A charcoal chimney is one tool you may want to invest in to make this easier is a charcoal chimney. This handy tool is simply a metal container that you fill with charcoal and light, and it quickly heats the briquettes for use. It’s an inexpensive way to heat charcoal to a cooking temperature quickly.

If you’re planning to use charcoal for Dutch oven cooking, experiment with the number of briquettes you place in the chimney. You may not need to fill it to have enough hot fuel to cook a Dutch oven meal.

This is my personal favorite way to put charcoal to good use:

  1. We lay a bed of hot charcoal in a fire ring.
  2. Place our Dutch oven over the coals.
  3. Put several more coals on top of the covered oven.
  4. The heat sources from both above and below the food cook it evenly. Best pot of chili I make all year long.

For desserts, try this recipe for a Dutch oven chocolate cake. If you haven’t cooked much with cast iron, this article provides the nuts and bolts.

How to Make Your Own Charcoal

This video illustrates a simple method of making your own charcoal. Plus, in just one more step, how to turn that charcoal into biochar that you can use as fertilizer in your garden!

ConclusionSave

Once you know how to store charcoal and stock up when the prices are low, you’ll be ready for outdoor cooking and a long-term power outage.

What are your plans to store charcoal long-term?Save

Updated 6/15/22.Save

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Bethanne is an eclectic writer who lives in the exurbs (that's what comes after the suburbs) with her husband, sons, and cats. She has been writing for The Survival Mom since 2010. You can learn more about her books, including the "Survival Skills for All Ages" series, at BethanneKim.com.

10 thoughts on “Storing Charcoal: A Simple Guide to Long-term Storage for Emergency Use”

  1. I think it’s always worth warning, Never use charcoal indoors! The slow burn gives off carbon monoxide.

        1. “Using charcoal for fires and cooking is one way to pick up off-grid living skills.” This was what confused me. It went on to talk about a ‘charcoal chimney’ which I had never heard of. I assume now that you meant an outdoor fire, but you must admit that was a little ambiguous. I feel like you yelled at me for my question, which doesn’t seem right considering I was reading your article with interest and was considering following you.

          1. A charcoal chimney is a product used to heat up a small amount of charcoal, which is then poured into a grill or firepit. I included a link to an example of a charcoal chimney in the article.

  2. Pingback: Why a Dutch Oven Should Be Part of Your Survival Kit - Preparedness AdvicePreparedness Advice

  3. Pingback: Why a Dutch Oven Should Be Part of Your Survival Kit - Preparedness AdvicePreparedness Advice

  4. Lowes and Home Depot have a Memorial Day and a Labor Day sale. A plastic wrapped pair of 18.6 pound bags of Kingsford Charcoal for $9.95. Veterans get an additional 10% off. In my experience, keeping charcoal in it’s original bag works just fine. Just keep it in a dry place. I have about 400 pounds and I am careful to rotate it

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