When you barbecue with charcoal, you don't have to start with a fresh batch every time you fire up the grill. All charcoal, whether it's hardwood or briquettes, has a lifespan that may be longer than your grilling session, and you can take advantage of that to reuse it next time. While that lifespan is longer in briquettes -- check your bag for specifics -- you can also relight any charcoal that hasn't burned for as long as possible.
Close up your grill when you're finished cooking. Instead of extinguishing your charcoal with sand or water, closing the grill and its vents allows the charcoal to cool naturally, and makes it easier to relight next time.
Empty the grill after a minimum of 48 hours -- it may take this long for the charcoal to completely cool. Your charcoal burns from the outside in, so while the exterior of a piece of charcoal is ashen and crumbling, the inside could be usable.
Brush your charcoal with a steel-bristle brush to remove the ash from the outside. Alternatively, place it on top of a metal grill or grate, then shake the grill from side to side so that the charcoal rolls back and forth, knocking off the ashen exterior. Place the remaining charcoal into a non-combustible bag or bin.
Refill your grill with new charcoal, leaving room to add the old charcoal you were able to recover. Place the old charcoal on top of the new charcoal.
Lightly soak your charcoal pile with lighter fluid or use a chimney starter, and light it with a match.
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- Using a chimney starter instead of lighter fluid prevents your food from picking up the chemical flavors that lighter fluid can create. If using a chimney starter, simply fill it with a mix of old and new charcoal.
- Use tongs when handling used charcoal to prevent burns.
- To prevent fires, throw away your charcoal ash only after it has cooled.
- Never add lighter fluid to already-lit coals, as this can cause an explosion.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.