What to do with charcoal after grilling – Recycling and safely disposing

After a long grill session, the bottom of your BBQ will be filled with spent charcoal. When you’re faced with what to do with charcoal after grilling I’ve got several tricks to dispose of charcoal safely. As a bonus, they don’t all involve just binning it.

How to extinguish charcoal safely

The best and safest way to extinguish charcoal is to essentially turn off your BBQ with the charcoal still inside.

The simplest way to do this is to close all the vents on your grill and keep the lid on or closed. By starving the charcoal of oxygen it will go out quite quickly. The small embers also have no chance of escaping in the wind if you leave the lid closed while waiting for them to go out.

If your BBQ does not have a lid then the safest way to allow the charcoal to cool down is to give it time to cool naturally. If you’re able to safely position your BBQ out of the wind then that is a bonus, I mean you should’ve already done this before lighting the BBQ.

How to dispose of charcoal safely

Charcoal is safe to dispose of with your non-recycling waste when allowed to cool for a long period of time. You can ensure the charcoal is completely cool by just leaving it in the BBQ ash catcher if your grill has one or in the bottom of your BBQ. Charcoal ash must be completely cold to touch before disposing of, it is recommended to leave charcoal to cool for 24-48 hours before attempting to dispose of it.

Even when you believe the charcoal to be cold be very careful when disturbing charcoal ash and moving it around, fresh oxygen can re-light smoldering embers sometime after grilling. This normally only happens in the first 24 hours, but it’s better to be cautious every time.

Once cool you can wrap it in tin-foil for disposal or in a bag you can tie. Your bin man will not be happy if he goes to collect your waste and charcoal dust has blown all over him so make sure whatever you put it into, it can’t leak.

This is the only way to dispose of briquettes and quick light charcoal ash. Because of the additives to the charcoal, it is not safe for recycling or using on your plants. This is also the same for quick light charcoal bags as again they have harmful chemicals added for easy lighting.

Can you use charcoal ash for plants?

Certain types of charcoal ash that have no additives when the charcoal was unlit can be recycled as fertilizer for plants. For example, Wood charcoal or Lump wood charcoal generally has zero additives and can be used either directly onto the soil or in a compost heap.

Charcoal ash contains potassium which is very good for most plants. The pH levels in the soil will also increase by adding into the soil, so this should be used sparingly. Using Wood ash: using in the garden / RHS Gardening.

There are some recipes online for using ash as bug spray to deter pests from plants by combining it with other ingredients. But naturally charcoal is good for deterring insects from your plants

Is charcoal ash good for plants?

Yes, by adding the charcoal ash to the soil for growing plants you are using it as a fertilizer. This ash fertilizer is nutritious for many plants. This is a great way to recycle charcoal ash when stuck for what to do with charcoal after grilling.

Briquettes or quick light charcoal has additives during manufacturing and is therefore not good for plants.

Can you re-use unburnt charcoal?

Yes, I always re-use unburnt charcoal and it’s good practice to re-use charcoal when possible. When it’s cold brush away all the burnt bits of the charcoal into your BBQs ash catcher and add the cleaned charcoal to the chimney ready for re-igniting. Or simply keep it in a dry place ready for your next grill session.

Charcoal can be quite expensive so it’s a waste to throw this unburnt fuel away!

What else can I use charcoal ash for?

A few other useful ways you can use charcoal after grilling are:

  • Manage Algae in your pond – companies sell activated charcoal for this exact reason.
  • Make Lye Soap – Lye soap only contains a couple of teaspoons of charcoal ash but it’s another good use.
  • Keep rust away from tools in the shed – Charcoal absorbs moisture a couple of larger bits of ash in your toolbox will help prevent any rust build-up.
  • Destroy household odors – again larger pieces of charcoal ash are good a great de-odorizer and work extremely well in smelly old shoes.

A quick google search will give you a more in-depth way to utilise charcoal ash for the above.