I taught myself how to grill last summer. Well, kind of. I taught myself how to prepare exactly one crispy-skinned hot dog on my tiny Weber camp grill, which I promptly fumbled and sent rolling across my disgusting porch. After that, I pretty much let sleeping hot dogs lie. But I still have a bag of EZ-light charcoal briquettes left over from last year’s experiment. My question: Can I use them, or have they lost their spark?
The answer depends on the type of charcoal you’re using. If you’re using EZ-light briquettes, which are already doused in lighter fluid, your charcoal will have a significantly shorter shelf life, usually less than a year. That pre-dispensed lighter fluid will eventually go bad, making it more difficult to light the charcoal. Per grilling blog No Excuses BBQ, you can likely still use old EZ-light charcoal. You’ll just have to work harder to light the stuff.
The good news: if you’re using natural, additive-free charcoal, the briquettes pretty much last forever—if you’ve stored it properly, that is.
I scrolled through dozens of barbecue blogs to answer this question, and they all had the same answer: nothing matters as long as you’re keeping your charcoal dry. Storing it under a tarp on your porch isn’t enough; charcoal is extremely porous, so any exposure to the elements can lead to excess moisture and even mold. While you can technically dry out moistened charcoal by setting it in direct sun, you’re better off storing your briquettes indoors in a cool, dry place, preferably in an airtight container. That container can be anything from a plastic Tupperware bowl to a designated charcoal storage bin like this one. As long as it’s airtight and waterproof, you’re good.
Unfortunately, I’ve left my charcoal sitting in its original paper packaging for the last year. It has, however, been on a cool and dry shelf in my pantry. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.