How long does grill charcoal last? Plus expert advice on how to make it last longer

Here's everything you need to know about how long grill charcoal lasts

lighting a charcoal grill
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I'm completely partisan when it comes to grilling. Gas grills are great, but in the end, there's nothing like a charcoal grill for adding delicious, smoky flavor. 

However, charcoal can be tricky to master, and if you don't know what you're doing, you can mistime your food. That can mess with your flavors, and it can even be unsanitary. 

Thankfully, I've tested dozens of the best grills, so I have a lot of experience with charcoal. I also spoke to grilling experts about the best way to get the most from your charcoal. 

How long does grill charcoal last?

Grilling beef burgers on a charcoal grill

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Grill charcoal lasts for 1-2 hours. More important than how long it lasts, however, is the window for cooking different types of food. Your window for warming through side dishes is about two hours, but you only have about 30 minutes in which you can sear steaks and chicken. You can grill burgers and chicken for about an hour on a grill. 

Homesteader Lindsey Chastain told me that 'On average, a standard batch of charcoal can last between 1 to 2 hours, providing enough heat to cook most meals.'

Beyond 1-2 hours, you need more charcoal to top your cooking. You go through one bag of charcoal every two hours, so stock up for however many hours you think you'll need.

How can I make my charcoal last longer?

food cooking on a charcoal grill

(Image credit: Jan Otto/Getty images)

After the charcoal is lit, make sure to close the lid on your grill, but open the vents. We all know the basic physics that fires need air to burn, but too much air means the fire will burn too fast, and your grill will burn itself out before it even really gets going. Additionally, wind makes it much harder for a grill to stay aflame. While it seems like the windy day will help your fire along - the more air the better - it's likely to extinguish your flames.

You could also introduce some smoking wood to your grilling. Smoking can take your food to the next level, infusing all sorts of dishes with earthy flavors that you can't get anywhere else. Best of all, it can replace some of your charcoal, adding both fuel and flavor, saving you charcoal in the long run. 

Lindsey Chastain gave me a great tip. 'If you want to make your charcoal last longer, there are a few techniques you can try,' she says. 'One method is to create a two-zone fire by pushing the lit charcoal to one side of the grill and leaving the other side empty. This allows you to cook food over indirect heat, which can help to conserve charcoal. Another tip is to keep the lid of your grill closed as much as possible, as this helps to maintain heat and prevent the charcoal from burning too quickly.'

What should I do if my charcoal is cooling too fast?

If your charcoal is cooling too fast, it's a sign that you're using lighter fluid or match light charcoal. My top tip is to stop using these fuels. You can stop the problem before it starts if you cut these out of your grilling process. These are great for getting a grill going, but if anything they do too good of a job, as they burn too quickly. Overdoing it with firefighters or easy-light charcoal can give you as little as 20 minutes of cooking time. 

However, that isn't useful when you're in the middle of grilling. If your charcoal is cooling too fast in the middle of grilling, close the lid and close the vents as narrowly as possible. This will reduce the airflow and slow the burn time. The grill won't get any hotter, but it will slow down the cooling. 

If your charcoal is cooling, the only thing to do is add in some more. It's good to use smaller pieces, as these are easier to pour through a grate onto lit coals. In a pinch, you can also use wood chips or wood pellets. They burn a lot faster than charcoal, so you need to keep them topped up, but it will at least keep the fire going. 


Should I use lump charcoal or briquettes?

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It depends on what you're cooking. Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster, so it's better for searing meat like steak. Briquettes burn slower for longer, so are better for slower cooks like brisket or jerk pork. 

If you're looking for more advice and inspiration, we've covered a lot of the best grilling advice, from the best wood for smoking to pizza ovens vs grill.

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.