How to Make Charcoal [Step by Step Guide]

Charcoal is a common grilling fuel, which has been around for many years. Among the benefits of charcoal that make it popular is that it produces sustainable heat. If properly lit, it burns evenly without emitting too much smoke.

You can use it on a charcoal grill or charcoal cooker. If you use charcoal extensively, you realize that it is quite more affordable than most fuels.

Did you know you can make charcoal at home? Yes, it is possible to make charcoal at home, where you can uncover your creativity with this DIY project.

Before getting on how to make charcoal, let us look at its brief history.

History of Charcoal Use

As earlier mentioned, we have been using charcoal for a long time. Some sources indicate the first use of charcoal was around 30000BC. At this time, cavemen used this piece of carbon for drawing and painting on their walls.

Its use for heat generation seems to have come accidentally when a piece fell into the fire. Charcoal played a critical role in the Bronze Age and succeeding Iron Age. Here it helped in smelting the metals and also in the creation of tools.

Its major function is heat production, but it has numerous additional purposes, particularly in the medical field. It can be used to whiten teeth, alleviate gas, and promote healthy kidneys. It functions as a purifier and is widely used in industrial settings such as water treatment facilities. In these applications, activated charcoal is the most helpful form.

Here we will focus mostly on making charcoal for grilling.

How is Charcoal Made?

Before proceeding, you need to understand the structure of charcoal. It usually appears like a dark mass of burnt wood. It is pure carbon, made by heating it in low oxygen conditions. The burning conditions help in removing volatile compounds like methane, water, and tar.

The result is a material that can burn slowly without producing excess smoke. There are two ways to make charcoal. There is the traditional method, where you burn wood in a mound or a pit. It is a common way of making this heating material as it is relatively affordable.

The downside to the traditional methods is that they take a long time. They may also negatively impact the surroundings due to the emitted smoke and the charcoal’s quality is pretty low.

There is the modernized method of making charcoal, which is more efficient. It takes a short time to prepare, with the result being high-quality fuel. Modern-made charcoal has a carbon content of 82% and above. This translates to sustained combustion.

Its con is that it is expensive, and suitable for mass production for its profitability.

Types of Charcoal

There are two types of charcoal, briquettes and lump charcoal. Charcoal briquettes have a regular shape. They consist of wood and other natural materials that can light. Briquettes have additives like binding agents that help keep all contents together.

Their regular shape makes them easy to stack on the grill. Additionally, it makes them burn sustainably as air control is easy.

365 Everyday Value briquettes is a good option to consider for your grill. Lighting is stress-free, and it will burn at a decent heat level for a long time. It produces minimal ash; as such, cleaning after use should not worry you.

On the flip side, we have lump charcoal. Unlike the briquettes, they have an irregular shape and are mostly pure. They come from trees, meaning there are no additives. However, beware as some companies may use treated wood to make lump charcoal.

Their irregular shape makes stacking a challenge. This means you do not have controlled airflow. At times, the lumps can burn unevenly or fast.

If you want to go for lump charcoal, the Jealous Devil all-natural hardwood is a suitable pick. The charcoal is 100% natural, coming from pure South American hardwood. It burns well, better than most lump charcoal. This bag of fuel has a low ash output.

Making Charcoal At Home: Step By Step Process

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Here are some of the different ways of making charcoal at home.

Method 1: Making Charcoal in a Metal Barrel

You will need a decent amount of chopped hardwood, and a metal barrel with a lid. You also need fire starters, which will sustain fire.

Step 1: Start Your Fire in the Barrel

You should use a clean barrel for the best results. If the barrel has been painted, you can use a paint stripper. A recommended solution is CITRISTRIP paint and varnish stripping gel. This stripping gel has a citrus scent and can remove oil-based paint, varnish, and dried latex.

Back to the procedure, start the fire at the bottom of the barrel. Use your fire starters, like twigs or dried grass for fast ignition. As the fire lights, add the chopped wood, portion by portion. Let the first layer start burning before adding more.

Step 2: Sealing the Barrel with its Lid

After layering the hardwood to the barrel’s brim, let them burn till they darken, then seal it. Do not make an airtight seal as it will prevent combustion due to lack of oxygen. You should notice some smoke coming out of the drum.

Leave the barrel for 24 hours for the wood to smother to form charcoal. Check on it to confirm if the fuel is ready. If done, remove the charcoal and pack it appropriately.

Method 2: Using a Pit

You will need a shovel, protective gear, and hardwood chunks.

Step 1: Digging the Pit

Start by plotting the area in your compound where you can dig a pit. Ensure the part has soft soil to allow for air movement and is also easy to dig. The size of the pit depends on how much charcoal you want. If you want more, then the pit should be deeper.

Clear the dirt and ignite your fire starters. Once the fire is stable, layer the woods. Set the wood in a manner that will allow oxygen circulation.

Step 2: Cover the Wood with Soil

When the wood starts charring, pour the soil into the pit. Ensure that you cover the pit, though you can poke some air holes. The soil will let in some air due to its granular nature.

Leave the pit undisturbed for around two to three days, then check it. If done, you can unearth it. This is not the best method of preparing charcoal as it is quite tedious. The pits may make your compound look bad. It also takes a long time. Regardless, it is an ideal way if you want a lot of charcoal.

Method 3: Making Briquettes

You can also make charcoal briquettes at home. It is a simple process that will leave you with fuel that burns sufficiently.

Here are some of the things you will need.

  • Hardwood charcoal.
  • Accelerator.
  • An egg tray.
  • Cornstarch.
  • White ash.

Step 1: Make Your Charcoal

You need charcoal to make the briquettes. You can make charcoal using a barrel, which is a fast way. Once you have your charcoal ready, you have to crush it to a fine powder.

Step 2: Mixing the Components

Mix water with cornstarch in a large container to accommodate all the charcoal powder. The cornstarch solution acts as a binding agent. Mix it properly until it forms a paste. Once it achieves the desired consistency.

Add the charcoal dust and continue mixing until you have a thick dark paste. Bring in your accelerator, which makes the briquettes easy to light. You may use nitrate though it is expensive. A cheaper option is sawdust. Two handfuls will do for a bucketful mixture of the charcoal paste.

Finalize by adding two handfuls of white ash. White ash does not burn fast, which helps in the briquettes’ slow combustion to make it economical.

Step 3: Pour the Mixture into Egg Trays

For a bucketful of charcoal paste, you may need around three to four egg trays. Pour the mixture into the paper trays for them to get a definite shape. The briquettes should ideally rest for roughly a week before they are ready for use.

Points to Note When Making Charcoal at Home

Looking at the highlighted way of how to make charcoal, you can see that it is a simple engagement. However, making the fuel is just one part of the whole exercise. Below are things you should keep in mind.

  • Safety

Charcoal preparation involves the use of heat. You need to be careful to prevent accidental burns or excess smoke inhalation. It calls for protective gear to prevent injury. For example, you can wear Homemaxs BBQ gloves to prevent the burning of your hands. It is a heavy-duty pair of gloves, which come in handy when making fuel on a barrel.

Keep your distance from the homemade oven to avoid inhaling the fumes. Inhaling the fumes makes you susceptible to respiratory issues. Wear safety gloves when you layer the woods, as you are dealing with naked flames.

  • Packaging

Look for a durable package, which is less prone to tearing, as it will prevent spills.

Waterproof packaging works well as the charcoal does not come in contact with water. Moisture makes it hard to light, and in some instances, it may bring about too much smoke.

  • Can I Use Wet Charcoal?

This is a common question that many have when they have a bag of wet charcoal. When charcoal gets in contact with water, it becomes wet, and it won’t burn well. There are two ways to deal with a wet charcoal situation.

First, you can sun-dry them by laying them on a cement floor. Turn them occasionally for them to dry evenly. The other way is by mixing them with a bag of dry charcoal. If the moisture content is too high, you may have to discard them, especially if there are signs of crumbling.

  • The Issue of Charcoal Dust

Over time, charcoal will start breaking down, and you will notice this through its dust. This fuel is also brittle, and any movement or disturbance can lead to its crumbling. High-quality charcoal is less prone to crumbling.

You can use the dust in making briquettes whereby you combine it with other items like cornstarch, water, and sawdust. Exercise care when handling the dust to prevent respiratory issues, mainly if you have dust allergies.

Check our comprehensive guide on how to use a charcoal grill


Which method of grilling, gas or charcoal, do you like better? If yes, then you’re in good company. This time-honored source of energy has gained widespread popularity in recent years. Here we teach you how to create charcoal at home so you’ll always have fuel.

Select a way of preparation that you find more appealing and put your do-it-yourself abilities to the test. Safety first if you want to make it through this encounter unscathed.

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