Making Your Own Charcoal (a.k.a. Lump Charcoal)

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(Writers note:  This is my first instructable so I'm open to constructive criticism.  If you see something that needs to be added, please let me know and I'll keep things updated.  Thanks for reading!)

This instructable will show you how to make your own charcoal for grilling out or using in a smoker.  In essence, what you are trying to do is take standard hardwood and taking the wood gas out of it which will cause the wood to burn more slowly and at more of a smolder.  The wood gas is the part of the wood that makes it flammable so once this is removed, you have your charcoal.

 This homemade charcoal will not burn as long as standard store bought charcoal.  This is due to all of the additives they put in them at the factory.  The homemade charcoal will burn cleaner and is more "green" than store bought charcoal.  One batch will make quite a bit of charcoal.  The wood will burn up some and reduce the amount you have, but it won't reduce a whole lot.

You use this just like you would regular store bought charcoal.  Lighter fluid or charcoal chimney will get it started.  I make my pieces larger because I typically use it for smoking rather than just on the grill.  You can make the pieces as large or as small as you want.

Are you ready?  Lets get started!

Step 1: Getting Started

The biggest thing you need to get started is finding a source of hardwood.  I have a friend who has an almost endless supply of rough cut walnut and oak that is used in shipping doors.  Using soft wood is NOT advised.  This wood will burn fast and probably won't burn long enough to cook a hot dog.  Sources could be saw mills, construction sites (be sure to get permission and DO NOT use treated lumber), or cutting your own.

Basically all you need is the wood, a saw to cut the wood, a metal barrel with a lid, and a place to store the finished charcoal to keep it dry.

You will also need some smaller burning material to start the fire with in the barrel.  You need to get a good fire burning to start with so have more than just a few twigs on hand.  If your barrel had contained oil or other dangerous fluids, be sure to do a quick burn in the barrel to burn off all the contaminants or clean it out good.

Step 2: Starting the Burn

Once you have your wood cut, start a decent fire in your barrel and get it going good.  You will need a fairly strong fire going in the bottom of the barrel before you add your hardwood.  Let your fire burn for a while so you get some good coals and strong flame in the bottom of the barrel.

When your fire is burning good, start adding your hardwood.  I have found this works better by adding just like a layer at a time and let it start catching fire before adding your next layer.  When burning in a 55 gallon drum, I will usually do like 3 layers of wood.  It takes longer when adding the wood this way, but the burning process goes faster because you don't have to wait as long to get the fire all the way up to the top of the wood.

After all of the wood is added, let the fire burn until all of the wood in the barrel is on fire.  This is an important step because you are removing all of the wood gas this way.  Your wood should be burning and you will begin to see the char on the outside of the wood.

Step 3: Settling It All Down

I wish I could tell you an exact amount of time to allow the wood to burn, but this is next to impossible.  You will just have to use your eyes to see how your wood is doing.  Your wood needs to be burning and a slight char to the wood.  Just keep in mind, you are burning the wood enough to burn out the wood gas or the flammable part of the wood, but leaving enough wood behind so that it will burn when grilling.

Once your wood is burning good and is ready, put the lid on the barrel.  This will allow the wood to smolder and put itself out.  This step is important to let the wood char almost completely through.  Of course if you put the fire out with water you will be ruining your charcoal and making a large mess in the bottom of your barrel.

The best way to do this is to start your project about mid afternoon.  When your wood is ready, put the lid on and allow the wood to finish smoldering overnight.  Wait until the next afternoon to remove the lid to make sure all of the fire is out and the wood is done burning.

Step 4: Finishing Up

After your fire is completely out and your barrel is cooled off, remove the lid.  The picture below is a great picture of how your wood should look after the smoldering is done and the charcoal is ready to package.

If you remove the lid before the wood is done smoldering, this will just add air to the embers and start the burning again.  When the charcoal is cooled off, remove it from the barrel and place it in a container.  I have used large plastic totes to hold the charcoal and others I know have used paper sacks (i.e. lawn refuse bags or used charcoal sacks).  If you do not need the barrel for any other use, you can just leave the lid on the barrel and take the charcoal out as you need it.

IMPORTANT----------You MUST be ABSOLUTELY sure that your wood is completely out before storing it!  This seems like a no brainer, but without fail someone has and will make this mistake.  If the wood is not completely out, you will ruin your whole batch after removing it from your barrel and it will all burn up.  Not to mention, if you take it in your house you risk catching your whole house on fire.

Step 5: Using Your Charcoal

Now that you have the satisfaction of making your own charcoal, you can now invite your friends and family over for a big cookout to show off your charcoal making and cooking skills!

As stated before, you can use this stuff just like regular charcoal, but it will not last as long as the briquettes.  Keep this in mind in case you have to add more or to adjust your cooking times.

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31 Discussions

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susancesq

Question 3 months ago on Introduction

Is this the same type of charcoal that can be used to purify water, dehumidify rooms or alleviate stomach aches?

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dano9999

Question 5 months ago

I like the process of making your own charcoal as you instructed. I have used high desert Juniper for smoking in a BBQ and it flavors beef extremely well. I believe it would be consodered a hard wood but wonder how it would do as a charcoal. Any one ever tried Juniper. Many ranchers consider it a weed tree and cut it down and burn it to give them more browsing grasses in central Oregon.

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TweakGeek1Craftsmanhux

Answer 5 months ago

You can use any container that you would be able to start the fire in and then snuff it out. This could be done by digging a hole in the ground and burning the wood in it if you need to.

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TweakGeek1Craftsmanhux

Answer 5 months ago

I would use whatever I needed to in order to get the fire going. I believe this day there was some dried grass available to get the fire going. Paper or any other kindling would work to get the fire going long enough to catch the wood on fire.

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AbdurR70

Question 1 year ago on Introduction

dear sir
i need a hand book that's help of making all kind of chacoal. I am interested build a factory thank you

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Dale_D

8 years ago on Introduction

I would stay away from Walnut, especially if you are cooking food with it. It is not very well known, but Walnut is poisonous. That's why you frequently see large Walnut trees standing by themselves, with not much in the way of weeds or grass growing underneath them. They kill the competition. Often, woodworkers who do not use dust masks and proper dust control in their shops will become sensitive, even allergic, to Walnut. I have even known some people who can no longer work with it in their shop. It surpasses Cedar in causing allergic reactions. I have even developed a sensitivity to it from nor wearing a dust mask while working with it. If I breath any Walnut dust my sinuses block up almost immediately and I feel like I'm getting the flu. Besides, your best woods for adding flavor to your grilled foods are Apple, Hickory, and Mesquite. Oak might be able to be used, but it contains a lot of tannic acid (don't know how it would taste). Other interesting choices might be Birch, Rock (Sugar) Maple, and Sassafras. Maybe even Beech.

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GaradinDale_D

Reply 2 years ago

Check out this list of woods used for smoking/cooking. I had been told not to use certain woods for smoking, but then found the same wood commercially sold in chip form for that purpose. While doing research I found this handy list.

www.deejayssmokepit.net/Downloads_files/SmokingFlavorChart.pdf

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Topcat2021Dale_D

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Good reply on the types of wood to use another is the Pecan tree it is a type of Hickory tree and is found all over "Down South" in the United States. I've found that pecan wood is good for some of the smoking that I do and I have several in my yard.
Dan

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TweakGeek1Dale_D

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

You are correct when dealing with regular wood if used with cooking. However, by burning the wood, you are removing all of the contaminants and most of the oils. After the process of making the charcoal, the amount of "fragrance" left in the wood is unnoticeable. That is all taken away during the initial burn process. When I'm smoking with this charcoal, I have my charcoal and then I have a supply of Hickory or Apple on hand to add to the charcoal for my flavor.

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harris46banjo

3 years ago on Step 1

Hi, I live on a small farm in South Africa. I am going to produce my own charcoal.

Not for grilling, but to make a charcoal fridge.

This room will become my Wine Fridge. About 6 cubic metres. So the type of

wood that I use will not be to important. What I would like to know. Did you punch any holes into the base of your draw in order to draw air to start the small fire?

Sincerely, Allan Dawson

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TweakGeek1harris46banjo

Reply 3 years ago on Step 1

I did not punch holes in the base of the drum to start the fire. This would kind of defeat your purpose when you snuff the fire with the lid as it could still draw some oxygen and the wood will burn longer than intended.

Once you get the wood burning decent and you put the lid on the drum to snuff the fire, you'll want the fire to die quickly and just let the fire smolder out.

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swilson81

4 years ago on Introduction

This method works well enough, but wouldn't it be easier(and safer) to avoid setting the charcoal on fire to burn out the wood gas? If you place the wood-to-be inside a metal container and then burn the container within the barrel it should burn off the wood gas, similar to a wood gasifier. Put a pipe leading away from the open flame if the container seals so the fire doesn't ignite the gases. I haven't done either of these methods to see which is better(burn length, quality, etc.) but I have read other charcoal making guides that use this method.

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keagon

5 years ago on Introduction

uhm im guessing that you can use this charcoal for smoking a hookah, hubbly or oka (whatever you wana call it, i live in south africa so it goes by the name of oka and hubbly), but i dont really live near much tabaco shop to by the actual smoking coal. so the point is id like to know how long an average piece would burn for. i was also wondering, seeing that i live near so many gum trees, would is be possible to use gum instead? im a real science geek by dont really specialise in the biological sector so forgive me. Thanks in advance

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Hycro

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I think it's all a matter of your geographical location...where I live, coal can only be bought at the store, and often only during "BBQ Season" where everyone's using their outdoor grills a lot, but wood on the other hand...dirt cheap, literally...if you have even a knife you can get your own wood, though having an axe/saw/chainsaw would make it easier and quicker to get large quantities...but in most places 'round here, you're no more than 100m/328' from the nearest wood source...

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rimar2000Hycro

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Yes, it is as you say. The cheap firewood is cheaper than charcoal. But that wood lasts a few minutes in fire, then it is ashes. The good firewood lasts almost like the charcoal, but it is more expensive. In my case, I hate to be pending from the ember, and the charcoal gives you enough time to do other things during the roast.

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Hycrorimar2000

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I was implying, that it is much easier to harvest your own firewood, at little or no cost, if you have any trees available to do so with...

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Hycro

8 years ago on Step 2

When I'm making a fire for heating, and it's unusually cold in the building I'm trying to heat, I'll have my tinder, then kindling, then my small "large bits" then some larger ones on top, especially if it's out camping in a hunting camp of sorts (we go there for drinking, since none of us usually hunts) and the wood I'm using is kinda frosty...that way it's "preheating" the larger bits, and I don't need to be there watching it the whole time it's trying to catch, just need to be sure the kindling caught, then I don't need to worry about it going back out again for a while. (our trips are usually short-planned, and somehow on the coldest nights is when we have the worst wood, even if my buddy brought some from his woodpile at home, it still doesn't work the greatest, I end up getting green brush and dried twigs from outside, hence why they liked me coming along 'cause I didn't mind going outside to get that stuff, 'cause I'd always be dressed for colder than it was when we went out to the camp :D)