Drying Charcoal

One of the down sides of YouTube is there are so many people doing similar things that I picked the wrong way to make my charcoal. Instead of sealing up my barrel when the charcoal was done like Gary teaches, I just dumped it in a water trough to stop the burn like I had seen so many others on YouTube do. Unfortunately, those videos are mostly made by folks making biochar for the garden so they don’t care if it can burn.

I didn’t realize that charcoal was so hard to dry!

Just as an experiment (when the wife wasn’t home), I put a 2 gallon pail full of charcoal in the oven at 180F for 2 hours and it still wouldn’t burn. It took about 4 hours to dry it enough for it to burn well. That was after it dried in the garage for a few weeks.

So my question is: If anyone has run into this problem, how did you remedy it, and how do you keep it dry?

I have about 40 gallons of the stuff (it’s kind of addicting to make).

Thank you,

Cory Warneke


Cory, I agree it is addicting. Not sure where you are living but unless you are way down south where it is hot and dry, I would never douse charcoal with water unless it is not intended for fuel. Airtight barrels are the easiest way to cool the charcoal. I store my ready made charcoal in plastic barrels with air tight gasket lids and I also have a bunch of those plastic kitty litter containers with the big screw on covers that hold 2 -1/2 gallons. Those are easy to carry and store and empty but you need a funnel to fill them.


Thanks Don,
I live near Kansas City. Our heat is a wet kind of heat. Thanks for the storage tips. I don’t have cats, but a few trips to the local recycling place should yield something similar to what you’re recommending. I’ll switch to sealing the barrels to cool the charcoal in the future.

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Hi Cory, if you are using gary’s 2 barrel method place your wet charcoal in another barrel and lean it against the burning one. Rotate it a 1/4 turn every now and then you should get a fair bit of heat transfer for free. I have also added 5 or 10 gallons of wet stuff to a batch that just finished ; just after you bury the lower holes and before the lid add 5-10 gallons of wet stuff. Leave it uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes or so and it should evaporate the water from the wet batch for free…


Great ideas dbaillie! Thank you!

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Cory, making charcoal must be like panning for gold. Just can’t stop! I’ve run 184 fifty-five gallon barrel retorts full, make it in a TLUD cook stove, and collect it from my wood stove ashes. One neighbor lady even sifted some charcoal out of another neighbor’s slash pile and delivered it to me. At first, I struggled to get the retort barrel sealed so the larger pieces of wood could cook into charcoal, by putting a 75# plate steel piece on top with several hundred pounds more of bricks and logs. I sealed the lower holes with clay and sometimes I would come out in the morning and feel the side of the barrel to find that it was hot, and burning up my precious charcoal. So I started dousing it with about 30 gallons of rain water, and raking it out on old tin roofing, and almost the same day, transporting it to a hardware cloth covered frame over a wheelbarrow. Use a little brush that comes with a dustpan and rub the fine stuff through the screen while looking very critically at the wood for any sign of brown, or stick shaped pieces, or nails, or absolutely anything that is not really well cooked. Save this for cooking, but get it out of your screened charcoal. Try to break any pieces larger than an inch with your gloved fingers. Look inside. Is it done? Now leave this on the screen for several hours in the hot sun. The next step is to reduce all of it to a size of 1/8" to 3/4". I use a copy of Gary’s charcoal grinder. Put the ground stuff back on the screen and look for any “brown” or nails or stones. Run it back and forth with the brush, then use the dust pan to transfer it to large trays (like they use in restaurants for collecting dishes). Leave it out in the sun, and then move it to a sealed drum. After a while, open the drum lid and see if there is condensation on the bottom of the lid. If so, it is not yet dry. If we have a low humidity day, say 10 to 15% RH, I will open all the sealed barrels and check, and leave the lids off for a few hours. We just had some 86 F degree days (late January) and today is a burn ban because the humidity is in the low teens. The charcoal needs to be small for use in the Simple-Fire. Small sized charcoal will dry quickly. One problem I have had several times now is having a pile of charcoal waiting to be screened catch on fire from an flying ember from a barrel being processed. Also, do not use stainless steel bowls to hold charcoal. The doused charcoal while “drying” will ignite in the bowl, and catches the grass on fire under the bowl, and burns the content of the bowl to ash. Most of my stored charcoal still needs to be ground in the charcoal grinder, and it
is stored in large feed sacks with a slip of white cardboard showing the date and type of wood. Some of the tags show the weight when the bag was loaded. After 4 or 5 years, they weigh less, indicating that water has evaporated.


I think that, even in the dead of summer drought here, our airborne humidity here doesn’t go below 30%RH or so. >_<

Wow! You’ve got quite the operation! It looks like making charcoal is a highly personalized craft, and one I’m going to have to experiment with to find what works best for me. Like Brian, our humidity rarely goes below 20% except in the dead of winter and is usually much higher than that so it looks like I’m going to have to use extra heat to drive off the water. Thanks for the tips, and it sounds like we may have to start a colliers anonymous group :grinning:

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Last batch, a test cooking retort under high temperature ( metal melting), someone opened the lid during cooling down…
So, to save the charcoal, i quenched it with water and let it soaked in the barrel untill next morning.
Then i spread it out on the concrete floor and let it sun dry. it did take 2 day’s before it was dry.
I am thinking of making it my favorite way to do, it saves on time and gives clean crispy charcoal.

Its winter time here :wink: temperature drops at night to 8°C but during daytime, if not raining, it climbs to 34°C
Humidity is almost never below 60-70% RH


Hi Cory, Yeah, that youtube suff has to be carefully watched. Some folks are so anxious to post that they give out information before really knowing whether it works or not. Water quench for biochar is fine, but not for making chargas. That is why I use air tight drums to smother it. OK, so what do you do now. Two choices, 1. Spread it out somewhere and let the moisture evaporate. This will depend on the air temp, time and humidity, 2. Add it to compost and put it in the garden as biochar. You will be making more so this is a learning experience and it really does help in the garden.
Welcome on board the charcoal wagon!
Gary in PA