FANFOOD RULES: # 13. Have a Plan for used Charcoal


I love cooking with charcoal, but there is no doubt that it is messier than using gas, however the flavor that you will get from cooking with charcoal is worth the clean up.

FANFOOD Rules #2 discussed how to light your charcoal without lighter fluid, now we will talk about what to do with it when you are done, followed by recipes for Grilled Chicken Thighs



It might sound obvious, but if you cook with charcoal, you need to have a plan on what you are going to do after the cook. Properly disposing of used charcoal is more than simply sending it to the landfill. You can get much more use out of it and if you BBQ as much as I do, you can save money too.


The first and most important thing you need to do with the charcoal that you use, is to allow the coals to burn out completely and let ashes cool at least 48 hours before doing anything with it.


If your food is done cooking and you have a bunch half burnt charcoal,
you can to reuse it. Dump the coals into a metal container with a well fitting lid (such as a dutch oven) and they will extinguish. After it cools, sift out the large chunks, (see below). and use as the base for your next fire.


If you cannot wait the 48 hours and have no need to reuse, you can speed up the process. Place the coals in heavy duty foil and soak with water completely before disposing in non-combustible container.


Ok, now that all that is out of the way, it’s time to clean up. You’ve waited the required 48 hours, so what do you do with all that ash?


Here is a great trick.

  • Get one of those mesh bags that onions come packed in, and line a bucket with it. You can ask the produce guy at your local grocery store for one, or maybe you have a friend that works in a restaurant.


  • Gather all cooled ashes from the bottom of the grill using a small hand held shovel or small broom and dust pan and pour into the bag in the bucket.


  • Pull the bag out of the bucket, and shake the ash in your flower bed.

Note: Only do this if you have used additive-free lump or all natural charcoal. The ash contains potash, an important nutrient for some plants. It’s also a great way to increase the pH of the soil. Ash is alkaline, so you can use it to raise the pH of acidic soils. But you want to be careful not to make your soil’s pH neutral. To find out about your soil, you can get a soil PH test kit.

Good soil is one of the essentials of a good lawn or garden. Doing a soil test is a simple and inexpensive way to improve your landscape. For optimal plant growth, soil must also have the proper pH level. pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. A measurement of 7.0 is neutral. A number below 7 is acidic (sour) and above 7 is alkaline (sweet). Soil pH signifies a plant’s ability to draw nutrients from the soil.

A soil test will enable you to adjust your soil’s pH level and determine whether it’s neutral, alkaline or acidic. Most plants prefer nearly neutral soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.2. To achieve this goal, acidic soil may require the application of lime. Alkaline soil may require some sulfur.

The best time to test your soil is in the late fall or early spring. This gives you the time to make adjustments before you plant your garden, since soil corrections may take a few months to become effective.

One great place to spread the ash is around a rose bush. Since roses do not like very acidic soil, you may need to decrease acid levels to promote rose health. You can raise soil pH levels with your used charcoal ash. Sprinkling ash over a wide area is the key to making it useful. If you put all your ashes in one pile, you end up with a powerfully alkaline lump that nothing will grow in.


Sorry, got off on a tangent there about soil, back to disposing of the ash.


Once most of what starts shaking out of the bag is dark grey instead of white, dump the contents back into the grill to form the base for the next fire, or store with your unused charcoal.


Here are some other things you can do with your used charcoal:

  • Keep a few pieces in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator to kill odors.
  • Place a lump at the bottom of a flower vase to make cut flowers last longer.
  • Feed your compost pile to increase the carbon content.
  • Suppress garden weeds and maintain soil moisture by using charcoal as a mulch.




Crispy Grilled Chicken Thighs



1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 1/4 pounds)
Vegetable oil, for brushing
Freshly ground black pepper


Combine the mayonnaise, chili powder, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat a grill to medium low. Brush the grill grates with vegetable oil. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish, then add the chicken, turning to thoroughly coat. Grill the chicken, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes per side.


Grilled Tandoori Chicken Thighs



1 lb chicken thighs
1 cup plain low fat Greek yogurt
2 tbs fresh lemon juice (or the juice of one lemon)
Zest of 1 large lemon
Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp ground turmeric (in a pinch you can use a dash of curry seasoning to add “color”)
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp garam masala
sea salt – approx. ½ teaspoon
fresh ground pepper- the more the better


Combine all ingredients but the chicken to create the marinade. Marinate the chicken thighs in the yogurt dressing for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Heat a grill to 400 degrees and create a direct and indirect cooking zone. Coat the grill grates with canola oil or grill spray so the chicken does not stick. Next, grill the chicken thighs on indirect heat for 4 minutes each side or until the internal temperature registers 160 degrees with a meat thermometer (I recommend a Thermapen).
Next, grill the chicken on direct heat for 2 minutes per side to crisp the skin. Remove from heat and tent under foil for 10 minutes.



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