DIY: Make Your Own Charcoal

Adapted from Corttany Brooks’ Recipe
Photography by Kolton Dalla


Why would anyone want to make their own charcoal you ask? For one thing, good hardwood lump burns hotter and cleaner than briquettes and is much easier to light.You also know where it came from, what it contains and what was done to it en route.

Screenshot 2015-07-16 13.52.25WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Source of fire: I use a back yard fire pit. A propane heater or even a grill could also be used.

Empty metal paint can: It’s a good idea to make sure the paint can is cleaned of paints that can give off toxic fumes. Poke or drill three holes in the lid.These holes should be about an eighth of an inch in diameter.

Wood: You can use any hardwood native to the islands like Kiawe or Macadamia Nut wood. Experiment to see which one is readily available for you and works for your needs. Research to make sure the wood is not toxic when burned.

When building the fire, I like to have my fire going for an hour or two be- fore I start cooking the charcoal.This gives me a nice steady coal bed to cook over and a nice break to enjoy some sun and a brew.

Once the fire situation is in order, fill the can with your choice of wood. Try to use uniform pieces, which will give a more consistent end product. If using a variety of sizes, line the can with larger pieces, and place the smaller ones in the center. It’s also helpful to use dry or seasoned wood.


This part takes a few hours.Turn the can over once or twice to make sure that the heat stays hot and even, but not blazing.

As the wood heats, steam and gasses escape through the holes in the lid. The goal is to cook out everything but the carbon. Cooking the wood while starving it of oxygen is the retort method of making charcoal.

At first, the steam escaping will appear white. As the steam darkens, keep a closer eye on it.The darker gasses show that the essential oils are burning off.These gasses are flammable and will eventually ignite, making three small torches out of the holes in the lid.

This means that it is time to take it off the fire.

PLEASE NOTE: Do not take off the lid at this point! Simply place the extremely hot can holes facing down in a safe, cool place. Introducing oxy- gen to the coal at this point would cause it to burn up immediately, leaving you with ashes.

Wait at least a few hours for everything to cool completely before revealing your homemade charcoal. And lastly, enjoy!