Lump charcoal, which is made by burning pieces of wood until all the impurities are gone and only the coal remains, is an excellent choice for outdoor grilling. It's expensive to buy lump charcoal at the store, but making your own is a cheap and simple solution. This wikiHow will show you how to make wood charcoal from raw material.

Method 1
Method 1 of 2:

Lighting a Bonfire

  1. You may be able to do this in your backyard, or you may need to secure a different site with a permit. Check your city's ordinances on outdoor fires.
  2. This is the container into which you'll put the wood. Choose a drum as large or as small as you'd like, depending on how much charcoal you want to make. Make sure it has a flame-proof lid.
  3. What type of wood do you want to use for your charcoal? Choose wood that has been cured. Cherry wood, oak wood, or hickory wood all work well. Check around to see if people in your area have wood for sale, or pick up some at a home and garden supply store. You'll need enough to fill up your drum to the top. Chop the wood into 4-inch pieces.
  4. Pack the drum tightly with wood, and fill it all the way to the top. Put the lid on the drum.
    • The lid should close well enough to stay in place, but you don't want it to be airtight.
  5. Buy or gather extra wood to make a bonfire that will burn for 3 - 5 hours. Build it up on your chosen site. Leave a hole in the middle for the drum. Put the drum in the hole and cover it with more wood.
  6. Keep it going for at least 3 hours, more if you're using a large drum packed with wood. Let the fire completely burn out and cool down before approaching the drum.
  7. When you open the lid, you'll see a fresh batch of pure lump coal. Use it to grill for the rest of the summer.[1]
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Method 2
Method 2 of 2:

Using Two Drums

  1. The small drum must fit in the larger one with plenty of room to spare. Using a 30 gallon (113.6 L) drum inside a 55 gallon (208.2 L) drum works well.
  2. Use a metal jigsaw blade to make a square cut in the base of the larger drum. It should be about 12 inches (30.5 cm) by 20 inches (50.8 cm).
    • You'll need this hole to feed fuel into the drum to keep the contents hot.
  3. This allows the extreme heat to pass into the the smaller drum, cooking the wood inside. Drill 5 or 6 1/2-inch holes in the base of the drum.[2]
  4. Cherry wood, oak wood, or hickory wood chopped into 4-inch pieces is ideal. Pack the drum tightly, then put the lid on top, cracked so moisture can come out.[3]
  5. Place two bricks flat in the bottom of the big drum, one on each side. Stand two more bricks on their long edges on top of the flat bricks. This stand keeps the smaller drum from touching the bottom of the bigger drum, allowing you to feed fuel underneath.[4]
  6. Make sure it fits well within the larger drum; if it doesn't, use smaller bricks or stones to make a smaller stand. Put the lid on the larger drum, leaving it cracked open for air flow.
  7. Use wood and kindling to make a fire, feeding the materials through the feeder hole in the bottom of the drum. As the fire gets going, feed it larger pieces of wood.
    • You want the fire to get as hot as possible, so keep feeding dense wood.
    • Keep an eye on the fire; when it gets low, feed it more wood.
  8. After 7-8 hours, the impurities, moisture, and gasses will have burned out of the wood, leaving pure charcoal behind. Let the fire burn out and the entire contraption completely cool before you approach it.
  9. Empty the small drum into a container and store the charcoal for later use.
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Community Q&A

  • Question
    Does burning charcoal create noxious gas or poisons of any kind?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    All fires produce gases which can be dangerous to inhale, but charcoal burns more cleanly than wood as it is mostly carbon and produces little smoke.
  • Question
    How do I make charcoal without a drum? Would digging a hole in the ground with the bonfire on top of the wood that's to be turned into charcoal work?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Yes, dig a conical pit. Start a good fire in it with bushy material. Then layer your wood into the flame, keeping a good flame going till the pit is full of charcoal. The flame provides the heat, burns the smoke, and stops air getting at the charcoal. At the end, add only smaller wood that chars more quickly, and after the last small wood wait for the flaming to stop then either quench thoroughly with water or cover with clayey soil and let cool.
  • Question
    How much charcoal can be gained by following the steps of the bonfire?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    This would depend on the size of the drum. Cured wood loses approximately 75% of the weight when turned to charcoal. This is approximate because there is a variable amount of water content in the wood, the density of the wood being used, and how completely the wood has been converted to char.


  • Do not remove the can until the fire has completely died down. If the partially done charcoal gets sufficient air, it will burn up.
  • Be sure that the cap is cracked when you start the fire so the gases can escape from the can without building up pressure.
  • Don't burn yourself; keep flames and hot objects away from children.

About This Article

wikiHow is a “wiki,” similar to Wikipedia, which means that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. To create this article, 52 people, some anonymous, worked to edit and improve it over time. This article has been viewed 1,160,835 times.
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Co-authors: 52
Updated: September 24, 2023
Views: 1,160,835
Article SummaryX

To make charcoal, locate a safe area where you can build an outdoor fire, then pile cured wood into a large metal drum with a lid. Next, build a stack of wood for the bonfire, leaving a hole in the middle, then put the drum in the hole. Cover the drum with more wood and set the wood on fire, letting it burn for at least 3 hours. Once the fire burns out and cools down completely, remove your fresh batch of coal from inside the drum! To learn more about making charcoal with 2 drums, read on!

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