incense smoke icon - white


How To Burn Incense With Charcoal

Step-by-Step Instructions

How To Use Charcoal To Burn Incense

The most traditional style of heating or burning incense is to do so on top of, or right next to, a red-hot charcoal.

Incense that’s sprinkled directly on top of a hot charcoal burns very quickly and produces large amounts of smoke whereas incense sprinkled right next to, but not touching, the hot charcoal will release its fragrance more slowly and produce less smoke.

It’s a matter of situation and personal taste which style is preferred.

Here we’ll explore five (5) different methods to use non-toxic bamboo charcoal to burn or heat incense mixtures.

This style can be used to burn loose incense mixtures as well as kneaded incense.

Materials Needed:

  • Natural incense mixture or single ingredient
  • Incense burner (filled with ash or sand)
  • Natural incense charcoal
  • Tweezers to hold charcoal
  • Lighter or candle flame
material needed to burn incense using charcoal

Burning Incense with Charcoal Instructions


Step 1 – Light the edge of a chemical-free bamboo charcoal while holding it with a utensil (tweezers work great!).

Important: many commercial incense charcoals contain toxic chemicals such as sodium or potassium nitrate, sulfur, etc. These can usually be identified by the charcoal crackling or sparking when lit, and/or by the odors it exudes when lit.

We prefer using chemical-free natural charcoals. So far, the best chemical-free natural wood charcoals we’ve found are made of bamboo or natural roots and come from Japan.

light incense charcoal

Step 2 – Place the lit charcoal in center of burner.

We prefer using white chaff ash inside of our incense burner. It allows for air circulation all around the charcoal.

You can also use sand, crushed rock, decomposed granite, etc.

place charcoal

Step 3 – Wait until at least three-quarters of the charcoal is red-hot, it should be a light grey all over… 2 to 4 minutes or so.

Note: if the charcoal is not almost completely red-hot the incense will probably smother and therefore extinguish the charcoal.

loose red hot charcoal

Step 4 – sprinkle incense next to or directly on top of the hot charcoal to release it’s fragrance and produce smoke.

Note: don’t use too much incense… keep in mind that burning charcoal needs to breathe… fire needs oxygen.

sprinkle incense in top of charcoal

Step 5 – you can continue to sprinkle incense on the hot coal as it burns and as desired.


SHOYEIDO Bamboo Incense Charcoals 24 Pcs

Chemical-free Bamboo Charcoals from Shoyeido - 24 pieces

4.3 star rating from 170+ reviews on

Alternative Charcoal Methods For Incense:

Reduce the heat, smoke, and charred aroma by separating your incense from being in direct contact with the charcoal.

There are infinite ways to accomplish this, here are a few ideas:

Incense Charcoal Method #2:

  • bury the hot charcoal about 1/2 inch under the ash, cover it with ash and sprinkle your incense on the mound of ash. This will gently heat the incense with less burning – one of our favorite methods!
cover charcoal in ash
cover charcoal in ash
cover incense charcoal completely
sprinkle incense over covered charcoal
incense burning on covered charcoal

Incense Charcoal Method #3:

  • place a sheet of Mica on the ash mound or several sheets directly on the charcoal and then place your incense on the mica plate. For more detailed instructions see preparing a Kodo cup.
place charcoal in incense burner
cover incense charcoal
cover ash over charcoal
place mica plate over mound on top of charcoal
sprinkle incense on mica plate

Incense Charcoal Method #4:

  • place a small, thin piece of stone, unglazed ceramic tile, or a metal bowl on top of the hot charcoal and then your incense on top of the tile.
place charcoal in incense burner
place tile, stone, or metal bowl on top of charcoal
place incense inside the bowl
burning incense on stone over charcoal - final image

Incense Charcoal Method #5:

  • create a “bowl & stand” with tin foil or copper sheet to sit over the coal and hold the incense close to, but not directly on the coal.
place hot charcoal in burner 2
place foil tent and bowl over hot charcoal 2
aluminum foil tent over incense charcoal
place incense in aluminum foil tent and bowl

Tip: to keep the ash in your burner clean, sift it through a strainer regularly (after all coals are extinguished and completely cooled of course).

white chaff ash for incense burners
Shoyeido White Ash for incense burners

White Chaff Ash for Incense Burners from Shoyeido

4.6 rating from 54 reviews on

Use your imagination, adhere to safety, and enjoy creating your own methods of using incense charcoals!

Always keep hot charcoals, incense, and incense burners away from children.

Never leave burning charcoal or incense unattended.

Make sure charcoal is completely extinguished and cooled before discarding; hot pieces of charcoals can easily start fires and cause severe burns.

It’s best to wait overnight before cleaning and/or discarding any used charcoals.

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