Future climatic conditions may coincide with an increased potential for wildfires in grassland and forest ecosystems, whereby charred biomass would be incorporated into soils. Molecular changes in biomass upon charring have been frequently analysed with a focus on black carbon. Aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, known to be liberated during incomplete combustion of biomass have been preferentially analysed in soot particles, whereas determinations of these compounds in charred biomass residues are scarce. We discuss the influence of increasing charring temperature on the aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbon composition of crop grass combustion residues. Straw from rye, representing C3 grasses and maize, representing C4 grasses, was charred in the presence of limited oxygen at 300, 400 and 500 °C. Typical n-alkane distribution patterns with a strong predominance of long chain odd-numbered n-alkanes maximising at C31 were observed in raw straw. Upon combustion at 300 °C aliphatic hydrocarbons in char were dominated by sterenes, whereas at 400 °C sterenes disappeared and medium chain length n-alkanes, maximising around n-C20, with a balanced odd/even distribution were present. At a charring temperature of 500 °C n-alkane chain length shifted to short chain homologues, maximising at C18 with a pronounced predominance of even homologues. Even numbered, short chain n-alkanes in soils may thus serve as a marker for residues of charred biomass. Aromatic hydrocarbons indicate an onset of aromatization of biomass already at 300 °C, followed by severe aromatization upon incomplete combustion at 400–500 °C. The diagnostic composition of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons from charred biomass affords potential for identifying residues from burned vegetation in recent and fossil soils and sediments.