How To Light A Charcoal Grill | 3 Easy Ways


Need help lighting the grill? We’re here with a step-by-step guide to take you from grilling lover to grilling pro. So light a charcoal grill.

How to light a charcoal grill

One of the biggest challenges for charcoal grill owners is lighting it and getting the fire going. The good news is that it’s not as difficult as it sounds, and once you know how to light a charcoal grill, it’s a breeze.

There are three main techniques for lighting a charcoal grill. This works best with a charcoal chimney (also called a chimney starter). Another is using an electric starter. The last resort is to use lighter fluid. With all three methods, before lighting, the embers must be tightly packed and allowed to turn an ash gray color.

There are three very simple techniques, but each has a learning curve and some quirks that may surprise you. This guide is here to break down all three, with step-by-step instructions to turn YOU into a charcoal grilling pro.

If you want to know more, don’t forget our complete guide to using a charcoal grill .

Use a charcoal fireplace

A fireplace lighter is a rather unusual looking tool with its coffee cup appearance and holes in the bottom, but it serves a great purpose and works in an ingenious way.

glowing embers in chimney starter showing embers and ash

Makes charcoal lighting easier by packing it tightly in a container while lit from below. Staying in the container also prevents the elements, especially the wind, from disturbing it during the heating process.

Check out my guide to the best charcoal fireplaces.

How to use a fireplace lighter…

  • Pack tightly packed bundles of newspapers under the starter.
  • Pour charcoal over and fill to the brim.
  • Light the newspaper in a few different spots with your favorite match or lighter
  • Place the chimney starter on the grate of your grill while the charcoal begins to smoke.
  • Leave for 10-15 minutes to allow the charcoal to smoke and ignite evenly over all the embers. Flames begin to appear at the bottom of the starter motor.
  • Wait for the smoke to subside and the embers to turn slightly white.
  • Grab the lighter by the handle and hold it well away from your body and (more importantly) your face, and slowly pour the coals into the bottom of your grill.

Check out my full guide to using a charcoal fireplace

Use an electric starter

If you thought the fireplace lighter looked weird, get ready for the next one. An electric starter has an odd looking large metal loop that you run under the coal. It IS then plugged in and the embers while BEING placed in a chimney-like container.

It’s particularly good for canister grills like the Big Green Egg, and while it doesn’t work as quickly as a chimney starter, it’s very easy to use.

How to use an electric starter…

  • Place charcoal in the chimney and fill to the brim.
  • Place the end of the starter ring in the chimney, making sure it is covered by the charcoal.
  • Connect the starter and let it sit for 10-15 minutes.
  • Disconnect the starter but be careful not to touch it anywhere else (the end of the ring will be hot ).
  • Leave for an additional 5 minutes to allow the heat to spread and the charcoal to begin to turn white.
  • Remove the charcoal starter completely, being careful not to touch the end of the ring.
  • Transfer the coals to the base of your grill.

Use lighter fluid

Good knowledge lighter fluid. While much cheaper than investing in a fireplace or electric starter, this is by far the least safe means of lighting charcoal . Also, I find it slightly more dangerous than the other methods, mainly due to the extremely flammable nature of the liquid. Plus, it’s definitely the least eco-friendly of the three options and risks leaving a petroleum taste in your food. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

How to light charcoal with lighter fluid…

  • Stack the charcoal in a heap or mound at the base of your grill. It is important to keep them as tight as possible to maintain coal-to-coal contact so fires can easily spread between them and protect them from the wind.
  • Spray lighter fluid very gently over the embers, along the sides and top.
  • Turn on the liquid immediately. DO NOT receive more liquid to fill in after lighting the coals.
  • Wait for the embers to turn white. This takes about 15 minutes. Once it’s done, you can move the coals around a bit to evenly distribute the heat.

Those are our three easy ways to light a charcoal grill. But mistakes happen because here is our guide for YOU, what YOU need to look out for and how YOU can avoid them.

The 7 most common mistakes when grilling with charcoal

When it comes to charcoal grilling, there is a lot of room for error. Cook well and make sure you don’t fall into one of these common pitfalls.


Too much lighter fluid

Ah, the simplest mistakes are the hardest to give up. Being a master of the grill makes it even more tempting to drown the coals in lighter fluid and show ’em who’s boss. Because if something IS seen as a quick fix, how much damage can it really do?

Now, I’m not going to lecture you on all the potential safety hazards (although it never hurts to remind you), but know this: with every drop of liquid you put on your grill, you’re taking more of that authentic flavor out of your food. Backyard BBQ Flavor. Is it worth it? Probably not.

Your grill is dirty

oh boy While cleaning out the grill or chimney lighter is never a pleasant task after an intense grilling session, it can be difficult to skip entirely at the next barbecue.

Burnt-on food scraps, as well as old ashes and charcoal, can not only spoil the flavor of your new food, but also prevent oxygen from fueling your fire efficiently. In particular, ash can trap moisture, which can lead to corrosion.

Clean the grill and igniter after each use to avoid possible damage.

They don’t use real charcoal

Well, everyone knows that hardwood charcoal lighting is difficult, but it’s very important to stick to your guns and not compromise.

Resist the temptation to use pre-packaged briquettes. While they’re convenient to use, they’re often loaded with fillers, binders, and chemicals that are not only bad for the environment, but also badly affect the taste of your food.

Make sure you get real hardwood charcoal. These are made entirely of wood and are burned into charcoal. They burn much hotter and give you a nice natural smoke flavor without any chemicals whatsoever. Grilled perfection.

You’re not distributing the coal properly

Once YOU have heated the coals and poured them into the bottom of your grill, it can be easy to forget the most important step: spreading them evenly under your grill.

This helps eliminate cold spots on the grilling surface, helping you grill much more efficiently and safely.

Don’t get up close and personal

Listen to me. Yes lighting your coals & being careful not to burn yourself triggering the very extra hot metal of an electric starter. However, when spreading the charcoal, it is very important to do it right. And for this you need to approach the grill.

By that point, however, the fire and smoke will have died down, so it’s reasonably safe to get closer and work to spread them out evenly. Just make sure you always use good quality grilling tools and don’t be ashamed to wear oven gloves (I mean it).

You change your requests

You wouldn’t blindly guess how many hamburgers or hot dogs you’d need for your guests, so why start with the amount of charcoal you need?

You wouldn’t blindly guess how many hamburgers or hot dogs you need for your guests, so why use the amount of charcoal you need ?

Think how much food you will be grilling, how long and how hot the charcoal needs to be. Refer to the charcoal packaging as a guide, but remember it’s always better to have too much than too little.

They use old charcoal

While reusing charcoal may seem profitable, it can be detrimental to the quality of your outdoor dining recall. Old charcoal can cause your grill to not heat properly and can also cause it to burn through quickly.

Sufficient YOU always use fresh coals to ensure the best possible grilling experience.

How long does a charcoal grill stay hot?

Charcoal grills need a good combination of airflow and charcoal handling to keep them going. If you leave it with the vents open and no new coals, it will only stay hot for 15-30 minutes.

Charcoal briquettes usually burn at a constant temperature for about an hour. Lump charcoal is less predictable as it varies in size from piece to piece, but typically takes about 30 minutes.

Do you close the lid on a grill?

If you’re using the grill or high-temp sealer to cook meats like hamburgers, it’s okay to leave the lid open. If you intend to grill with “low and slow” smoke, it’s best to leave the lid closed. This helps keep temperatures stable and allows you to better control the heat by using your grill’s vents or dampers.

How Much Charcoal Should I Use?

First of all, you don’t need to exceed the volume of your charcoal fireplace. If your temperatures are too low after turning on the grill, you can add more.

Different meats require different heat and cooking times. Inclusive, the food you are preparing will also determine how much charcoal is needed.

  • For delicate meats that only require low heat, like fish, use a quarter of the volume of your chimney first.
  • For low, slow cooks that call for constant temperatures, use half your chimney.
  • For quick, hot meats like burgers or chicken skewers, use three quarters of the capacity of your entree.

How do you keep the charcoal fire burning?

Starting the grill is one thing, keeping it running is another. For best results, use a grill thermometer to check temperatures. If the cooking heat goes up or down from where you want it, YOU will need to adjust the vents or vents accordingly, or add more charcoal. Check out our guide to keeping your charcoal grill hot .

Charcoal Grill vs Gas Grill: What’s the Difference?

Outdoor grills generally fall into two categories: charcoal and propane. As should be apparent from their titles, EACH IS named after their primary fuel source.

Gas grills run on propane tanks, which are often refilled after 15 to 20 uses. They light up quickly and it’s very easy to control the temperature.

However, charcoal grills are popular for good reason . Just listen, food cooked on gas grills just doesn’t compare ( source ). The famous smoky, charred flavor we associate with the great outdoors almost always comes from cooking over charcoal.

While its chunky chunks of wood need to be refilled every few uses and they’re a lot harder to light and control… you just can’t beat that authentic grilled flavor .

I’m also sure that charcoal fans might make a few appearances, but the time and effort it takes to fire up a grill is well worth it just for the reward.

light a charcoal grill

When grilling, there are three different ways to light your charcoal. Here’s an overview of each method and the steps you need to take to get your grill going.

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