How To Light Charcoal Without Lighter Fluid (8 Ways To Do It!)

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf

When summer hits, there are a lot of things that start happening. One of the most anticipated parts of summer is grilling season. Being able to spend the warm evenings and nights grilling up delicious treats is something that can take the summer to a new level.

Charcoal grills in particular bring their own unique blend of flavor to the table. But how do you light the charcoal without any lighter fluid on hand? Thankfully, there are plenty of methods. You can use a chimney starter, charcoal starter, briquettes, and others. It all depends on which method you are most comfortable with using.

Before Grilling

Before we worry about getting the charcoal grill going, it is important to know just how much food you plan on grilling. Know how long the coals will need to burn and whether or not you have enough charcoal to grill the entire time.

Another thing to make sure of is that the grill has been properly cleaned. Get rid of any ash or other leftover remnants that can restrict air flow, making it more difficult to keep the charcoal lit. Dump out any old ash before you add charcoal in and try washing the grill at least once a week to keep it from getting clogged up with ash and debris.

Why Wouldn’t You Use Lighter Fluid?

Well, for some, it could be as simple as not having any lighter fluid on hand. After all, we run out of supplies from time to time so that is more than plausible. But another reason for not using lighter fluid is that it can be a real negative while grilling.

  • Chemicals. When using lighter fluid, there is a chance that the chemicals within can rub off on the food. Food tends to absorb chemicals and scents as it cooks. If you use too much of the lighter fluid, the food can soak in some of those chemicals. Sure, you can use the right amount of lighter fluid with no problem, but that can be a tricky amount to determine.
  • Ignite the charcoal. Another reason is that it can be easy to use too much lighter fluid, igniting the charcoal and giving food that heavy, smoky chemical smell. When possible, using a safer alternative is always recommended especially when someone without much grilling experience is involved.

Method 1: Chimney Starter

Long before lighter fluid, there were plenty of methods for starting a fire. And when it comes to a charcoal grill, that is essentially all that you are doing. The process of using a chimney starter to get your charcoal grill going is pretty simple.

  • Paper towels. Start by crumpling a few paper towels. Make sure that you douse all of them in vegetable oil, ensuring that they are fully saturated.
  • Place the paper towels. With the paper towels ready to go, you can then place them under the chimney starter. Put charcoal on top of the starter to ensure that there is an even burn.
  • Ignite. With all of the paper towels in place, you can ignite them, starting at the bottom.

The paper towel produces heat which ignites the charcoal pretty quickly. And since heat rises, the top of the charcoal will eventually get hot enough to catch fire. When the top of the charcoal looks ashy, you can then start the grilling process.

The great part about this method is that you can get your food grilled in under 20 minutes and leave that chemical smell from the lighter fluid behind. Depending on what kind of food you cook, you will want to spread the charcoal out in different patterns. You can always add more coals later if necessary.

Method 2: Lighter Fluid Briquettes

While you want to avoid using lighter fluid where you can, this is a little different. Lighter fluid briquettes are charcoal briquettes that have already been infused with lighter fluid. That means you won’t have to add any lighter fluid whatsoever.

This method is perhaps the best option for beginning grillers that tend to use a little too much lighter fluid when they grill. Too much lighter fluid can be potentially hazardous and can lead to the fire burning out of control. Keep in mind that, while this option tends to light more efficiently, a bag of charcoal that has been infused with lighter fluid will cost more than standard charcoal.

Method 3: Charcoal Starter

The mechanics behind getting the charcoal starter means focusing the heat so that the charcoal gets hot enough to finally ignite. A charcoal starter acts as a heating element that gets very hot when it is finally plugged in.

This method is energy efficient and uses somewhere around 100-150 volts. The process works by using heat via a coal to ignite the charcoal instead of an open flame. Despite their small size, they pack quite the punch and can light up an entire pound of charcoal with relative ease.

Curved line, wide loop. There are different kinds of charcoal starters out there. One that has a wide loop and curved line can allow you to ignite the entirety of the charcoal all at one time. That means getting all of your charcoal burning at once within a matter of minutes.

Regardless of the type of charcoal starter that you find, expect it to take somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 minutes. This option is more eco-friendly and can light briquettes, wood, and charcoal without using lighter fluid or any other type of chemical.

Method 4: Hot Air Charcoal Starters

There is another way of igniting charcoal that involves the use of superheated air. Think of it like a paint stripper. It works using hot air in order to ignite the coals and can do so quickly and more safely than using lighter fluid.

Using a hot air charcoal starter means giving the charcoal all of the heat necessary in order to start a fire. Compared to some of the other options out there, this is a little pricier option. It is also safe, efficient, and can handle regular use, so it may be worth the investment if you grill on a regular basis.

Method 5: Firestarter Briquettes

There are briquettes of all kinds that can potentially ignite your charcoal. Firestarter briquettes can be found at just about any home improvement or hardware store and even at local grocery stores depending on the chain.

Cleaner burn. Firestarter briquettes tend to have a cleaner burn when compared specifically to lighter fluid. Moreover, they will burn away completely so there will be no kind of residual flavor leftover, improving the taste of your food.

Using Firestarter Briquettes. If you are looking to make use of a Firestarter briquette, light the coals and let the Firestarter come into contact with the lit-up coals. Make sure that you put a lid on the grill to give the Firestarter a chance to burn.

Let the burn happen for about 10 minutes or so. Make sure that you lift the lid off the grill slowly to give the smoke some time to escape. Verify that all the coals have been lit and that the Firestarter has been completely burned away.

Method 6: Electric Starter

An electric starter is very similar to some of the other options on the list. An electric starter of a piece of metal in a U or oval shape that is set into a handle. The heat element, made up of metal, heats up whenever the device is plugged into a standard electrical outlet.

In order to use one, you simply set the electric starter underneath of the briquettes and then plug it in. The coals will get coated with a thin layer of grayish ash. When that happens, you can unplug the starter and remove it entirely.

Method 7: Use Newspaper

Having one of these starter kits is great and can be a helpful way to give your coals what they need to heat up. But in a pinch, there is a chance that you may not have any of those on hand. When that happens, a little newspaper will go a long way.

  • Draft-free. The key is to make sure that your grill is set up in a place where there is no residual dirt and ash nor a noticeable draft. Make sure that you open up the vents on the grill as far as they can open before you add in any of the newspaper. This is all to ensure that there is proper oxygen flowing the right way.
  • Crumple newspaper. With your environment set up properly, it is time to crumple up some newspaper. Put them all in the center part of the grilling chamber. Put in as many charcoal briquettes as you want on the top, but make sure that you can still see some of the newspaper through the various gaps.
  • Light the paper. Finally, light up the newspaper and watch to ensure that the coals eventually ignite. If they don’t, you will need to take the briquettes out carefully and try again, dousing the pieces of newspaper in lard or vegetable oil before you put it into the grilling chamber. Wood chips will also work, too, giving the flames a little something extra to “bite into”.

Method 8: Vegetable Oil or Lard

When in doubt, you can use animal fat and cooking oils to get the fire going. All you have to do is soak a few paper towels or pieces of newspaper in the aforementioned lard, vegetable oil, or even bacon grease.

All you have to do is use the newspaper method listed above. Just make sure that you use caution and stand back when igniting. Those components can light up pretty easily and the last thing you want is to be caught off guard. Bacon fat in particular can even add extra flavor when grilling certain types of meat.

Related Questions

Can You Use Lighter Wood?

You may have heard about light wood. It is resin-saturated wood that comes from the base of certain pine trees. Most of the time, it typically comes from stumps of harvested trees. This type of wood is highly combustible and can ignite quickly using a match.Even better, this kind of wood will ignite quickly when wet and dry due to its rough texture. The wood will burn hotter than normal, making it a great option for lighting charcoal and keeping it lit. If you want to light up a grill or smoker, using lighter wood may be a much safer alternative than going with lighter fluid.

Remember: Safety First

Whatever method that you choose to use, safety is of the utmost importance. Some of these methods can cause flare-ups when igniting, making for a hotter situation than you may have anticipated. By going into the situation with a little bit of caution, you can be ready to tackle just about any situation.

Charcoal grilling is a great way to instill extra flavor in your food. And having effective ways of keeping those coals lit can really make the difference when grilling out in the yard during the summer or whenever you feel like grilling.

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Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

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