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how to light a charcoal grill

How To Start a Charcoal Grill

  • July 19, 2018
  • / BBQ How To's
  • / By Nathan
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Nothing says summertime like an outside barbecue. When it comes to grilling, different people have different preferences regarding what type of grill they use. Some people prefer a cheap gas grill because they are quick and easy to light.

There are other people who prefer a charcoal grill. These people swear by charcoal grills because they think that it makes the food taste better. Also, charcoal grills burn much hotter than gas grills. If you are new to charcoal grilling, you are going to need to know how to light your grill.

Lighting a charcoal grill isn't as simple as pressing the ignite button on a gas grill and selecting a temperature. There is a science to lighting a charcoal grill. When lighting your grill, you can choose between a few methods including using a charcoal chimney, charcoal starters or lighter fluid. Each has its own benefits. The method that you choose depends on how quickly and easily you want to light your grill and the way you want your food to taste.


Choosing Your Charcoal

Before you can light your grill, you are going to need to choose the best charcoal to suit your needs. If you want your grill to burn as long and as hot as possible, you should go with briquettes. This type is best if you are going to be grilling a large piece of meat such as a whole chicken or a roast. If you want your food to have a lingering taste of oak wood, you should go with hardwood lump charcoal.

If you have a ceramic grill, you should go with natural lump charcoal because it produces little or no ash. Finally, if you are grilling on a budget, Kingsford's Original Charcoal Briquettes would be perfect. Not only are is this charcoal cheap, it works great and you can find it anywhere


How Much Charcoal Do You Need?

The amount of charcoal that you need would depend on what you are cooking. If you are cooking single serving foods such as burgers, hot dogs, and steaks, you will need just one layer of charcoal because you won't need as much heat.

If you allow the grill to heat up too much, you will burn the outside of the food before it has a chance to fully cook in the middle. Not only will this make the food taste awful, it won't be safe to eat.

 If you are cooking something for the entire family such as a whole chicken or a roast, you are going to need more heat, therefore, you should use two layers of charcoal. Using just one layer won't heat the grill enough to cook your food all the way through. This will also make the food unsafe to eat.


Option #1 Lighting Your Grill With a Charcoal Chimney

If you are concerned about the taste of your food, you should use a charcoal chimney. This method uses newspaper to light the grill rather than a petroleum product such as lighter fluid.

Petroleum products can add residue to your food and it can give the food an unwanted flavor. To use this method, fill the chimney will a few sheets of crumpled up newspaper.

Push the newspaper to the bottom of the chimney and cover it with the charcoal. When you light the newspaper, it will heat the charcoal. After about 10 minutes, the charcoal will be hot enough for you to start grilling.

Option #2 Lighting With Charcoal Fire Starters

Lighting a grill with charcoal fire starters is simple and they can be bought at any store that sells charcoal.

To use a fire starter, you would simply light it and place it on the grill with the charcoal. When the electric loop is removed, the charcoal should heat up within 10 to 20 minutes.

Option #3 Lighting With Lighter Fluid

Many people choose to light their charcoal grills with lighter fluid because it is the quickest and easiest way. If you are going to use lighter fluid, you need to do so safely. You also want to use lighter fluid properly so that it doesn't leave too much of an aftertaste in your food.

You want to start by adding the amount of charcoal to the grill that you need depending on what you are cooking. You don't want to stack the charcoal flat like you would with other lighting methods.

Instead, stack the charcoal in the shape of a pyramid. When pouring the lighter fluid, you want to add more to the center of the pyramid rather than the edges. You also want to use the correct amount of lighter fluid.



Too much won't light the charcoal and too little will create a dangerous flash of fire. It is best to use ¼ cup of lighter fluid per pound of charcoal that you are using. Before lighting the charcoal, you should allow the lighter fluid to sit on the charcoal for 30 seconds to one minute.

When lighting the grill, you should use either a long match or a grill lighter. You should light the charcoal from the bottom of the pile on both sides. When the charcoal is white on the surface, use a set of tongs to spread the coals across the grate.

It will take about 5 minutes for the grill to reach the optimal temperature. You want to keep the grill cover closed while it heats up. It is important that you never add lighter fluid to coals that are already burning. When the vapor hits the flame, it will create a dangerous flare-up.

If this happens, you can lose singe your eyebrows, your facial hair, or you can sustain a serious burn. Lighting a charcoal grill with lighter fluid is the most dangerous method, therefore, you need to take the proper precautions.


​Final Words

Charcoal grills are great for cooking. Not only are they must less expensive than gas grills, many die-hard charcoal grillers say that it makes the food taste much better.

If you are a charcoal grill newbie, you should know how to light your grill safely.

coals burning

About the Author Nathan

Hi! My name is Nathan and I’m a passionate meat-lover and certified grill connoisseur. I fell in love with grilling food back when I was a little kid when my grandfather used to cook tasty burgers in our backyard every Saturdays.

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