How to Light a Charcoal Grill

If you’re wondering how to light a charcoal grill, then don’t worry. It isn’t a herculean task. There are multiple ways to light up a charcoal grill so all you need is to know the basics and have the proper tools to aid you. 

You essentially have to focus on successfully lighting a fire and as it spreads, the rest follows suit. So let’s get to making delicious grilled food and getting to know all you need to know to ace that summer barbeque

How to Start a Charcoal Grill 

Before starting, make sure you prep your grill. This includes cleaning, maintaining and using the right kind of charcoal to light it up. When you start the grill up, ensure that the grill grates are clean, nearly spotless. 

Clean the grill grates to remove any ash, grime and residue from your previous cook-off to ensure that whatever you’re cooking doesn’t have a bitter or chalky flavor. 

Once you’ve cleaned your grill, then proceed to oil the grates with fresh canola, peanut or any other cooking oil, so your food doesn’t stick to the grates. For the cleaning procedure, you can invest in grill brushes to make the process even smoother. 

Choosing the Type of Charcoal

Understanding what kind of charcoal to use can also be a bit tricky because it will determine a lot of things such as the flavor profile, the burning methods employed and the cost estimate that will add up in the barbecue’s budget. 

The market has so much variety that you might even feel confused at a point, but primarily there are two kinds: lump charcoal and briquettes. 

1. Lump Charcoal 

Lump charcoal, being the most popular amongst avid grillers and barbeque enthusiasts. This is because its composition is more natural. It mainly comprises tamarind, cherry, mesquite, and coconut shells. And because it’s not compressed like briquettes, it tends to burn hotter and faster, leaving behind very little ash residue. This variety is perfect for slow-low cooking like grilling BBQ pork chops, ribs and cooking the classic brisket.

2. Briquettes 

Briquettes are composed of elements like sawdust, in addition to other binding ingredients to create a pillow-like shape. Because they’re accurate to each other’s measurements, this also gives the griller an edge over having an accurate unit of measurement. This makes it easier to build a fire that is even. These tend to burn slower and a little colder than the one that is formerly mentioned, and so briquettes are ideally recommended for foods that are cooked quickly: steaks, fish fillets or roasted vegetables. 

How to Light a Charcoal – 3 Easy Methods 

Method 1: Using Lighter Fluid

This is the most widely used and popular method because of how straightforward it is. However, like anything you have to be careful and well-practiced for it to work. One very common drawback of using (too much) lighter fluid is the pungent, kerosene-like taste and odor that it gives to the food. 

The first step of this procedure is arranging charcoal into either a pyramid-like sequence or a clean mound. When spreading the lighter fluid, focus on the part where most of the heat is supposed to be concentrated at, like the middle of the charcoal stack. 

The go-to ratio for lighter fluid to charcoal is three tablespoons per pound of charcoal, so if you’re using briquettes this method will go in handy as it’s easier to measure them.

The next step is grabbing your long-ledged lighter or match sticks and then lighting the fuel. During this step, be careful as you do not want the fire to get out of hand, so know that once the first layer of charcoal is lit, that’s enough for the fire to propagate throughout the stack. 

Once the fluid burns off and evaporates, the charcoal will continue to burn and after a couple of minutes, will form a grayish-white covering on the surface that indicates that it is in the process of reaching optimal temperature. Once the grey spreads throughout the entire charcoal pile, (which will usually be after 15 minutes), that’s when you know you can start cooking!

Method 2: The Chimney Starter 

If you’re intimidated by the lighter fluid method because of how hands-on it is, then don’t worry, you can always fall back to the chimney starter. This method primarily relies on a cylindrical metal vessel that is designed to heat charcoal and keep them hot and searing with the airflow directed at them through the gaping holes it has. 

To begin, you start with filling up the vessel (chimney starter) with charcoal. You can fill it up to the brim, with approximately 75-100 briquettes if you’re hosting a medium-sized BBQ party because you don’t want to waste time on heating charcoal again and again. 

Moving on, you can then light up the bottom of your chimney starter, by lighting up material like cotton balls, cardboard or even other materials such as fuel-lighter cubes and tumbleweed which are specially created for this purpose. 

Once you’ve set your fire-starting materials on fire, they can then be seen taking on an ashy, grey color and will be ready to use in 10-15 minutes at a maximum. 

Once they’ve achieved that state, you can very carefully pick the charcoals up (while they are in the chimney starter) using long, robust tongs or thick fire-proof gloves, and then dump the charcoals onto the grill. Arrange the charcoal and leave the grill to preheat before you get to cooking. 

Method 3: Heat Gun/Looft Lighter Method        

This is probably the fastest, but also the least popular way to heat the charcoal. The Nichrome coils in the heat gun make the surrounding air very hot and then that hot thrust of air is directed at whatever needs to be heated. 

While it may seem weird, you can still work with it if you’re eager to learn things. To light up a charcoal grill using this, you first arrange the charcoals in a similar pyramid-like structure or like the mound shape. 

Set your heat gun on the highest setting and then start heating the charcoal in front of the mid area of the pile, so the fire spreads evenly. Consolidate the heat for 60 seconds or more. Upon getting hotter, the coals will turn a grayish-white color. After they’re all ashy, they will spread around as the charcoal gets shuffled up. The charcoal grill is then ready to be used. 

How to Light a Charcoal Grill – FAQs 

  1. When starting charcoal, should the grill lid be opened or closed?
    The grill should be open and well-ventilated when you are setting up and lighting your charcoal up. Once they are properly lit up, you can then close the lid and let the temperature normalize.
  2. What is a fast way to light charcoal?
    The fundamental rule to lighting charcoal fast is essentially just arranging in a way that makes the adjacent charcoal light up as well. Also, don’t just take care of your grill but all your BBQ supplies.

    Like the charcoal – keep it covered and out of wet places. And make sure you’re not using water-logged or moist charcoal as that will not burn the same as fresh charcoal. Always use fresh charcoal when setting up your charcoal grill.
  3. How to tell that the coals present in a charcoal grill are ready?
    When at least 2/3rds or the entire upper later turns to this white, ashy texture and color, that’s when you know it’s ready to cook with. Their heat is retained even when they’re turned to ash. 

Final Thoughts

Among all the methods we’ve discussed in this article, light fluid is the easiest and most convenient. That’s because people don’t often have a chimney starter or a heat gun at their homes. But if you do, then feel free to try it out. Regardless of which method you choose, we hope you know everything about how to light charcoal after reading this guide!