How to Start a Charcoal Grill Without Lighter Fluid

Happy family having barbecue party in backyard

Grilling season is here which means people are breaking out the best portable charcoal grill for some prime eating outside. Most stores will have huge bags of charcoal outside and inside the store on a huge display, ready for the season. But if you’re out camping with your new grill and have somehow managed to forget the lighter fluid, don’t panic. We’ll go over how to start a charcoal grill without lighter fluid, what supplies you’ll need to get the job done, and how you can get your grill fired up quickly.

Knowing how to start a charcoal grill without lighter fluid is pretty fast, clean, and easy if you know what you’re doing. Using a chimney starter is by far the simplest and most affordable method, however, a charcoal starter is the fastest, although these devices can cost twice the price of a basic chimney starter. Whichever method you choose, each option is much safer and more eco-friendly than lighting your grill with lighter fluid.

As you can see, lighter fluid isn’t the only way you can get your grill going in a matter of minutes. Continue reading to learn about eco-friendly options that will leave your meat tasting the way it was meant to, without the use of additives or harsh chemicals.

Before You Grill

Before you fire up your grill determine how much food you’ll be grilling and how hot the grill needs to be. How long do you need to have the coals burning? Do you have enough charcoal to grill with? Are the grill and grate clean? The leftover ash and remnants in the grill can actually block airflow, making it more difficult to light the charcoal.

If your grill is full of old ash, dump it out before you adding more charcoal in order to allow the charcoal to ignite quickly. We recommend washing out a grill at least every other week if you use the grill more than three times a week. If you only use your grill on the weekends, a deep clean once a month is recommended.

A Safer Alternative

For some, the biggest negative to grilling outdoors is lighter fluid. Lighter fluid can cause your food to have a chemical taste since the food absorbs some of the chemicals as it cooks, especially if you use too much lighter fluid. In some cases, if used correctly, you won’t even notice the presence of lighter fluid. However, most grillers can agree that using a more natural method of lighting charcoal can have a big impact on the flavor of the meat. Commonly, inexperienced grillers tend to use too much lighter fluid to ignite the charcoal, and this is what’s really to blame for the heavy chemical smell.

Fortunately, there are ways to light your charcoal without the use of lighter fluid. Not only are the following methods much safer, but they won’t negatively impact the flavor of your meat like lighter fluid can.

To do, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Chimney starter
  • Lighter or matches
  • Charcoal
  • Vegetable oil
  • Paper towels

Chimney Starter

Bbq chimney charcoal fire starter full of burning briquettes being dumped into an outdoor grill with sparks flying

To use the chimney starter to light your grill:

  • Crumple up a few paper towels
  • Douse the paper towels in vegetable oil
  • Place the paper towels under the chimney starter
  • Place charcoal in the top of the chimney starter
  • Light the crumpled paper towels from the bottom

The heat produced by the paper towels will quickly ignite the charcoal. Because heat rises, the top of the charcoal will also eventually catch fire.

Once the top of the charcoal has turned to ash then you’re ready to start grilling. The best part is that you can grill your food in just twenty minutes and without the chemical taste that lighter fluid can leave behind. The manner in which you spread out the coals will depend on the type of food you’re grilling. If the food you’re grilling needs more coals, you can easily add more charcoal to the hot coals.

Once you have the coals arranged perfectly, place the rack on the grill and replace the lid on the grill. Before you start grilling meat, wait for the grill to reach the appropriate temperature. If this is your first time grilling and you’re not certain what the appropriate temperature is, check the grill’s user manual.

Lighter Fluid Briquettes

Obviously, this method will include the use of lighter fluid, however, if you purchase charcoal that’s infused with lighter fluid, you won’t need to add any. This is a great option for beginners who often use too much lighter fluid when grilling, which can be a potential safety hazard. Since the charcoal is infused with lighter fluid you can expect a bag to cost more than plain charcoal. However, the biggest difference here is in lighting efficiency.

Charcoal Starter

In order to get the charcoal going, focus on getting it hot enough to ignite. Charcoal starters are basically just heating elements that get incredibly hot once you plug them in. This is an energy efficient device that uses around one hundred to one hundred and fifty volts. They work by igniting the charcoal with heat via a coal as opposed to an open flame. While they look small, they are surprisingly powerful and can work to light up to one pound of charcoal.

Models such as the Char-Broil charcoal starter feature a curved line and wide loop that allows you to ignite all the charcoal at once. A charcoal starter allows you to easily get all of the charcoal burning in a matter of minutes.

Most types of charcoal starters will take about ten minutes to completely burning. These eco-friendly safe electric starters can light wood, briquettes, and charcoal in seconds without the use of lighter fluid or other chemicals.

Hot Air Charcoal Starters

The Looft Lighter is another popular model and it operates using superheated air. Just like a paint stripper, it will work by using hot air to ignite the coals. This will provide the charcoal with plenty of heat to start a fire. This option is a little pricier than the others we have covered here, however, it’s efficient, safe, and tough enough to handle regular use.

Firestarter Briquette

Firestarter Briquette

Another incredibly easy alternative to lighter fluid is a Firestarter briquette. You can find a Firestarter at any home improvement store, hardware store, or a local grocery store. These will burn much cleaner compared to lighter fluid. They also burn completely away so there will be no residual flavor.

To use, begin by removing the grate. Add fresh charcoal. Open up the vents on the grill in order to allow air to circulate. The Firestarter should be buried in the top layer of the coals.

In order to light the coals, the Firestarter must make contact with it. Light the Firestarter based on the package instructions. Place the lid on the grill and allow the Firestarter to burn. Remember to check the vents. If they’re closed the Firestarter will go out.

Allow it to burn for ten minutes. Before removing the grill’s lid completely, lift it off slightly to allow some of the smoke to escape.

After the ten minutes are up check to ensure the coals are lit and the Firestarter has burned away. For more even heat distribution, redistribute the coals.

Replace the grate and give it five minutes to heat up. Once it’s hot enough, you’re all set to start grilling your favorite foods.

Related Questions

Can I Use Lighter Wood?

Light wood is resin saturated wood that’s derived from the base of pine trees. Usually, it comes from the stumps of harvested trees.

Highly combustible, this wood can be ignited quickly with a match and can burn dry or wet, all thanks to its rough texture. The wood burns incredibly hot, which is what makes it great for lighting any type of charcoal. This wood is actually a great way to light up a smoker or grill, and it’s a much safer alternative to lighter fluid.

I Need a Grill That Offers Better Temperature Regulation, what Do You Recommend?

The Char-Griller E06614 AKORN Jr is a ceramic grill that’s one of Char-Griller’s best-sellers, thanks to its reputation for precise temperature control. In fact, it’s perfect for grilling steak, chicken, ribs, and much more. If you’d like to learn how to use this grill to cook the perfect steak, click here to read our article on cooking steak on charcoal grill.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve noticed that your meat has a chemical aftertaste, then lighter fluid could be to blame. Learning how to start a charcoal grill without lighter fluid will result in meat that tastes the way it should and all without the use of harmful chemicals and additives.