How To Light A Charcoal Grill

Learn the tricks of the trade how to light a charcoal grill and you're up and running and ready to get cooking.

Dependent of the grill that you have bought there will be a top grate (for cooking food) and either a lower grate for charcoal or maybe just the base of the barbecue unit. This area is generally referred to as the fire box and the first job is to remove the upper cooking grate so that you have access to place your charcoal in position.

Generally speaking those that have a lower charcoal grate are best fuelled with charcoal briquettes, they probably also have a base vent and a lid with another vent so you can do indirect cooking or hot smoking.

There's essentially 3 ways that you can light charcoal and we'll go through each one:

Charcoal chimney burner

  1. A charcoal chimney starter is a metal cylinder with a charcoal grate mounted inside. Unlit charcoal is placed into the top of the cylinder and newspaper is placed into the bottom, under the grate. When the newspaper is lit, it burns and lights the charcoal above. The "chimney effect" causes the charcoal to light from the bottom all the way up to the top.

    It will take 10-20 minutes for the coals to light, depending on wind conditions, how much charcoal is in the chimney, and the type of charcoal being used. The charcoal is ready when you see orange colour deep inside the chimney starter, flames licking at the charcoal at the top of the chimney, and grey ash just starting to form on some of the charcoal at the top. At this point you can pour it into the base of your barbecue.

    Electric charcoal lighter

  2. An alternative way is to use a poker lighter. These either take the shape of a propane torch or they can be electrically powered (like a big soldering iron). Light the torch (or plug in if electric) and insert the starter into the coals for the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer. When done, remove the starter and place it on a heat proof surface until cool.

  3. The final option how to light a charcoal grill is to use fire-lighter cubes, gel or lighter fluid. It's certainly a very popular way to light a charcoal fire but it can leave a petrochemical taste in the coals which can taint the food. In order to ensure that you minimize this risk, always make sure that the residue has fully burned off before adding any food onto the cooking grate.

    When using gel or lighter fluid apply it to the charcoal according to the manufacturers instructions and once lit do not be tempted to add any more once the fire has started.

    Instant lighting charcoal should also be added into the category above in terms of the petrochemical smell. In addition it burns quicker than regular charcoal. It has it's uses if you are travelling because the charcoal comes in easy to handle packs but that's about the only redeeming feature.

Once the charcoal is lit, the coals need chance to settle so a little patience is required. The coals are ready to cook on when the flames have died down and the coals are grey in colour. If meat is placed on the cooking grate before the coals are ready then there will be a high risk of a flare up and a subsequent burnt offering.

So now you know how to light a charcoal grill, isn't it time to start cooking?

See Also:-

More Barbecue Tips
Buying Barbecue Charcoal
How To Clean Porcelain Grill Grates

Return to more Water Smoker Recipes from How To Light A Charcoal Grill

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