How to Start a Charcoal Grill Without Lighter Fluid?

Using a lighter fluid can be one of the fastest ways of getting coals in your charcoal grill fired up and ready for barbecue-offs. It’s a fluid made up of aliphatic petroleum solvents that are highly flammable. Instances occur during campouts where you discover your lighter fluid is missing the moment you want to light up your charcoal grill. It could be you forgot to carry it while packing.

This is a common phenomenon and isn’t something to worry about as there are many alternatives you can choose from for lighting your charcoal grill. In fact, other methods may be much safer and eco-friendly. Some fluid lighters have chemicals in them that may be harmful to the food you’re cooking. They may also add a chemical-like taste to your food thus killing its natural flavors. Therefore, it may be considerable to use other methods for lighting your portable charcoal grill instead of the fluid lighter.

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Chimney Starter

A chimney starter consists of an open cylindrical metal tube with a metal grate sitting at its bottom. It serves the purpose of holding coals for lighting a charcoal grill. The metal grate is usually vented to allow for flames emanating from the newspaper to light up the charcoal. The sides of the cylinder also have holes distributed throughout its circumference to allow for smooth airflow.

The chimney starter is usually lighted using a scrunched newspaper and a stick lighter. Once the charcoal chimney is lit up burning, carefully take out the burning coals and pour them into the grill chamber loaded with charcoal. During this process, use heat-proof gloves when holding the handle of the chimney starter. Let the burning coals sit in the chamber for about 15 minutes after which your charcoal grill should be fully lighted. Once you see a light silverish layer of ash on the coals, your grill is ready for use.

Chimney starters are a great substitute for fluid lighters as they don’t emit chemicals and additives when ignited thus retain the natural taste of grilled food. Lighting a charcoal grill using this method is very simple and is an eco-friendly operation.

An Electric Starter

This method is the most energy-efficient way of lighting a charcoal grill. Simply plug in the electric charcoal starter to a power source, insert the heating element into the pile of coals loaded in the charcoal grill’s chamber, then wait for it to light up the coals. The heating element, usually at the end of this device, will glow red indicating that it’s working and is heating the coil. Be sure not to touch it while it’s heating. Also, keep all flammable objects away from it.

Once the coals light up, unplug the electric starter. Store it temporarily in a safe location that’s out of reach for children where it can cool down before taking it back to its designated storage area.

Once you spot layers of silver ash forming around your coals, the grill is ready for barbecuing.

Using an electric charcoal starter is safe. It’s however not convenient for campouts or tailgating events. This is because it requires an external power source for it to work. If you’re holding a gathering in your backyard, you can use an extension cord to power up your electric starter.

Hot Air Charcoal Starter

This device also uses electricity as a source of power for lighting a charcoal grill. Simply plug it into a power source, switch on the device, and direct the superheated air forced out of the device towards the coals in your grill chamber.

The hot air charcoal starter has a blower that uses a mechanism in which cool air is pulled into it using a fan. The built-in blower then fans the flames directly into the charcoal grill and lights up the coals.

This device may be more costly compared to the traditional fluid lighter but it’s worth the money. It’s much safer, easier to use, and can light up your charcoal grill in less than five minutes. It comes with a thermal safety switch that automatically breaks off power in case of overheating. It also has a longer lifespan meaning you can use it efficiently for a long time without worrying about damages.

A Firestarter Briquette

Firestarter briquettes can come in many forms. Nuggets, sachets, and bricks are manufactured using organic wood and paraffin wax which are chemical-free fuel safe for use in your charcoal grill. Since they are chemical-free, they don’t leave residual chemical-like odors on your food after grilling.

The best part is that they’re easy to find in most hardware and home improvement stores. Simply walk into one of the stores near your neighborhood and ask for a bunch. You can also order them on amazon.

To use these fire briquettes, load your grill chamber with fresh charcoal then open all air vents within the grill. Place the firestarter on top of the charcoal then cover it. Light the firestarter using a matchstick, cover the grill with its lid then give the firestarter ample time to light up the coals.

The briquettes may take about 10 minutes to completely burn away, after which the coals beneath should have lighted. Let any excess smoke come out through the air vents then remove the grill lid completely. Rearrange the coals using a charcoal rake or scoop in your grill chamber if necessary. Make sure you put on your heat-proof gloves to keep you from unprecedented burns.

Put back the grill grates, wait for 5 to 10 minutes before coating the grill grates using oil.


This method may need your patience. It involves lighting up the charcoal grill using kindled wood and newspaper just like building fire for a camp night.

You first gather up some pieces of wood, then wrinkle up some newspaper sheets and place them at the bottom of your charcoal grill. Put the pieces of wood on top of the newspaper then replace the grates for holding the coals on top of the kindling. Arrange coals inside the grill chamber then light up the scrunched newspapers using a matchstick. Allow the kindling to catch fire then let it light up the coals for about 20 minutes. Once the coals display a silverish layer of ash, your grill is ready for cooking.

A considerable type of wood you can use for kindling is light wood. It has high resin content and a rough texture. These properties make it a suitable fuel for kindling. It’s also highly combustible and easily ignites burning hotter than most types of hardwood fuels. This makes it convenient for lighting as it will light up the coals in your charcoal grill faster.

Now you have your grill lighted up. Check these tips and tricks on how to grill a steak on a charcoal grill

Final Thoughts

There are many ways in which you can safely light up your charcoal grill, such as using an electric starter, a hot air charcoal starter, using firestarter briquettes, and kindling. Their operating mechanism is quite simple and straightforward and so it shouldn’t give a beginner much trouble.

Yet, after finished with grilling, do you know how to put out your charcoal grill?

Some mechanisms such as electric and hot air charcoal starters are quite costly but are worth the price since they’re safer and light up the coals faster. If you’ve been using the lighter fluid and perhaps happened to forget it at home when you’re out camping, you can switch to these alternatives for lighting your charcoal grill.

You can pick any of the methods highlighted in this article based on your personal preference and budget. It’s also good to consider using a mechanism that will keep your food free from the odor of chemicals embedded in some fuels such as the lighter fluid.

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