There are a few different ways to light a charcoal grill. We will cover several different methods here. Each method has it’s advantages.
Method One – Lighter Fluid
This is the method almost everybody is most familar with. You arrange the charcoal in a neat pile or pyramid, spray some charcoal lighter fluid on the charcoal and use a long lighter, match or piece of paper to light it.
This particular method is pretty easy, but it is also possible the most dangerous of the methods. If you use too much lighter fluid it could flare up pretty bad and could result in some burns. Adding more fluid while the coals are already lit is even more dangerous.
Using this method can also leave a chemical taste in your food. If you are going to use this method, you can usually avoid that chemical taste by making sure the charcoal is covered with a white or light gray ash before starting to cook.
There are some types of charcoal with the fluid already added to the briquettes themselves. These are safer for the most part than adding the fluid yourself, but can cause flare-ups if you add more briquettes to once they are already lit.
All-in-all, this method works and is pretty eas, but not the best one to use.
Method Two – Charcoal Chimney
The chimney is another easy method. They are fairly inexpensive. I have seen them ranging in prices from about $8 to around $30.
To use a charcoal chimney, you pour in the desired amount of charcoal into the top of the chimney. Then you place 2 pieces of newspaper (you can use other kinds of paper or wax too if you prefer) into the bottom of the chimney and set it on the grate of your grill. You then use a long match or lighter to ignite the newspaper through one of the holes in the bottom of the chimney. As the paper burns, the heat will rise and catch te edges of your charcoal, which will then provide enough heat for the rest of your charcoal to burn.
After your charcoal is ready, usual 15-20 minutes, you then carefully pour the charcoal out into your grill. It is advisable to wear gloves when doing this as the handle can get quite warm
This method is much safer than using lighter fluid, but you still want to exercise caution as you are still working woth very hot coals and burns are always a possibility.
Another benefit of this method is that there is no chemical smell or flavoring from it.
There are a variety of styles of charcoal chimney. Some of these variations are csometic only, but some can have an impact on the efficiency of the chimney in question. One interesting variation has a lever to open the grate under the charcoal so that you can let the hot coals out through the bottom of the chimney instead of trying to pour them out through the top.
This is my preferred method of lighting the grill..
Method Three – The Pyramid
The pyramid method uses similar principles to using a charcoal chimney. The big difference being that you don’t use the chimney.
You start off with some loosely crumpled newspaper (or kindling) and build a pyramid around that newpaper with the charcoal. Make sure there is enouhg room for air to flow through to the newspaper. When you light the newspaper, the heat should be enought to get the charcoal started. Once the charcoal is lit, the heat should be enough to carry it rhough to the rest of the coals.
This method is harder than the charcoal chimney, but with practice you can get pretty good at it.
Like the charcoal chimney, the pyramid method does not produce any chemical smells or taste, nor will you get the flare-ups possible with lighter fluid.
Also, there are the bragging rights of being able to start a grill with no lighter fluid or tools other than a match or lighter!
There are some other tools and methods out there that are a lot less common.
There are several electric charcoal starters. These electric starters do work, but most of them require an electrical outlet. This may or may not be a big deal for you, but it can limit your options of location.
Another tool some have been known to use is the propane torch. It’s effective, but no more so than a charcoal chimney and not as efficient.
A heat gun can also be used to light charcoal, but it can take a while to get started and has the same limitation as the electric charcoal starters. It requires an electrical outlet to work.
While there are many different ways to get your charcoal started, the charcoal chimney is by and far my favorite method for doing so. They are inexpensive, easy to use, relatively safe, and efficient. They do not use any chemicals so there is no chemical taste or smell transferred to your food.
One useful tip is to keep more than one charcoal chimney an hand. That way if you need more charcoal than your chimney can hold, you can always light two at the same time.
There are also smaller ones for using with a portable grill.
Do you have a method I didn’t list? How about tips using the methods I already outlined above. Please feel free to join the conversation and post a comment below.