We all enjoy our charcoal grills, but the charcoal starting process can be messy and time-consuming. Many people despise the charcoal lighting process as much as cleaning their grills, and the reasons are legitimate. Lighting charcoal is not a simple process, and many users end up using lighting fluid to speed up the process. In this article, we talk about ways to light charcoal without using lighter fluid.
Lighter fluid can make lighting charcoal easier, but it comes with its drawbacks. First, lighting fluid is a petroleum-based product with a strong chemical taste and smell. It is obviously flammable and dangerous to anything it lands on, and also it produces a foul smell when it burns. Just like gasoline, when lighter fluid gets on your hands or clothes, it will smell for hours even if you wash your hands.
Why is it a bad idea to use lighter fluid to start a charcoal?
Lighter fluid creates smell chemical smells and dirty smoke when you start a fire. If too much fluid is used and left unburned during the charcoal lighting process, the remaining liquid in your grill will generate dirty smells and smoke, which will ruin the flavor of your food.
Lastly, lighter fluid cannot be safely used in certain charcoal grills. For example, if you own a Kamado charcoal grill, using lighter fluid can be dangerous as kamado grills are built using materials that can absorb the liquid, which can keep igniting during the cook and contaminate your food.
Also, due to their shape, Kamado grills can help create a fumes fire. In fact, you can damage your kamado grill using lighter fluid. It will take a while for the excess fluid to be burned.
Most experienced cooks and pitmasters will never use chemicals to start their fires as the goal is to have the cleanest fire and smoke possible to cook the food.
What can I use instead of lighter fluid? Better alternatives to lighter Fluid
Thankfully there are better and safer ways to start charcoal. In this article, we will talk about safer alternatives to lighter fluid. Lighter fluid is a fast and straightforward way to light charcoal and is commonly used by inexperienced people. Lighter fluid can generate nasty chemical smoke that will then be absorbed by your food and ruin your food’s flavor.
Instead of using lighter fluid, try some of the charcoal starting alternatives in this article.
What can I use to light my charcoal without lighter fluid? Here are safer charcoal starting options.
Charcoal Chimney Starters
Charcoal Chimney starters are very common, affordable, and easy to use charcoal starters. The idea behind the charcoal chimneys is straightforward. Its cylindrical-shaped chamber packs charcoals in a tight pile, and a bottom chamber is used for the fire or ignition source. We wrote a simple guide on using Chimney starters which you can read here.
You can use a small number of paper towels dipped in vegetable oil or other kinds of paper. I recommend avoiding paper with chemicals such as heavy ink or newspaper to avoid chemicals smells and excess smoke. Fill the chimney and start a fire in the chimney starter bottom chamber, the heat and flames will rise up the chimney and ignite the charcoals.
The chimney design uses the simple principle that heats rises, and the only way hot air and heat can escape the chimney is up, lighting the charcoals in the process. Charcoal chimney starters’ most significant advantage is that lighter fluid is not required to light the coals, eliminating the need for petroleum-based products and avoiding bad flavors on your food.
Another advantage of chimney staters is that they are very portable and simple devices. All you need to start coals are combustible materials like paper or dry wood and a fire source such as a lighter or matches. Meaning you can use this device just about everywhere, and chimney staters do not need a source of electricity to operate.
Once the charcoals are burning and you start seeing the coals turn white, flip the chimney upside down and pour the hot coals into your grill.
Lighting charcoal without lighter fluid or chimney starter.
Wood-Based – Fire Starters ( Lighter Wood )
Wood-fire starters are commonly referred to as Fatwood starters, fire sticks, and also lighting nuggets. In general, the concept is the same across all wood-based fire staters. These fire started are made out of paraffin saturated compressed wood that ignites easily and can burn for a few minutes.
Some brands use wood shavings, while others use compressed wood or sawdust dipped in paraffin or other combustible material to aid the wood’s combustion. The advantage of these wood starters is that they are simple to use and, for the most part, safe.
Some wood-based fire starter brands add a match like “tip” to their wood sticks so you can light them like a match, while with other brands, you will need a lighter or source of ignition to get the starter going.
One disadvantage with this type of charcoal igniter is that they are not reusable; once you use them, they will burn and become ash, unlike other charcoal starters in this list, which you can reuse to start your charcoals. These fire starters can up over time as they can only be used once and last only for a few minutes.
Electric Charcoal Starter – Start Your Charcoal Grill with an electric starter
Electric Charcoal Staters are electrical heating elements designed to get extremely hot and, when placed in a pile of charcoals, will ignite them by extreme heat and not an open flame. These staters can be used multiple times and can last a long time if the manufacturer’s instructions are followed. Electric starters enable you to start your grill without lighter fluid, not chemicals need at all.
These electric charcoal starters do no need matches or lighter fluid to operate, which means no chemical fluid taste in your food. Instead, the heating element will produce anywhere from 400 to 800 watts of heating power to ignite charcoal piles in a matter of minutes.
There are a few disadvantages to these devices. First, they require electricity. Yes, you must plug this starter into a power outlet for the heating element to work. If you are on a camping trip, on the road, or tailgating, it might be hard t to find a power source capable of powering the heating element.
The heating element is usually an exposed metal ring, and it is easy for a distracted person to grab or touch the heating element and sustain a dangerous burn. An electric charcoal starter is a great gift accessory for beginners.
Hot Air Charcoal Starters
These charcoal starters are probably the easiest and safer option when it comes to charcoal starers. However, these gadgets can be on the pricier side and also require you to stand by your charcoal grill and hold the starter in place. Some models include “clamps” to attach the stater to the grill, but most don’t work that great.
Like electric starters, hot air staters need an electrical power outlet near buy to power this gadget. So if you are cooking in the middle of your backyard, best make sure you have a long power cord extension to power the hot air stater.
If you are trying to use an electric hot air stater in a campsite or at night, be aware that these devices can be quite loud. You can compare the noise made by these hot air staters to that of a powerful hairdryer running in high.
The Home Brew Method – Using Tissue Paper and Olive Oil
This is an alternative way to start charcoal without using any tools, accessories, or electric devices. Using paper towels, create small Hershey-shaped balls, about an inch in diameter, and soak the ball’s button part in a bit of olive oil. Place a few of these paper towel balls around the charcoal, light the twisted top with a lighter, and let the paper towels slowly do their job and light up the charcoal. If you prefer not to use a charcoal starter, this home remedy will start your charcoal grill without lighter fluid.
So, What is the best way to light charcoal?
When it comes to lighting charcoal and the best way to light charcoal, a lot has to do with the type of grill you own and your personal preferences. However, based on our research and my personal experience, we prefer wood-based lighting sticks with match heads.
These charcoal staters can be used anywhere, and some will work even if wet. These lighting ticks are easy to take on road trips, camping, and self-sustaining packing makes them easy to store. In fact, some lighting sticks work just like matches and a matchbox, slightly bigger, burn hater, and longer.
Some of the staters in this list are nice gadgets, but some require electricity, others are slow, and some are expensive.
However, one big downside of wood-based fire-starting sticks is that you will need to replenish your stock depending on how often you grill, while other staters can last a long time after the initial investment and purchase. There is a fine line here, and it is up to you to determine what you feel conformable handling, spending, and owning.
How long should coals burn before cooking?
After lighting the charcoal, you want to let the coals burn until you start to see a light coating of white ash. After you notice white caps, it will take about 10 minutes for the coals to get to temperature and anywhere between 25 to 30 minutes to reach cooking temperature.
Tip: Prep your Grill for Ignition
Preparing your grill before adding charcoal helps with the ignition process. A clean and ash-free charcoal grill will light up much faster and with less effort. If your grill’s air vents are clean and ample oxygen-rich air flows through the grill, charcoal will start much faster, reducing the need for a massive fire to start the charcoal.
Also, a clean grill will not produce dirty smoke, leaving a bad taste on your food. Try to keep your grill neat and clean old grease to avoid flare-ups and dirty black smoke. Determine how much charcoal you need before dumping a full bag of charcoal into your grill. If you are just cooking a few burgers, a small amount of charcoal should be sufficient for the cook.
Smaller amounts of charcoal will ignite easier and faster than a full bag of coals. Also, make sure you are using good-quality charcoal. Good-quality charcoal will ignite easier and cleaner. If you are not familiar with the best charcoal brands, this article will help you learn more about the best lump charcoal options in the market.
Starting charcoal can be dangerous, and you should take proper safety precautions. Always follow your grill and charcoal manufacturer instructions. When starting charcoal is an excellent idea to clear your cooking area from anything that can catch fire easily; it can spark and light nearby combustible materials as the charcoal ignites.
Always use charcoal grills outdoors and never cook with charcoal indoors or in poorly ventilated areas. Remember that carbon monoxide is poisonous and dangerous.
Beware of where you dispose of your used coals. According to the United States Consumer Product SAFETY Commission, even if charcoal seems to be out or looks “out,” only charcoal that is cold to the touch is out.
One Last Word
If you are looking for a safer alternative to lighter fluid, try any of the options in this list, but if you are serious about grilling, avoid lighter fluid. For most pitmasters, using lighter fluid is a big no, and it all has to do with quality and flavor.
If you are serious about grilling and smoking meats, you do not want to use any chemicals that can be absorbed by your foods. You want the cleanest, best-tasting food, and everything starts with the heat source, your coals!