How To Light A Charcoal Grill Without Lighter Fluid

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Grilling food over charcoal is a time-honored tradition during the warmer months, but one problem with that hefty bag of briquettes is it's not always obvious how to light it. Those charcoal chunks need to be exposed to extreme heat for quite a while to ignite, which lead many to reach for a bottle of lighter fluid to assist them in their task. The rub (har har) is that not only can lighter fluid ruin your grilled veggies and charred meat by leaving an undesirable taste on the food, but it can also cause health problems if ingested or if the vapors are inhaled. Of all the grilling hacks you should know about before your next cookout, getting the coals hot without lighter fluid is arguably the most important. 


An easy solution is to use a propane grill torch that keep your hands a safe distance from the heat. Screw the portable propane tank into the torch and turn on the gas. Push the instant ignitor attached to the torch to ignite the flame and aim it directly at your bed of charcoal. Within a few minutes, enough of the coals should be lit to get things rolling. It's a quick, safe, and portable way to get the grill going, but there are other methods that are even faster when you've got all your cookout accoutrements at hand. 

How to use technology to fire up the grill

Electric starters are a convenient tool that can be purchased for around $20, and will have your coals flaming in under 10 minutes. As far as how to use them, it couldn't be simpler. Just turn it on, stick it into your bed of charcoal, and your work is done. However, because it uses electricity to function, you will need to have an outdoor outlet nearby or an extension cord that can reach your grill. Once the coals are ready, carefully remove the starter and congratulate yourself with a refreshing beer spritz or throw some cocktails together for your guests.


Another gadget you can utilize to get the flames going is the Looftlighter. This device works almost the same way a hair dryer does — but with a metal tip to keep in the flames and more power. When turned on, it shoots incredibly hot air at the charcoal and should start it enough to burn on its own in about one minute. You want to put the end of the Lootflighter at the base of your bed of coals and wait until you see some sparks. Pull it away slightly and continue to heat the charcoal in the same area, and before you know it the chore of lighting the grill is over. 

How to feed the flames with accelerants

If the latest tech isn't your cup of tea, you can always use good ol' accelerants to achieve a flame on the grill. Firelighters are one relatively inexpensive, non-toxic way to get your charcoal ignited, and they burn for a long time. You can set one on top of your coals or build a tepee of briquettes around it before setting it aflame.


A chimney starter and some balled-up newspaper will also do the trick. Charcoal chimneys are metal tubes that house the carbon as it burns. Place a filled chimney over wadded newspaper on the bottom grate of the grill and light the paper. The chimney will draw air from the bottom when you ignite the newspaper, and the heat of the flames will rise throughout the tube, lighting all the charcoal at once. In about 10 minutes, it should be sufficiently smoldering so you can carefully pour the hot coals out of the chimney and into the grill.

When you're trying to figure out how to get the grill lit and don't want to buy any additional equipment, you can always go old school and reach for some paper towels and cooking oil. Coat a couple of paper towels in the oil and set them over the bed of briquettes. With the oil soaking them they should burn long enough to light the coals, and you'll be throwing burgers on the grill in no time.