Best Way to Light a Charcoal Grill

best way to light a charcoal grill

Taking care of a charcoal grill requires more effort than setting up a stove, so we have broken down the process below, along with some tips and tricks for success.

The following guide will show you the best way to light a charcoal grill, how to know when charcoal is ready, and whether you use a chimney starter, lighter fluid, or even a lighter without any lighter fluid.

Best Way to Light a Charcoal Grill

We will also discuss arranging your coals for the best possible cooking results.

Things Require: Best Way to Light a Charcoal Grill

  • Briquettes or lump charcoal
  • Paper or charcoal lighter cubes
  • The long lighter
  • Starter for charcoal chimneys

To find the right charcoal for what you are cooking, you should find the one that best suits your needs. As a rule of thumb, lump charcoal burns cleaner, hotter, and faster than traditional briquettes, which burn much slower and are not as hot as lump charcoal

Your Goals Will Determine How Much Charcoal to Use

Your Goals Will Determine How Much Charcoal to Use

The charcoal you will need to cook your dish can also differ depending on the charcoal you are using and the temperature and cooking time necessary for your dish. The rule of thumb is to fire up half to 3/4 of a chimney, but if you don’t have enough charcoal, you might find that your grill doesn’t get hot enough, or if you have too much charcoal, it might get too hot. 

The amount of coal you use should cover the bottom of whatever space you are cooking in if you don’t have a chimney. For longer cooks, adding more charcoal to the pile is a good idea if the charcoal starts to burn down.

How to Use a Charcoal Chimney? 

How to Use a Charcoal Chimney

Many people prefer to start their charcoal grills with charcoal chimney starters. Using a chimney starter, you can start a charcoal grill by following these steps:

1. You need to fill the chimney with charcoal. Add as much charcoal as necessary, depending on the food you’re cooking.

2. Under the chimney, you can place lighter cubes, newspapers, or paper towels, all of which will serve as insulation. It would be a good idea to place one of these underneath the chimney in the chamber. As a starter, you will use these ingredients.

3. Start the fire by lighting the starter. You can save your fingers using a long lighter instead of a short one. Adding a few drops of cooking oil to the newspaper or paper towels may help ignite the flame, especially if you’re using newspaper or paper towels.

4. Let the charcoal burn for a few minutes until it ignites. A total of twelve to fifteen minutes should be required for this process to be completed. The top layer of charcoal will eventually turn grayish-white, and you will notice that the amber glow will eventually appear.

5. The charcoal that has been lit should be thrown on the grill once it has been lit. It is then necessary to carefully dump the lit charcoal into the grill in the preferred arrangement and proceed with the cooking process.

Here’s how you can light charcoal with no lighter fluid or chimney

Best Way to Light a Charcoal Grill

You can also start a charcoal grill with newspaper if you don’t have a chimney starter. 

1. Under the grill grate, place a piece of newspaper. Make sure you roll up the newspaper and place it wherever you would like your charcoal to be placed. If you plan to have more than one heat zone, place a newspaper where charcoal will be placed at each location. If you want to get the newspaper to ignite, you can sprinkle some cooking oil over it.

2. Place the newspaper on top of the charcoal and arrange the charcoal around it. It is important to use enough charcoal to adequately cover the newspaper without preventing airflow from being able to ignite it.

3. It is important to light the newspaper when it is first opened. Light a piece of exposed newspaper with a long lighter by finding a piece of exposed newspaper. You must ensure that your newspaper is lit in every zone set up.

4. You will need to wait for the charcoal to ignite before you proceed. Although this will take a bit longer than a charcoal chimney, you should be able to see the charcoal begin to ignite within 15 minutes from the point of lighting. The grill should be kept open to allow oxygen to feed the fire. After your charcoal has become grayish-white, you’re ready to grill.

Use of lighter fluid to light a grill

Experts recommend this method the least among the three charcoal grill starting methods. If not performed correctly, it can also be dangerous and affect your food’s taste.

1. Prepare the grill by arranging charcoal. Choose your preferred arrangement for your charcoal.

2. Using lighter fluid, douse the middle of the pile(s) in the middle of the pile(s). If you have a pound of charcoal, you will need approximately 1/4 cup of lighter fluid.

3. The lighter should be long enough to light the whole piece. Make sure the lighter fluid soaks in for about 30 seconds before lighting so that you can back up the flame if a flare-up occurs.

4. Until the charcoal turns grayish-white, it should be left to burn for a while. You should be able to complete this process in about 15 minutes.

Arrangements for controlling the temperature of charcoal

Having learned how to light your charcoal, you’ll also want to know how to arrange your charcoal so that when you’re grilling, you can properly prepare the food you’re grilling.

An arrangement with one zone

At the bottom of the grill, there is a bed of charcoal arranged over the entire length of the grill. Only direct heat is provided in this configuration, but it is the simplest and most basic configuration. Whenever it is to be used: Only when it is to be used for grilling only foods that need to be cooked directly and quickly.

A classic arrangement of two zones 

A center or side-by-side arrangement of charcoal is usually used on a grill. This way, two zones are created, one for direct heat searing and fast cooking and the other for indirect heat cooking and resting. In case of flame flare-ups, it also provides a place to move your food. You can use this grill if you need the flexibility to control the temperature as you grill various foods requiring different temperatures or cooking times.

Using the snake method

On the grill or barbecue, the unlit charcoal is placed around the perimeter of the grill in a 300-degree circle so that there is no charcoal in the middle of the grill. A “snake” of lit charcoal is added to either end to ignite the charcoal and maintain steady heat for a long cook. Use it when you want to cook or slowly smoke foods for a long time.

Using the minion method

A center pile of lit charcoal around which unlit charcoal is arranged. Unlit charcoal gradually ignites over some time, leading to a steadier slow cooking process. Whenever you want to cook food for a long period or smoke food for a long period, you should use this product.

What is the best time to grill charcoal?

The charcoal will be ready to begin cooking when it turns grayish-white, so you can tell when it is ready for cooking. In the Sniders’ opinion, if you start grilling before this date, the main consequence you will suffer will be a lack of heat from your grill.

Using this technique, you can obtain a truly incredible sear on meats and vegetables and create new reactions that develop deeply flavored flavors. You will not be able to take advantage of this advantage if you don’t wait for your charcoal to light up long enough.


Should the grill be open or closed when lighting charcoal?

While arranging and lighting your charcoal, leave the lid open. You should close the lid after the coals have been well-lit. As soon as a charcoal grill is lit, it becomes hotter.

How do you light a charcoal grill and keep it lit?

Stacking charcoal vertically on the grill or smoker rather than flat it on the bottom will make it more likely to stay lit. You may already know that heat rises. Heat rises from the bottom coals to the top coals when your charcoal is stacked.

How long should coals burn before grilling?

Food needs to be added to the grill once it is hot. Once the grill has been lit, cover it with the lid and let it warm up for a minimum of 15 minutes before cooking on it. As soon as it looks gray and ashy, you will know it is ready for use.

How long do you let lighter fluid sit on charcoal?

Use lighter fluid in the center of the charcoal cone than around the edges. A quarter cup of fluid should be used per pound of charcoal. Wait about 30 seconds before removing the fluid from the coals. At least two sides of the charcoal should be lit with a long match.

Does charcoal have to be white before cooking?

They are adding white ash to charcoal briquets before cooking will prevent them from burning. White coals are at maximum heat when white, not for flavor. As they sit, they will become hotter if you start cooking sooner.

Final Words

Charcoal grills are easy to light, despite their intimidating appearance. For the size of your grill and the food you are cooking, select the charcoal type, lighting method, and amount that works best for you. Once the charcoal is arranged in the grill, decide how it will be used. It is considered the safest and most efficient and allows you to control the temperature and length of grilling time by using fireplace starters and a classic two-zone arrangement.


  • Troy Miller

    Hi! My name is Troy, and I'm the founder of Grill Taster. I have a lot of experience in grilling because I've been testing out products for over a decade. With almost ten years as a professional griller and help to thousands of aspiring BBQ masters, you can trust me to help you find the best grills and accessories on the market so that you don't have to waste time or money on junk. With my family enjoying some summertime fun just outside Carolina, we're all looking forward to your comments and questions!

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