Best Ways to Start a Charcoal Grill

Food just tastes so much better when it’s cooked on the grill. You can use your grill to get that perfect sear on burgers, roast up asparagus stalks, or heat a foil veggie packet.

But to make use of your grill, you first need to get the fire going. Charcoal grills can be tricky, as you need to light the coals and get them simmering at just the right temperature so they put out constant heat.
If you need a little help with starting your charcoal grill, here are three of the best ways to become a seasoned pro.

Get a Chimney Starter

Chimney Starter

Chimney starters are an amazing invention. They take away all the hassle of starting a charcoal grill. If you’ve never used one, it’s a metal cylinder that holds the charcoal while it burns. From start to finish, the process should take about 10 minutes. Here’s how to use one:

1. Put the charcoal inside the chimney. Most can hold up to 100 briquets, but you probably won’t need that many if you’re using a smaller grill.

2. Grab a couple of crumpled up newspaper sheets and place them underneath the chimney. Light the newspaper in several spots so the flames reach the charcoal. Check to make sure that the charcoal is beginning to turn gray; this means the batch is well on its way to becoming coals.

3. Let the flames spread for about 10 minutes until you see them starting to come out of the top vents. At this point, pour out the coals and wait for them to turn gray.

4. Once the coals have turned gray, spread them out and begin to cook.

Use Lighter Fluid

Lighter Fluid

Don’t have a chimney starter or feel like investing in one? That’s fine because we have another way to help start your coals — lighter fluid. It’s important not to be reckless when handling lighter fluid, as you don’t want to burn yourself. To keep yourself from going overboard, only use ¼ cup of fluid for each pound of charcoal you use. Allot around 20 minutes to start your coals this way:

1. To begin, stack your charcoal into a pyramid or cone shape.
2. Pour the fluid over the top, and let it soak in for about 30 seconds.
3. Use a long match to light the bottom of the charcoal on at least two sides.
4. Allow the flames to burn until the charcoal takes on a white appearance, then spread out the charcoal evenly across the grate.
5. Give the charcoal five minutes of rest with the lid on, and then it should be hot enough to for you to start cooking.

Try an Electric Charcoal Starter

Electric Charcoal StarterIf you don’t want to mess with open flames, your best bet might be to try an electric charcoal starter. This is a metal device that uses electricity to generate enough heat to get your charcoal smoldering into coals. Other than not needing to handle fire, the benefit of this device is that you won’t be adding any extra chemicals to your coal pile. This lighting process may take a little longer than the other methods, but is a great option for people who love to grill but prefer to keep away from flames:

1. Using an outdoor extension cord, plug in the charcoal starter to let it heat up.
2. Create a layer of charcoal in the center of the grill.
3. Put the hot metal element directly in the middle of the charcoal, then place a second layer of charcoal on top.

Other Tips for Lighting Your Charcoal Grill

Charcoal Grill

Now that you know the three most popular methods of lighting a charcoal grill, here are a few more tips to improve your experience:

  • Avoid using self-lighting charcoal. Often, these contain chemicals that can make your food taste strange if they aren’t completely burned up during the lighting process.
  • If you’re having trouble getting it started, try adding some airflow to the charcoal. Use a hand fan or even a hairdryer to circulate fresh oxygen into the fire.
  • Don’t throw more lighter fluid on coals that are already burning. This is just asking for an explosion!
  • Keep the lid closed after you get your coals going. This prevents heat from escaping.

Once you get the hang of it, lighting your charcoal grill is simple. With these tips in your arsenal, you may decide to cook all of your meals over your charcoal grill — and we wouldn’t blame you.

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