A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research,
he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.
No doubt, using lighter fluid is one of the simplest and fastest ways to start your charcoal grill. You only need to add lighter fluid to dry coals and light them up - it’s as simple as that!
However, the smell of lighter fluid can be horrible if it finds its way to your BBQ. You have to contend with the nasty smell of fuel coupled with an unpleasant chemical taste in your food. To make it worse, the lighter fluid odor may also infiltrate your clothes and hair for the rest of the day.
Obviously, you don’t want this to happen. The good news is that you can start your grill without lighter fluid. Here is how to go about it:
1. Use a Chimney Starter
A chimney starter, or a charcoal chimney, is a ventilated metal tube designed to hold briquettes or lump charcoal. The chimney uses pieces of newspaper and heat convection to light up your charcoal grill, thus eliminating the need for any chemicals. This ensures your barbecue dish remains odor-free when you serve your guests.
Here are the steps to use a chimney starter:
- Create 3-5 newspaper rings and place them at the bottom of the chimney
- Fill the chimney with briquettes or lump charcoal all the way to the top, depending on the duration you intend to cook
- Light the newspaper rings from the bottom and the fire will build up to the top coals
- Once the top coals turn grey and they are visibly hot, transfer them from the chimney to your grill and arrange them.
2. Using Newspaper
If you don’t have a chimney starter yet, then you can use newspapers or dry twigs instead, just like the good old days before lighter fluids came into existence. However, this should be your fallback option since using newspapers is not always a consistent method. Here are the steps:
- Open the bottom vent of your grill and clear out all the ash from previous grilling
- Crumble 3-5 pages of old newspapers and build a small pile in the middle of the charcoal grate. Make sure there is enough space between the papers for adequate airflow
- Place small dry twigs on top of the newspaper pile
- Place 4-5 pieces of charcoal on top of the crumbled newspapers and twigs near the center
- Ignite the papers using a matchstick or fire starter
- Add more pieces of coal as the fire builds up
3. Using Cardboard Egg Crate
In case you have a couple of cardboard egg crates that are lying idle at home, then you can use them to start your charcoal grill. The crates work just as well as dry twigs. Here are the steps on how to use cardboard egg crates.
- Take an empty cardboard egg crate and remove the lid
- Fill each egg cup of the bottom half with match light charcoal or briquettes
- Ignite each corner of the crate and close the lid
- Place the ignited cardboard egg crate on your charcoal grill and allow it to burn
- Add more charcoal on top of the burning coal or briquettes
4. Using Whiskey
Whiskey is another great alternative to lighter fluid and the best part is that it doesn’t taint your food with unpleasant odors. It contains high sugar and alcohol content that tends to evaporate quickly while aiding in charcoal lighting.
In case you didn’t know, sugar decomposes very fast in fire and it releases a flammable but safe chemical that helps ignite charcoal.
Here are the steps on how to use whiskey to light your charcoal grill.
- Load your grill with charcoal or briquettes
- Compress few paper towels into lumps
- Douse the wadded paper towels in whiskey
- Place the doused paper towels in between the coals in your grill
- Carefully drop a lit match in the grill to light the paper towels
5. Using Paraffin Wax
Paraffin wax is a firelighter that works best when you combine it with a chimney starter. However, you can use it separately to great effect and expect excellent results. This special wax comes in the form of cubes, compressed cardboard, or coated wood chips.
Contrary to popular belief, paraffin is odorless and non-toxic. Besides, it is eco-friendly and won’t leave a bad taste on your BBQ dish. The biggest advantage is that paraffin wax lights even when wet. Here’s how to use it.
- Place enough paraffin wax at the bottom of your chimney starter
- If you don’t own a chimney starter, place the wax under a pile of charcoal
- Light your paraffin wax
6. Using a looft lighter
A heat gun or a loft lighter is another great choice for starting a charcoal grill. This special gun is inexpensive and easy to use. It works by emitting super-heated air from the gun to your charcoal at the touch of a button. It also has a long handle that makes it extremely safe to use. Here’s how to use a heat gun to start your charcoal grill.
- Plug your heat gun into a power outlet
- Direct the heat gun to the bottom of the coal
- Press the ignition button until the coal starts burning or glowing
- Pull the heater from the coal and rotate it around the remaining unheated coal
- Turn off the heater
7. Using Electric Charcoal Starter
The electric charcoal starter features a looped metal coil that resembles the heating element of a stovetop. The starter is engineered specifically for barbecue appliances and grills that use charcoal. Even though it is not as fast as an electric heat gun, it works effectively to light up your charcoal grill. Here are the steps on how to use this starter.
- Load your grill with sufficient charcoal depending on the duration you intend to cook
- Create a pile from the charcoal
- Place the electric charcoal starter at the bottom of the pile of charcoal
- Plug the starter in a power outlet
- Wait for about 20 minutes for the charcoal to start glowing
- Remove the coil
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