Whether you love the flavor of grilled seafood, grilled vegetables, or an eye of round steak, knowing how to operate a charcoal grill is essential.
It is the only way you will achieve the signature char-grilled flavor.
However, if you have never used a charcoal grill, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Luckily the best place to start is knowing how to light a charcoal grill.
Even though lighting charcoals seems like a complicated process, it is relatively easy once you get the hang of it.
Lighting coals is as simple as cheese as long as you know the basics.
- Types of Charcoal
- Charcoal Lighting Tips
- How To Light Charcoal
- How to Safely Extinguish a Charcoal Fire
- Final Thoughts
Types of Charcoal
You must also consider the type of charcoal you intend to use as fuel.
In simple terms, charcoal is wood that’s ignited, smoldered, and cooled.
However, a more accurate description of charcoal is a lightweight, black deposit made of carbon and ash produced by eliminating water and volatile composites from wood.
Charcoal is usually available in two forms: hardwood lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes.
Briquettes are so easy to find you can literally purchase them at the grocery store, bait shops, hardware stores, and the grocery store.
Briquettes are also the choice source of food for individuals who love to grill on the go.
Briquettes are known for their uniform oval shape and lack of edges.
Their rounded shape allows you to briquettes to light in a pile, and the air will freely circulate around the briquettes, which supports combustion.
Charcoal briskets consist of wood shards, fillers, and wood dust, allowing them to hold their uniform shape.
Hardwood Lump Charcoal
In contrast, lump charcoal is produced from organic woods that are ignited then smoldered.
Lump charcoal boasts a flavor that mimics the aroma of a smoldering campfire.
However, lump charcoal is lighter in comparison to wood. Lump charcoal size can vary from a golf ball to a tree branch.
Even though lump charcoal is highly coveted, the shape of lump charcoal is inconsistent.
Charcoal Lighting Tips
Before you add the charcoal to the grill and light, there are a few tips you should be aware of.
Charcoal grills are not identical to pellet grills or gas grills, but that does not mean they are inadequate.
Prepping the Grill
Before you purchase charcoal or add it to your grill, you need to clean your grill properly.
Cleaning your grill is the only way you will get the best results while barbequing your food.
A clean grill and seasoned or oiled grates will always yield tasty food that will not stick to the grill.
More importantly, a clean grill also prevents grease fires and extends the shelf life of the grill.
Before you light your charcoal, clean your grill by removing any ash or residual grease from your last grilling session.
Clean your grill’s grates with a grill brush before and after each grilling session. Deep clean the grill’s interior monthly.
Wipe your grill’s grates with a neutral-flavored oil that has a high smoking point.
How Much Charcoal Should I Use?
In regards to charcoal, the golden rule is to use more charcoal if you want a hotter fire.
Use 25-30 briquettes if you are using smaller and portable grills.
On the other hand, if you are using a large grill like an offset grill, use about 50-75 briquettes.
If it is a cold, windy, or rainy day, you will need to add more charcoal to your grill.
The amount of charcoal you need also depends on the type of food you are grilling.
If you are grilling quick-cooking foods such as burgers, hot dogs, or seafood that uses high heat, moderate heat is better.
For this task, an even layer arranged at the bottom of the grill is perfect for this type of grilling.
On the other hand, if you are searing a steak, you will need a hotter fire.
You will need a double layer of charcoal on the bottom of your grill to create a hot enough fire to sear a steak.
Even though it seems natural to add more charcoal to ag rill when you are smoking foods, it is not the best decision.
You need to use less charcoal and watch smoker’s internal temperature.
If all else fails, you can always add more charcoal to the fire to keep it above 200°F.
To maintain a stable temperature and prolong the fire, add 4-5 charcoals every 30-35 minutes.
How To Arrange Charcoal on a Grill
While it is easy to forgo the trouble of arranging charcoal on the grill and dump it into the base of your grill, this may not be the wisest decision.
To yield the best results, you need to arrange the coals in the bottom of the grill strategically.
However, this could differ depending on the method you use to light your grill.
How To Light Charcoal
There are several different ways to light charcoal. The best way to light them depends on your preference.
Therefore, you should test out all of these methods to find the charcoal lighting technique that works for you.
Chimney starters are one of the simplest ways to light a charcoal grill. This method uses newspaper to light the grill.
The newspaper is placed into the base of a metal cylinder and ignited.
The coals sit on top of the flames, so the edges of the coals can light quickly, and the fire can spread to the remaining unlit coals.
To light your charcoal, place it into the chimney starter, add 1-2 sheets of newspaper, and light it in different spots to efficiently ignite the charcoal.
Even though the average chimney starter can hold up to 100 briquettes, depending on what you are cooking, you may not need that many.
If your chimney starter has vents, you can also look through the vents to see if the charcoals are lit.
If your charcoals have not been ignited, you can add another sheet of newspaper.
Alternatively, you can also drizzle the newspaper with cooking oil before igniting it to get a longer burn.
Once the charcoals are lit, they should turn to an ash-gray color in about 10-15 minutes.
From the vent view, the coals will be glowing, and you will also notice the flames beginning to spark over the top layer of coals.
Spread the coals into the base of your grill, add the top cooking grate, and your grill is ready to use.
Fire-starting Blocks and Cubes
Fire-starting blocks and cubes are produced from the same components used to create artificial fireplace logs.
These materials are mostly shavings and paraffin.
Similar to a chimney starter, using this method to light charcoal is super easy.
Place your fire-starting blocs or cubes onto your pile of coals and light one of its edges.
Let the fire starter burn for 15-20 minutes, and your charcoal is good to go.
You can also divide your starter into smaller pieces to create a more efficient way of lighting a charcoal grill.
Even though some BBQ enthusiasts despise lighter fluid, it is an efficient way to light the grill. Pile the coals into a mound to help the fire spread.
Gently douse the sides and top of the charcoal pyramid with lighter fluid and light the coals immediately.
Do not add lighter fluid to ignited or flaming coals.
The lighter fluid will burn off, and the coal’s corners will turn gray in approximately 15 minutes.
Once the coals turn gray, spread them into an even layer and get cooking!
Instant Light Charcoal
Instant light charcoal is a type of charcoal that’s produced with lighter fluid, which means you do not need to add lighter fluid.
Arrange your instant light charcoals into a pyramid to ensure the fire spreads.
Next, use a match to light the edge of charcoal pieces and allow them to burn for 10 minutes.
After the coals are ignited, the flames will eventually die down, and the charcoal will turn gray.
Electric starters are also an excellent way to light charcoal.
To light charcoal using an electric starter, pile it into a mound and plug the starter in.
Place the nozzle of the starter into the center of the stack of coals and let it do its thing.
Once sparks occur, pull the starter up a few inches away from the pile of coals.
Move the electric starter around, and once the fire ignites, remove the starter from the coals.
When the coals have turned white, spread them into an even layer and add the cooking grate.
Immersion starters are similar to a heating element from an electric stove.
All that’s required is submerging it in a mound of charcoal and lighting it.
Since these starters are electric, the heating element gets red hot, allowing the charcoal to heat in as little as 3-4 minutes.
It’s best to set a timer for 4-5 minutes to remind you when your charcoal is ready so you do not forget about it.
When the charcoal ignites, unplug and remove your immersion starter and place it in a fire-resistant spot to cool down.
Failure to use this extremely convenient piece of equipment can ruin your BBQ experience.
Propane Torches and Weed Burners
Propane torches and weed burners are relatively inexpensive and can cost as little as $20.
They are also efficient ways to light charcoal. Add your charcoal to your grill and submerge the weed burner or propane torch into the stack of coals.
In about 5 minutes, you will have charcoal that’s ready to use.
It is important to note; weed burners get extremely hot, so be careful when using them and place the burner in a safe area to cool down.
In addition to this, since sparks will flicker, it’s best to invest in protective eye gear such as goggles, so you do not get burned.
If you are using a propane burner, keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case an accident occurs.
How to Safely Extinguish a Charcoal Fire
Just like knowing how to light charcoal is important, knowing how to safely extinguish a charcoal fire is important.
In the blink of an eye, your fire could blossom out of control if you are not careful.
Charcoal can remain hot and have hidden embers that have the power to start a fire for up to 24 hours after your meal is finished cooking.
Therefore you must monitor your fire very closely and safely extinguish it.
Once you are finished cooking, stitch the top and bottom vents of the grill to the closed position.
Spray the charcoal with water, then use a pair of long tongs to move the coals around and extinguish the fire. Y
ou may want to wear fire-safe gloves for this part of the extinguishing process.
Place the lid onto the grill, ensuring it has a snug fit, and let the charcoal cool for several hours.
Transfer the extinguished coals to a storage bin or dispose of them.
Charcoal is one of the most effective sources of fuel used to impart flavor into grill foods.
However, many people struggle to light charcoal. With factors such as being exposed to moisture, it can seem impossible to light charcoal.
Nevertheless, you will no longer have this problem as you now know how to light charcoal successfully.
Remember, the key to lighting charcoal is to light a small portion of it and allow the flame to spread to the other coals.
As long as an adequate amount of oxygen is circulating freely, you will never have trouble getting your fuel going again.
I have been smoking and grilling meat from an early age and enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise through the hundreds of articles I have written about BBQ. I hope to make everyone’s BBQ journey that little bit easier.