How To Light a Charcoal BBQ Without Firelighters

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how to light a charcoal bbq

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So, you have purchased your first charcoal BBQ, you have it set up, prepped your food for your first cook. What next? It’s time to fire it up! But How to light a charcoal BBQ without Fire Lighters?

This might sound straight forward, and it is if you know the correct techniques, if you get the techniques wrong you will waste valuable grilling time.

How To Light A Charcoal BBQ Without Firelighters?

When your new to BBQ you may just consider getting a bunch of fire lighters or lighter fluid, light it up and throw some charcoal on top.

While this may work to a degree it is definitely not the most efficient method and will also leave a chemical taste to your food, hardly the BBQ flavour we all crave!

If you are just starting out you may not have invested in the tools to assist you in lighting charcoal or you may not even be aware that they exist! Although these tools definitely make it quicker and easier to get your BBQ going they are by no means necessary.

We will describe methods using these tools and methods without.

Lighter Fluid

Although it may seem like the easy solution, using lighter fluid should not even be a consideration.  Lighter fluid can really ruin the flavour of your food and it is so easy to get your BBQ fired up without it!

Thankfully there are many good methods to get your charcoal going without the need for fire lighters or lighter fluid, this guide will explain in detail each method.

  • Kindling, Newspaper & Charcoal
  • Electric Charcoal Starter
  • Looftlighter
  • Charcoal Chimney

However, before we jump in and light our charcoal with one of these methods there are a few other considerations such as the type of charcoal to use and the method you wish to cook.

Briquettes Or Lump Charcoal?

The majority of barbecuers choose briquettes over lump charcoal.  They are inexpensive and available virtually everywhere.  

Briquettes are generally an even shape which consist of compressed sawdust and charcoal with added binders.  Some are pre soaked in lighter fluid to allow for esier lighting, these can produce a chemical taste if the fluid has not completely burnt off before cooking.

Briquettes wont burn as hot as hot as lump and the amount of smoke produced is much less.  

The main advantage of briquettes over lump is that they produce a predictable and even heat over a period of time therefor as a beginner we recommend getting started using briquettes as you are more likely to achieve a successful cook.

Once you have a few cooks under your belt and are used to how your BBQ operates then experiment with lump wood charcoal as well.  The main advantages with lump wood is they will burn hotter, will be ready to cook on quicker than briquettes and generate more smoke giving more BBQ flavour to your cooks.

Before you start

Plan your cook and decide on a cooking method. There are many methods to cook and many ways to set up your BBQ and this all depends on what you want to cook.

For example, burgers and steaks you would usually cook with a medium/high direct heat. Chicken wings would be best done with a high heat indirect set up whereas a Pork shoulder for pulled pork you would set the BBQ up in a low heat indirect method.

For your first cook we would recommend keeping it simple with some burgers, this will give you a chance to experiment without the risk of ruining expensive cuts of meat.

Cooking Zones

Setting the BBQ up with 2 cooking zones (One side direct heat, the other side indirect heat) is your best option, this allows you to move the food around when required, for instance your burgers have been cooking on direct heat and are almost cooked but have started to burn, you can simply, move them to the indirect zone until cooked.

Additionally if your food is causing “Flare ups” due to excess fat dripping on the coals this allows you to move the food away from the direct heat until the “Flare up” is under control.

To create 2 cooking zones you can simply place the charcoals on one side of the grill only. Charcoal baskets are a great accessory to keep your charcoal organised and split zones as required.

How much charcoal to use?

This is another great reason to choose briquettes over lump wood when starting out, they come in an even size therefore easier to measure the amount required.

After a few cooks you will easily be able to gauge the amount of charcoal required but when starting out it can be confusing.

The easiest way is to use a “Chimney Starter” The chimney starter can act as a measuring jug as-well as helping to get your coals starting quickly and efficiently.

A Chimney starter is a metal cylinder with holes in it and a shelf a third of the way up.  You simply fill the cylinder with the desired amount of coals and place it over a lit fire lighter on a grate until ready.

Generally if cooking for 4-6 people on an average size BBQ we would usually fill the chimney starter to the top.

If we were just cooking a few burgers and sausages for a couple of people then a half full chimney would be ample.

 

How to light a charcoal BBQ without Firelighters

Follow the below steps to successfully prep your BBQ ready for food.

Kindling, Newspaper and Charcoal

This method is the cheapest however it can be tricky and take some practice, although can be quite satisfying once you get it going.

What you will need:

  • Charcoal Briquettes or Lump wood Charcoal
  • Kindling
  • Newspaper
  • Matches or a lighter
  1. Lay out half of your charcoal on the charcoal grate.
  2. Scrunch up a few sheets of news paper on the charcoal.
  3. Lay some Kindling on top, crossing over each other.
  4. Light the Newspaper with a Match or Lighter.
  5. Once the Kindling begins to catch fire, lay the rest of the charcoal on top
  6. Once a grey ash has formed over the Charcoals, close the lid of the BBQ to pre-heat for 10 minutes.
  7. Get cooking!

Pro’s

  1. Cheap
  2. No Chemical taste
  3. Satisfying

Con’s

  1. Takes longer than other method’s
  2. Takes practice 
  3. Difficult when windy

Conclusion

While this method is definitely the most difficult and time consuming, we  recommend learning it regardless if you have the tools to make it quicker.

You may find yourself in a situation when you are Barbecuing away from home and don’t have the necessary tools shown in the other methods but you can usually source some paper and some wood to make kindling no matter where you are. 

Hint: 

If you cant find wood to make kindling twigs or pine cones work great too!

How To Light A Charcoal BBQ With An Electric Charcoal Starter

This is a great method if you have an electric charcoal starter and if you have electric available at your BBQ.  

An Electric Charcoal Starter is basically a heating element that you may find on a hob, or another way to look at is a soldering iron on a larger scale.

What you will need:

  • Charcoal Briquettes or Lump wood Charcoal
  • Electric Charcoal Starter
  • Electric Supply
  1. Lay the electric charcoal starter on the charcoal grate.
  2. Place your charcoal over the top of the starter.
  3. Switch on the starter and wait.
  4. Once the bottom coals start glowing, remove the charcoal starter. (Be careful, this will remain hot for some time)
  5. Once a grey ash has formed over the coals, close the lid of the BBQ to pre heat.
  6. Get Cooking!

Pro’s

  1. Works Every Time
  2. No Chemical taste
  3. Relatively Cheap 1 Time Purchase

Con’s

  1. Works better for smaller cooks with less charcoal.
  2. Electric supply required.
  3. Remains hot for a period of time, need to be careful and have a safe place to lay down whilst cooling.

Conclusion

This is a great easy option for smaller cooks.  It works without fail and without much input.  In a nutshell, plug it in, place in BBQ, lay down charcoal and wait.

Caution: 

As this is a hot iron it will give you a nasty burn if handled incorrectly, advise using BBQ gloves when handling, only touch the handle of the iron and have a safe place ready for when its time to unplug and lay down to cool.

 

How To Light A Charcoal BBQ With A Looftlighter

How To Light A Charcoal BBQ With A Charcoal Chimney Starter

Here at Best Home BBQ, this is our favourite method for starting our Charcoal.  It is quick, easy, requires no electric and doubles as a way to measure your charcoal.

What you will need:

  • Charcoal Briquettes or Lump wood Charcoal
  • Chimney Starter
  • Odourless Chemical Free Fire Lighters
  1. Load the chimney with charcoal.
  2. Light 2 natural fire lighters on the charcoal grate.
  3. Place chimney over the lighters.
  4. Once coals are glowing red and beginning to grey on top, carefully, using BBQ gloves, tip the coals onto the grate or charcoal baskets.
  5. Close the lid of BBQ, open the vents and pre-heat for 10 minutes.
  6. Get Cooking!

Pro’s

  1. Works Every Time
  2. No Chemical taste
  3. Doubles as a Charcoal Measure
  4. No Electric Required

Con’s

  1. Takes slightly longer than using the Looftlighter

Conclusion

This is our favourite option as we can take it anywhere, don’t require electric, its hastle free giving us a predictable bed of coals to cook on every time.

Caution: 

The chimney will remain hot for some time and can give you a nasty burn if handled incorrectly, advise using BBQ gloves when handling, only touch the handle of the Chimney and have a safe place ready for when its time to lay down to cool.

How To Light A Charcoal BBQ – Side by Side Comparison

Grill on!

Now that you have the BBQ lit, your cooking zones seperated and your grill preheated it’s time to enjoy your efforts and get cooking.

Start with a few basic cooks to allow you to experiment before taking on some longer more complicated recipes.

FAQ

1. If I have used too much charcoal can I re-use them?

Of course, if you have finished your cook and there are still plenty of life left in the lit charcoal you can simply put the lid on your BBQ and close off all of the vents, this will quickly cool the BBQ and stop the charcoal from burning out.  These can be re-lit again the next time you use your BBQ.

2. How Long After Lighting A BBQ Can I Begin Cooking?

This depends on the method you choose to light your BBQ as each method takes a different length of time to get your charcoal going.

The general rule of thumb we use is 10 minutes after the grey ash covering of your coals.  We use this 10 minutes to pre-heat the BBQ then brush the grill grates before cooking.

2. How To Light A Charcoal BBQ With A Lid?

While lighting your charcoal make sure the lid is off of the BBQ initially.

Once the coals are glowing a strong red colour and ash is begging to form then close your lid and open all of the vents fully.  This will allow the BBQ to pre-heat and make it easier to brush the grill grates clean before cooking.

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