How To Light Your Charcoal Barbecue

Lighting charcoal is one of those things where everyone thinks their way is best. The truth is there is no 'best' way. It is more of a preference sorta thing. Except for lighter fluid - that is the worst way. YUCK - bad for you, bad for the environment.

Check out the alternative methods for lighting charcoal below. How much charcoal should you use, you ask? Well think of it this way, the more charcoal you use the hotter the fire. If you are just doing a quick burger, chicken breast etc. you don't need much, about a charcoal chimney full. If you want to really sear your steak you will need a bit more. For long slow cooks, you will need to start with a small amount and add as you go.

There are many ways you can start your charcoal.  Several of them are even legal.  Several more are even safe.  Let’s concentrate on the methods that are both legal and safe: 

Lighting Charcoal: A step-by-step instruction

 Charcoal Chimney Method

The charcoal chimney method is the tried and true way for lighting charcoal before the electric starters and looft lighters were around.

This is the method we like the best.  It’s quick, easy, and lights a large-ish batch of charcoal all at once.  The chimney will naturally draw the flame towards the charcoal and light it completely within about fifteen minutes.  Works best if you set the chimney right on your barbecue’s briquette grate where there is a natural air flow below the chimney.  There are several types of chimneys available in different styles and sizes

  1. Fill your charcoal chimney with charcoal
  2. Crumple up some paper underneath the chimney, no more than two sheets of newspaper. Alternately, you can use lighter cubes.
  3. Put chimney and paper down on top of the charcoal grate. Light the paper in a few places with a match or barbecue lighter
  4. When the charcoal has a white ash coating on it, the charcoal is ready to put inside the grill
  5. Spread the charcoal in an even layer across the bottom


Electric Charcoal Starters

These have been around forever and with good reason.  Simply pile your charcoal on top of the element, plug it in and wait for the charcoal to light.  Easy, peezy, lemon squeezy.  The downside?  You need to have a convenient electrical outlet nearby and these gizmos have a tendency to only light the charcoal that is in direct contact with the element.  So, getting the entire bed of charcoal glowing, takes a little longer.

The Big Boy Charcoal Wand is one of our favourite inventions and the charcoal griller's secret weapon. The wand gets you fired up and ready to grill in no time. The faster you get grilling, the faster you get to barbecuing. Meaning you can eat faster. Be careful to pull the lighter back from the charcoal once the charcoal is lit. The tip will warp if you do not do this.

As you will see in the video, it is recommended that you wear gloves or barbecue mitts when doing this.



Lighting charcoal with an electric charcoal starter:

  1. Make a pile of charcoal in the bottom of your charcoal barbecue.
  2. Plug in your electric lighter
  3. Hold the lighter wand in the charcoal pile
  4. Pull the lighter back a couple inches when the charcoal starts to spark
  5. Hold here until charcoal is lit

 Lighter Cubes / Squares Method

  1. Make a pile of charcoal on bottom of barbecue
  2. Make a small well in the middle of the top of the pile
  3. Place lighter cubes or squares in well
  4. Light with a barbecue lighter
  5. When cube / square has disintegrated and coals are 'ashy' you're ready to rock n' roll


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