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Once you’ve got a charcoal grill, you’re on your way to some delicious backyard grilling. Before you can chow down on burgers, hot dogs, and veggies, you have to accomplish one thing first: lighting your grill.
There are a handful of different methods to light a charcoal grill, so understanding which approach will best suit your needs is imperative. Your grilling experience, budget, and supplies will all determine which method makes sense for your grilling setup. Regardless, it’s important to always use safe lighting practices and heat-protecting gloves and mittens when necessary.
While you certainly can light a grill with lighter fluid, it’s the least ideal method; it can be dangerous, and the fumes can be rather harsh. If you’re looking for ways to get a flame going without dousing your coals in lighter fluid, there are plenty of options.
Here are the best charcoal grill starter alternatives.
Best Chimney: Weber 7447 Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter
Lightweight and compact
Handle stays cool
Requires kindling or lighter cubes
The most common way to get charcoal going is the chimney method. This chimney starter can light coals in less than 15 minutes and is super compact; you can easily take it on outdoor adventures. It's intended to be used with lighter cubes, though you can opt to use any sort of starter or kindling to get the flame going. It’s a very inexpensive way to evenly heat coals before grilling. This size is ideal for lighting around 40 briquettes, which is great for a casual dinner for four. If using a full-size grill, you can always upgrade to a larger chimney. Reviewers love that the handle stays cool to the touch while it’s in use.
Best Sustainable: Light-A-Fire All Natural Fire Starters
Easy to light
Tasteless, smokeless, and odorless
No kindling required
Only burns for 20 minutes per pod
To prioritize a fire starter that's kind to the environment, these all-natural pods are an excellent choice. Made of food-grade wax and pinewood shavings, these waterproof fire starters are great for both indoor and outdoor use, and they don’t emit any off-putting smells or smoke. They’re completely tasteless and odorless, and each pod can burn for about 20 minutes. If you want to avoid lighter fluid and electric devices, these simple pods are a great option. No need to deplete your newspapers or other paper products—these require zero kindling. For that, they also leave behind little ash.
Best Lighter Cubes: Bangerz Sunz Fire Starter Squares
No kindling required
Can use indoors
These eco-friendly cubes are a simple solution to getting your fire going. Thanks to recycled wood chips and wax, you won't need any lighter fluid. They’re weather-resistant and can burn for about eight to 10 minutes. No need to worry about any flare-ups, either. No kindling or paper is required to get these going or maintain, which is not only convenient but also makes cleanup way easier. Unlike other fire starters, these are even good to use indoors, so go ahead and use them for a cozy fireplace setup. Reviewers are impressed by how easily it can light a flame despite extremely damp conditions. Although it's on the more expensive side of starters, it’s efficient, reliable, and will get your coals hot before the flame dies out.
Best Electric: MIGI WOLF Electric Charcoal Grill Fire Starter
Quick to start a flame
Need access to an electrical outlet
Cord can be intrusive
No need to wait on kindling to get a flame going when you’ve got this electric fire starter—get your coals hot with the click of a button. The safety features ensure that the casing becomes cool to the touch quickly, and you must press a trigger button for the flame to start. It has a sturdy, non-slip handle that you can easily hold on to when you’re lighting the flames. It’s super lightweight and gives you 18 inches of length to light the flame. No matches, no blowing on the flame to keep it going, and definitely no lighter fluid.
Best for Beginners: Grill Mark Electric Charcoal Fire Starter, 500 Watts
Very easy to use
Uses the power of electricity
Not as quick as kindling or chimney
Electrical cord is short
Skip the starter fluid and let electricity do the work instead. This pollution-free starter has a nylon handle that makes it easy to operate, regardless of your grilling skill level. Some reviewers found the cord to be a little inconvenient because it was short, but if you have an extension cord, that will help. Electric starters can be somewhat troublesome because they can only light a few coals at once, whereas flame starters can start almost all the coals at the same time. If lighting kindling seems intimidating and you’re new to lighting coals, this starter is a great way to ease into the process.
Best Waterproof: Grateful Glamper All Natural Fire Starter Tumbleweed
Can still light coals in rainy conditions
Easy to bring on camping trips
Only 10 to 12 minutes of burn time
If you have an outdoor setup that may be subject to some rain every now and again, it’s probably a good idea to look into a reliable, waterproof charcoal starter. Whether you’re out camping or hiking, or you live in a place that’s windy and has a lot of precipitation, you want a starter that you can depend on to start a fire in these less than ideal conditions. Even if you have slightly wet coals, these will be able to light a strong, blazing fire through the dampness. These may not have the longest burning time (about 10 to 12 minutes), but they can easily create a fire regardless of the conditions.
While they fall slightly on the expensive side, they’re great for packing on your next outdoor cooking adventure.
Best Cord-Free: JJGeorge Grill Torch Charcoal Starter
Doesn't require an electrical outlet
Long nose to light from afar
Creates minimal sparking
Requires propane refills
If you’re lighting your grill in a location far from any electrical outlets or just don’t want to be bothered by the hassle of a cord, this grill torch is a great option for you. It can light your charcoals in under a minute, and its convenient, long nose keeps you away from the flames. Another great feature of this starter is that there's minimal sparking. Whereas other torches might cause the coals to spark in order to spread the flames, this torch lights one area, and the flames spread gradually. Reviewers love how quickly they're able to start their flame while still being able to stay about 20 inches away from the coals.
For the most common way to start a charcoal grill—with a chimney starter—we recommend the Weber Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter (view at Amazon). Looking for a great sustainable option? Go with Light-A-Fire All Natural Fire Starters (view at Amazon), which are odorless, tasteless, smokeless, and require no kindling.
What to Look For in a Fire Starter
Ease of Use
They all might start a fire at some point, but each type of fire starter requires a different amount of effort. The electric versions can be as straightforward as pushing a button to get a flame going, whereas other methods, like chimney starters and lighter cubes, can require intentional placement of coals and patience for the fire to take. If you’re not comfortable starting and maintaining a sturdy flame, it might be in your best interest to start with electric models, and once you’re comfortable, try other options. You should also keep in mind where you plan to use your starters. If you're often in difficult weather conditions, making sure that you have a waterproof option will make your grilling much easier.
Not all fire starters are the same price, and added costs are important to factor in if you need to replenish the fuel source, such as replacement propane or batteries. You should also consider whether you’ll need to use your fire starter with other products, like newspapers. It’s always worth checking to see how long your tumbleweeds, cubes, and kindling can burn to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. The electric options are typically pricier, but they afford you ease and convenience.
The biggest drawback with a lot of kindling-based fire starter options is the messy ash that they can leave behind. Fire starters, like lighter cubes or tumbleweeds, do not require you to crumple newspaper or other paper products. This greatly decreases waste and makes cleanup much easier. On the other hand, electric and chimney starters often need a few paper products to get the flame going, which can leave behind a bit of a mess after you’re done grilling.
How do you start a charcoal grill?
The most common way to light a charcoal grill is by filling a chimney with charcoal and putting something flammable at the bottom, like dryer lint or newspaper, and lighting it on fire. Once the flames from the newspaper catch onto the coals, the coals will begin to heat up and turn white in color. It takes about five to 10 minutes until the coals are hot enough to use for grilling. Once the coals are white and the flames are poking through the holes at the top of the coals, you can grab the chimney with an oven mitt and dump the coals into the grill. Once they’re in the grill, you can cover them with your grate and start cooking.
Aside from the chimney method, you can use lighter fluid. This method is not as ideal as the chimney method because lighter fluid can be extremely dangerous, and the fumes are more intense. It’s important to light the coals with a long-nosed lighter so that you don’t have to drop a match on lighter fluid. Of course, it’s very unsafe to pour lighter fluid directly onto a hot flame.
Lastly, there are electric starters, which you can place at the bottom of your coals to get a flame going. Simply arrange the coals in a small, mound-like fashion and carefully place the fire starter into the mound. You’ll begin to see flames poke through, and at this point, you can pull the starter away. You’ll know the coals are hot when they’re white, and then you can cover them with the grates and start grilling.
How do you use a charcoal chimney starter?
To use a charcoal chimney starter, you’ll need to put something flammable at the bottom of the chimney, like scrunched up newspaper or paper cups, and then top it with charcoal, filling the chimney. Through the vents of the chimney, use a long-nosed match to light the newspaper. Let the flames burn until the coals are white, and then handle the chimney with oven mitts and dump the coals into the grill. Cover with the grill grate, and you’re ready to cook.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Sara Tane has written nearly a dozen buying guides for The Spruce Eats, understanding what consumers and cooks need to consider before making a new purchase for their culinary adventures. After researching gas grills, charcoal grills, budget grills, portable grills, she can help you find the best outdoor cooking set up for your home.