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, 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.
Weber 7447 Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter
Lightweight and compact
Handle stays cool during the process
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.
Price at time of publish: $21
Material: Alloy steel | Dimensions: 10.4 x 5.8 x 8 inches | Weight: 27 ounces
“The easiest method to start a charcoal grill is by mounding a large layer of briquettes and making a well in the center for a fire starter. As the fire starter burns, the heat will transfer to the adjoining briquettes starting the fire.” — Mike Lang, founder of Another Pint Please
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.
Price at time of publish: $23
Material: Wood, wax | Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 8 inches | Weatherproof: Yes
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.
Material: Recycled wood chips, wax | Dimensions: 7.56 x 6.3 x 4.84 inches | Weatherproof: Yes
“Fire starters are a fast and efficient way to start charcoal. The arch enemy of any bbq is lighter fluid, as it can lend off flavors to the fire. Newspapers, in today’s age, are not as prevalent and probably not on hand. By using a fire starter, you are ensuring a safe and clean start to the grill.” — Mike Lang, founder of Another Pint Please
MIGI WOLF Electric Charcoal Fire Starter
Quick to start a flame
Casing cools down quickly
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, nonslip 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.
Price at time of publish: $40
Weight: 2.51 pounds | Dimensions: 18 x 3.5 x 3.6 inches | Power: 1500 watts
Best for Beginners
Weber Standard Chimney Starter with Lighter Cubes
Includes chimney and lighter cubes
Inflammable packaging of cubes creates more waste
This fire starter set includes the larger size of our best chimney recommendation, the Rapidfire Chimney Starter plus a pack of 24 lighter cubes, both of which are great for beginners. It's all very low maintenance and give the desired result: heating coals quickly. The 13-inch tall chimney heats 50-60 briquettes at a time, which is enough briquettes for most grills.
The Rapidfire Chimney is made of aluminized steel, which heats up quickly and disperses heat evenly. The large ergonomic handle allows for more control when dispersing the hot coals in the grill and is sturdy enough to not get damaged in high heat. The cone-shaped chimney efficiently heats coals for a faster way to dinner. The nontoxic, but highly flammable, paraffin-wax lighter cubes light when wet and can be stored for a long period of time. One or two cubes is all that is needed to heat the coals in the chimney. The lighter cubes are separated in a tray that is covered in foil, which does add a small amount of waste, unlike other types of fire starters that either don’t need separate packaging or have packaging that is flammable and designed to be added to the flames.
Price at time of publish: $34
Material: Aluminized steel | Dimensions: 7.5 x 13 inches | Weatherproof: Yes
“A charcoal chimney and a fire starter is the fastest and easiest way to start a charcoal grill. Load the chimney to the top with briquettes and place over a lit fire starter. The chimney holds the briquettes in a compact raised column which maximizes air flow and contact with the fire starter’s heat. In 20 minutes your charcoal grill will be ready for dinner!” — Mike Lang, founder of Another Pint Please
FireFlame Quick Instant Fire Starter
Compressed vegetable oil coating
The FireFlame Quick Instant Fire Starter is waterproof, as well as weatherproof. Wind, rain, snow, even high winds are no match for these highly flammable fire starters. No matter the conditions, these fire starters will light and will produce a high flame and temperatures up to 750 degrees. In fact, these fire starters will stay lit even in standing water.
The individual fire starters are made of paraffin wax and then coated in a compressed vegetable oil coating that looks like plastic, but is completely nontoxic and odorless. The pouch acts like a wick and only needs a small flame to light. The whole package will be engulfed in flames and a fire will start in less than 3 seconds. Each package is waste-free, mess-free, and won’t add any undesirable flavors to your food. No sawdust at the bottom of the package or broken-up fire starters to contend with. With an 8-minute burn time, these fire starters use less to heat coals. The fire starters come in a pack of either 20 or 60 and are pricier per starter than other types.
Price at time of publish: $15
Material: Paraffin wax, vegetable oil | Dimensions: 9.06 x 5.67 x 1.93 inches | Weatherproof: Yes
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.
Price at time of publish: $38
Weight: 15.2 ounces | Dimensions: 21 x 2 x 4 inches | Output: 20,000 BTUs
What to Look For in a Charcoal Grill 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.
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.
This article was updated by Rachel Knecht, a food writer located in Seattle. She spent many years camping with her family and thinks everything tastes better on the grill.
Department of Fire Services, Mass.gov. Grilling Safety.