Although lighter fluid may have, at one point, been the standard for getting a fire going in a charcoal grill, the practice has fallen into disfavor with many. People have had to come up with all sorts of ways of starting a fire without the use of lighter fluid in order to avoid that distinctive chemical taste and smell that comes from its use.
That being said, a lot of these methods may not seem obvious to newcomers, and it can be easy to resort back to the old reliable lighter fluid. Luckily, the internet is a thing, and it brings you this article wherein we will describe all the best ways of getting a charcoal grill going without any lighter fluid whatsoever.
Table of Contents
Method One: Using a Chimney Starter
The first method we are going to be unpacking and describing will require you to spend a fair bit of extra money if you do not already have a chimney starter, but the investment will be well worth it, especially if you plan to be grilling a lot in the future.
You should be able to find a relatively inexpensive chimney starter for under $30. These devices use newspaper and heat convection in order to heat up your charcoal briquets evenly – it is by far the easiest way to get a fire going in under 15 minutes without the use of lighter fluid.
First things first, you will need to get your hands on some newspaper, about two to four sheets depending on the size of your chimney starter. Once you have acquired some newspaper, you will need to crumble a few sheets up into some loose balls. Be careful not to make them too tight, however – you will want them loose enough so as to allow hot air to fill the spaces.
Place these balls at the bottom of your chimney starter.
Next, you will need to get your hands on some charcoal briquets. Any brand will do. Once you have got some, fill your chimney starter up fully, from the bottom, all the way to the top.
Before continuing, make sure that your chimney starter is placed on a sturdy, flame-retardant surface because things are about to get very hot indeed.
For this you will need a lighter of some kind, or perhaps several matchsticks. You need to set alight the newspaper you have placed at the bottom of your grill in several spots to ensure that you get the best flame possible. The paper will quickly heat up and begin to light the bottom of the coals. Subsequently, once all of the paper has disintegrated, the coals will begin to light each other, eventually reaching the very top of your grill.
Once the tops of your charcoal briquets are covered with gray and soot, they are ready for use. This should not take more than 15 minutes or so, assuming the fire has burned hot enough.
Most chimney starters will simply need to be tipped over to release the coals, but higher-end models will typically have some sort of switch which empties the chimney for you. Regardless, try to spread your coals out a bit while you are tipping them out of the chimney starter as opposed to moving them around by hand, as they will be less likely to crumble.
Additionally, if you plan to be grilling for longer than 30 minutes or so, it is a good idea to conserve some of your charcoal briquets, which you can then distribute freely according to your needs.
This last step is really just an extra bit of advice, but you should make sure the vents of your grill are open in order to ensure a hotter fire, one which grows faster as well.
Method Two: Using Newspaper
If you cannot get your hands on a reliable chimney starter in time, then fret not, for all you need is a few sheets of newspaper to get a decent fire going. And here you will find out how.
Clear your grill of any excess ash and dirt. To get a good fire going, you will need a consistent flow of oxygen to feed it, and any leftover ash can restrict this airflow. Additionally, make sure all of the vents are open.
Get your hands on around four or five pieces of newspaper and crumple them up, again not too tight so as to restrict airflow. The paper from the charcoal bag can work as well. Place these crumpled up pieces of paper at the center of your grill.
A note for later on: if you find that the paper you are using is struggling to catch fire, try soaking it in vegetable oil first, which is a natural alternative to lighter fluid.
Get a few dry pieces of wood (any old sticks should do, really) and place them on top of your pile of newspapers, in a sort of “nest”.
Start with around three to four pieces of charcoal, and again, place them at the center of the nest you have made. Then, ignite the paper from several different locations and wait for it to start burning properly.
It may take some time, but eventually, your pieces of charcoal will begin to smoke. If they become ashy on top, you are in business. Then you can slowly begin to add more charcoal briquets to the pile. Eventually, you will have a decent bit of heat going, enough to grill anyway, though do not expect to see any large, dancing flames.
We strongly urge you to avoid lighter fluid and instead opt for one of the two methods we have just described. While they may not seem wholly conventional at first, they are tried and tested and are perfect for getting a good fire going and grilling yourself a meal without any of that nasty chemical business.