How to Light a Charcoal Grill (6 Easy-To-Follow Steps)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: December 4, 2023

A charcoal grill is the typical method of authentic barbeque and everyone’s favorite. Lighting a charcoal grill properly to ensure it lasts can sometimes be tricky, especially for beginners. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We have pulled out some expert tips to share the easiest, simplest, and quickest way to light a charcoal grill.

Quick Summary

  • Lighting a charcoal grill involves arranging firelighter cubes among the coals, igniting them, and waiting for the coals to turn white.
  • The coal takes about 20-25 minutes to reach medium heat, suitable for grilling.
  • Keeping the grill lid open during lighting allows oxygen to spread the fire, and closing it helps reduce the heat to a medium temperature for cooking.

We will go further into step-by-step detail on how to light a charcoal grill, including navigating the process and understanding how to overcome hiccups along the way with some tips and tricks.

Steps To Light A Charcoal Grill

Here is the easiest, quickest way to get a charcoal grill lit:  

  1. Pack your coals vertically in a circle or pyramid shape, ensuring it is not packed too compactly.
  2. Place about 2-3 firelighter cubes in between the coals.
  3. Light a corner of the firelighter cubes until the fire ignites.
  4. Use a BBQ blower hand fan to create wind for the fire to spread if needed.
  5. After 5-10 minutes, the coals will be lit; spread it around using tongs or a long sturdy stick only if you find the fire is not applying to all the coals.
  6. After 20-25 minutes, the charcoal grill will be ready for cooking.

Tips And Alternatives For Lighting A Charcoal Grill

A well lit charcoal grill
  • You don’t have to use firelighter cubes; you can make loose balls from newspapers by squashing them up and placing them between the coals. For more efficient results, wet the newspaper slightly with some cooking oil before placing it in the grill.
  • You can use a fire starter (a piece of flammable material made of twigs/cardboard/wood/waste textile fibers) with the nose up to light the fire. Place it in the middle of coal with nose up for easy lighting.
  • You can also use charcoal lighter fuel for a quick process. Drizzle some fluid over the coal to wet it before using a matchstick or lighter to light the coal. Take maximum safety precautions with this method, as it can quickly turn into flames.
  • Packing the coal so that there is ventilation helps get the fire flowing faster. If the coals are packed too compactly, the fire will die quickly.

If the coals take too long to light, or if you have them spread out instead of stacked up, using a hand blower fan to create wind can spread the fire much faster.

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Should The Lid Be Closed When Lighting A Charcoal Grill?

Closing lid of a bbq grill with meats inside

When you light a charcoal grill, keep the lid open until all the coal is entirely burned.

It takes around 5-10 minutes for the charcoal to light. Once it is lit, you can close the lid until the coals turn whitish and are ready for the cooking process.

Keeping the lid open allows oxygen for the fire to spread between the coals when lighting.

You can close the top to help the heat taper down to a medium temperature for cooking. An open grill will remain hotter for longer.

How Long Should Charcoal Burn Before Grilling

The charcoal needs to burn for 5-10 minutes. Once you see whitish, grayish ash on the coals, it is considered high heat.

Cooking on a grill is best when the heat is at a medium. That ensures the food does not burn outside while staying undone on the inside.

It takes approximately 20-25 minutes for the coals to turn into ashy white and be at the desired temperature for cooking.

Also Read: How to Get Charcoal Grill Hotter

How To Keep A Charcoal Grill Lit

High flame charcoal grill

If you want your charcoal grill to stay lit for an extended period, keep your coals stacked.

If they are scattered, the fire is more likely to die faster. Stacked coals allow heat from the bottom to pass rise to the top coals.

The stacking also enables the heat to stay consistent at a higher temperature for longer because the charcoal works as a shield.

In addition, fire is more likely to remain constant if the charcoal is stacked in the middle of the grill.

Why Is My Charcoal Not Lighting?

A small flame from a charcoal grill outdoors

If you are struggling to light your charcoal, you can consider a few factors. Patience is first and foremost the essential key to lighting a charcoal grill.

After practicing patience and realizing staying calm gets you through the process, consider the following aspects:

Dry Coal

Ensure that your coal is dry, clean, and has not crumbled. If you store it for a long time, it can get moist from humidity. If the charcoal got wet for some reason, the coals inside might have also gotten wet.

Due to its porous and dry nature, it can pick up moisture quickly. They will dry under the sun for a few hours before using them.


Charcoal is a tool to get a fire going, but the air is the fuel. Fire requires oxygen to ignite.

The grill vents always need to be open, and the lid of the grill should also be left open while the coals are still lighting.

Without airflow, the fire will die before they are all lit.

Adequate Spacing

The coals need sufficient spacing between them. It all goes back to airflow and vents.

There needs to be airflow for the fire to pass through to other coals. Stacking the coals help maintain this process instead of scattering them around, which causes some parts to be too compact – leading to the fire dying in those areas.

Charcoal Quality

Spilled charcoals inside a bag

The quality of the coal matters. Instead of using cheaper, low-quality coals have a low carbon content of about 50%.

They are hard to light, produce low heat, and don’t last.

The coal is significant – as Alton Brown talks about how culinary traditions are based on history and habits that came from a time when kitchens were fueled by charcoal [1].

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