Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: April 22, 2022

If you are unfamiliar with lighting charcoal using alternative methods, it can be a frustrating undertaking and bring your manly qualities into question by any onlookers! We have some alternative methods you can learn to save the day and your reputation.

Quick Summary

  • A chimney starter to start your charcoal fire is one of many ways to get the coals lit. 
  • It is worthwhile becoming familiar with alternative methods so you can light your fire without frustration should a chimney starter not be available.  
  • Use a long material with a long burn time, don't use synthetic materials such as plastic and be careful with flammable liquids.

How To Light A Charcoal Fire Without A Chimney Starter

Burning charcoal

A chimney starter is convenient and works well, but it is not the only way to get your charcoal lit to get your grill going!

Try some of these methods next time you light your charcoal grill so you can master other methods to get the coals burning.

1. Lighting Charcoal With Newspaper

Newspaper was probably the method your grandpa used to light his charcoal fire, but just because it is old-fashioned doesn't mean it is an obsolete method. The greatest challenge you may have with this method in our modern age is finding some newspaper!

If you cannot lay your hands on newspaper, any paper will do that does not have a plastic coating. Even the bag the charcoal came in will work if it is made from paper!

You can try the paper-only method, but generally, what works a little better is having a few dry twigs to place on top of the newspaper.

The twigs catch fire from the paper and burn a little longer than the paper alone.

  • Scrunch the newspaper into balls. The number of newspaper balls you need depends on the size of your grill. Generally, 4 tennis ball-sized scrunched-up newspaper balls will do the trick.
  • Stack the twigs. Stack some dry twigs in a pyramid shape around the newspaper balls.
  • Stack the charcoal. Stack the charcoal at the base of the twigs and up onto the twigs, as high up the twigs as they will stay balanced. Leave a little gap where you can light the newspaper.
  • Light the newspaper. Light each of the newspaper balls. The best method is with a lighter with a flexible gooseneck, but matches make a good alternative.

Once the newspaper balls ignite, the twigs will light and extend the flame's life to get the charcoal to light.

2. Lighting Charcoal With An Egg Carton

Egg carton

This alternative charcoal lighting method works very well. You will need a cardboard egg carton. For a larger grill, you can use two egg cartons.

Open the egg carton and fill the spaces where the eggs would go with charcoal.

Close the lid and place the box inside the grill. Stack additional charcoal around and on top of the egg carton.

Light the four corners of the egg carton. As the carton burns, the charcoal inside will ignite and become the heart of the fire. The charcoal surrounding the carton will also ignite from the flames as it burns.

Another method to extend the burn time of the egg carton is to add some bacon grease or lard on the inside of the carton lid.

3. Lighting Charcoal With Fire Lighter Cubes

Fire lighter cubes are another easy way to get your charcoal ablaze in a short space of time with minimal fuss.

These blocks are normally sold in a box containing 24 cubes, sealed in a foil or plastic bag. The cubes are made from paraffin wax, and they burn for a substantial amount of time, giving the charcoal opportunity to light.

Take 4 fire lighter cubes out of the packaging, ensuring to reseal the bag. If the cubes are exposed to the air, the paraffin evaporates, becoming less effective.

Place the 4 cubes on the bottom of your grill and stack the charcoal around and on top of them. Leave enough space to light the cubes through the charcoal.

Use a match or a barbeque lighter with a long nozzle to light the cubes. The cubes will burn for about 5-minutes, which is enough time for the surrounding charcoal to become lit.

4. Lighting A Charcoal Fire With Vegetable Oil

Oil being poured

This alternative method of lighting charcoal uses a combination of kitchen paper towels and vegetable oil. The paper towel is great because it is absorbent and holds the oil well.

Scrunch 4 or 5 pieces of paper towel into loose balls. Douse the balls with vegetable oil and place the oil-soaked balls on the grill and surround them with charcoal.

Drizzle a little oil over the charcoal nearest the paper towel as well.

Use a match or a barbeque lighter to ignite the oil-soaked paper towel. The oil will burn for a few minutes, allowing the charcoal to ignite.

5. Using Alcohol To Light Charcoal

Whiskey being poured on a glass

Alcohol can be used in combination with a kitchen paper towel or another absorbent material, such as a piece of cotton cloth or a cotton ball.

The alcohol used must be high-proof alcohol; otherwise, it will not light, and the flame will not burn long or hot enough to ignite the charcoal.

Whisky is good to use because of its high alcohol content, but many may find it sacrilegious to waste expensive whisky on such a task! Vodka is another alcohol that works well with this method.

If you don't want to raid your liquor cabinet or would rather drink your whisky while grilling, rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol can be used as a substitute. However, these alcohol types evaporate fast, so you need to work quickly when using these alternatives.

Scrunch up the kitchen paper towel into loose balls and soak them with the alcohol of your choice. It is best to have the charcoal pre-stacked and push the paper towels in between the charcoal.

Light the alcohol on the paper by lighting a match and tossing it onto the paper. Do not stand too close or get your hands too close. The volatile alcohol fumes can create a fireball that could be dangerous.

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If your chimney starter has finally fallen apart, you may be at a bit of a loss on how to get your charcoal fire going. As a barbeque master, it always pays to have some alternative methods up your sleeve to amaze your friends and family!

Knowing how to light charcoal with these methods will even allow you to come to the rescue at a friend's house when there is no chimney starter. Just ask before using your friend's 21-year old single-malt scotch to start the fire if you want to be invited to another barbeque!

For your charcoal needs, we compiled the best charcoal briquettes that still burn great without a chimney starter.

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