5 Ways to Light Your Charcoal Without a Chimney Starter

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: June 20, 2024

If you are unfamiliar with lighting charcoal without lighter fluid or a charcoal chimney starter, 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

  • Lighting charcoal without a chimney starter can be done using newspaper, an egg carton, fire lighter cubes, vegetable oil, or high-proof alcohol.
  • The newspaper method involves using scrunched-up newspaper balls and dry twigs,
  • The egg carton method involves filling an egg carton with charcoal and lighting it.

How To Light A Charcoal Fire Without the Chimney Starter

Burning charcoal

A chimney starter and lighter fluid are convenient and work well, but it is not the only way to get your unlit charcoal lit to get your grill going!

Try some of these methods next time you light your charcoal grill so you can master other techniques to get the hot coals burning without lighter fluid.

1. Lighting Charcoal With Newspaper

The newspaper was probably the method your grandpa used to light his charcoal grill fire, but just because it is old-fashioned doesn't mean it is an obsolete method for charcoal grills.

The greatest challenge with this method in our modern age is finding some newspaper since it can be more complicated than getting more lighter fluid burns!

If you cannot lay your hands on newspaper, any paper that does not have a plastic coating will do. Even the charcoal bag 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 pieces of dry twigs placed 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, four 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 using a lighter fluid with a flexible gooseneck, but matches make an excellent alternative.

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

2. Lighting Charcoal With An Egg Carton

Egg carton

This alternative charcoal lighting method works very well as a fire starter. You will need a cardboard egg carton.

For a larger charcoal grill, you can use two egg cartons.

Open the egg carton and fill the spaces where the eggs would go with the 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 egg carton's burn time is adding some bacon grease or lard on the inside of the lid.

Also Read: How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit

3. Lighting Charcoal With Fire Lighter Cubes

Fire lighter cubes are another easy way to light a charcoal grill lighter fluid in a short 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 four 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 four 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 fluid 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 to start a charcoal grill without grill lighter fluid uses a combination of kitchen paper towels and vegetable cooking oil.

The paper towel is great because it is absorbent and holds the cooking 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 charcoal grill grate 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 fluid to ignite the oil-soaked paper towel. The oil will burn for a few minutes, allowing the charcoal to ignite.

5. Using Alcohol To Start A Charcoal Grill

Whiskey being poured on a glass

Alcohol can be used in combination with a kitchen paper towel or another absorbent material to light a charcoal grill grate without lighter fluid, 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 briquettes.

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 as a fire starter without lighter fluid for charcoal grate.

If you don't want to raid your liquor cabinet or would rather drink your whisky while grilling a few pieces of meat, rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol can be used as a substitute to lighter fluid.

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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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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