How To Start A Charcoal Grill Without Lighter Fluid

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: June 19, 2024

I’m sure most of you have seen the internet videos of people using lighter fluid to light the grill, and a huge fire breaks out. Lighter fluid can be dangerous if not used correctly. The good news is that you don’t always need it to fire up a charcoal grill. If you want to take a safer route or you’re without lighter fluid, then check out our guide below to stay safe and get the charcoal fire going.

Quick Summary

  • Starting a charcoal grill without lighter fluid can be done by utilizing a chimney starter, firestarter briquettes, looftlighter, electric charcoal starter, or wood/kindling.
  • Benefits of not using lighter fluid include eliminating chemical taste in food, reducing unpleasant odors, enhancing safety, and contributing to environmental sustainability.
  • A 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine found that charcoal grilling produces significantly more carcinogenic compounds in meat than gas grilling, underscoring the benefits of gas grilling [1].
  • Various methods such as using a chimney starter or electric charcoal starter make it easy and safe to start a charcoal grill without the need for lighter fluid.

Using Safer Alternatives To Lighter Fluid

charcoal lighting

While lighter fluid might be the quickest way of lighting charcoal grills, it’s certainly not the safest or greenest. There are a number of advantages to choosing a safer alternative to lighter fluid. The main one is that it can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

If any of the substance comes into contact with anything other than the coals, then you might have a fire in a place you never intended.

Another drawback is that lighter fluid can leave a nasty chemical taste on your food while you’re grilling. It also has a horrible odor that lingers on everything while the fire is burning.

During a time when going green is more important than ever, we need to remember that lighter fluid is bad for the environment.

A 2024 study published in the National Library of Medicine highlights the potential of γ-valerolactone as a sustainable alternative to traditional lighter fluids, offering a more environmentally friendly option with lower toxicological impact [2].

However, as it's not easy to find for regular use, we came up with several lighter-fluid alternatives.


  • No chemical taste on food
  • No bad odors
  • Less dangerous
  • Better for the environment

Starting A Charcoal Grill Without Lighter Fluid

chimney starter and grill

Chimney Starter

Step 1

For this method, we will use a chimney starter to start a fire, and then we will transfer it to the top of our charcoal grill. A charcoal chimney starter is a small metal cylinder with a charcoal grate at the bottom. First, you need to remove the cooking grate from your grill.

Step 2

Flip the chimney starter upside down. Put some crumpled up newspaper or paper at the bottom underneath the grate. Don’t make the paper too tightly crumpled, or it won’t burn correctly.

Step 3

Place the chimney right side up into the charcoal grill. Fill it with charcoal to the top.

Step 4

We recommend using matches to light the newspaper. Strike a few matches and put them through the vents on the chimney starter. This should ignite the newspaper. In about 10 to 15 minutes, you should see the charcoal burning. Make sure there is some gray ash covering the coals.

Dump them into the grill and replace the grate. It should only take an additional 5 minutes for the grill to be hot enough to cook.

"Use a chimney starter… You’ll build a hot fire quickly, with no added chemicals, in three simple steps."

- Janet Taylor McCracken, Writer, Rachel Ray Mag [3]

Firestarter Briquettes 

firestarter briquettes

Step 1

For charcoal grilling, firestarter briquettes are another easy way to fire up the grill without lighter fluid. Firestarter briquettes catch fire more quickly than standard coals, but they burn much slower.

They usually contain a fire starting compound combined with traditional briquettes. You can get them at local hardware and grocery stores. The first step is to remove the grate from your grill.

Step 2

Add a layer of coals to the bottom of the grill. Insert some fire starting briquettes in between the coals. Keep the air vents open on the grill to increase the heat and oxygen.

Step 3

Use a lighter or match to light the fire starters. Once you are done lighting, and the heat is rising, place the lid on the grill. There should be enough heat after about 10 minutes. Once you open the grill's top, you should see the coal pile burning and creating ash.


Step 1

A looftlighter is a small cylindrical electric device that emits a 1,100-degree airstream. It makes cooking and lighting coals easy and less messy. To begin, remove the upper rack from your charcoal grill. You need to add a layer of coals to the bottom.

Step 2

Use the looftlighter by placing it between the coals and turning on the power switch. You should be able to see smoke within a couple of seconds. Repeat this process by lighting different sections of the charcoal. All of the coals should be hot within about 20 minutes.

Electric Charcoal Starter

electric charcoal starter

Step 1

An electric charcoal starter is a grilling device that uses a heating element to ignite the charcoal. It is similar to the heating elements that heat up the best electric grills. They are normally designed in a U-shape. For the first step, remove the upper cooking rack.

Step 2

Use a pile of charcoal at the bottom of the grill to get things started. Put the electric starter between the coals in one area and turn on the power button. It should take about 20 minutes to get the first coals hot enough.

Step 3

Move the electric starter around to different places within the charcoal. Once you see smoke, then you know that they are almost ready. This way will allow you to prepare the food while you wait for the coals to get hot. Once they’re hot, put your food on the grill and begin cooking.

Recommended Article: Best Ways to Start A Fire in a Fire Pit


Step 1

This method requires the most effort, but it is the most traditional way to light a charcoal grill without lighter fluid. You will need to find some small pieces of wood for kindling to start grilling. Fill the bottom of the grill with charcoal. Crumple up some old sheets of newspaper or other paper and use them for the base layer of your pile. Keep the newspaper or paper in loose balls so that they light better.

Step 2

Using a lighter or match, light the paper on fire. Once the kindling begins to smoke, blow some air onto it to help it burn. Once the paper is ready, place a small piece of wood or dry twigs to the heat.

Step 3

One by one, place small pieces of wood amongst the coals to make sure that the fire stays lit. The coals should burn after about 20 minutes if you use this method. Once they are ready, get the food and start cooking.

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Is lighter fluid safe?

If you use lighter fluid correctly, then it is safe. It can be dangerous if it is not handled in the most careful way since it is highly flammable. While it may be safe to use, we recommend opting for one of the suggested methods.

How long does it take to light charcoal?

It can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to light a charcoal grill before you are ready to start grilling.

Which method is the best to light a charcoal grill?

The chimney starter method is our preferred method. Since it requires a chimney, it is more effective for outdoor grilling than other options. A chimney starter comes with a special nonslip and cool-touch handle. We also like the other options on our list, but we recommend investing in a chimney starter.

How hot should the coals be before I start grilling?

Before grilling, the charcoal should be red hot with an ash-like layer on the top. By the time you put the top rack back on, you should feel a lot of heat from the grill. We recommend using a grill thermometer to test the temperature before grilling.

How do I keep the charcoal fire lit?

Without lighter fluid, we recommend using dry kindling to maintain the fire. Make the charcoal tightly packed together to maintain the temperature of the fire.

Is it okay to add unlit charcoal on top of the pile?

Yes, you can put unlit charcoal on top of the lit pile. It might lower the temperature at first, but the temperature will rise once the new charcoal ignites.


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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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