Iva Carter
Published by Iva Carter
Last Updated On: July 30, 2023

Lighter fluid is easily the most convenient and quickest way to get all the coals dancing on your grill. However, using this isn’t the only option when it comes to lighting charcoal.

If you’ve just run out of fluid as you’re about to grill up some grub, or you don’t fancy the chemicals on your coals, you do have other options.

We’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of ways to light charcoal without lighter fluid that don’t include the dreaded match-light briquettes.

Quick Summary

  • Lighter fluid is commonly used for grilling, but there are various substitutes like chimney starters, electric metal lighters, vegetable oil, alcohol, sugar, and egg cartons.
  • These alternatives offer different benefits, such as a more natural grilling taste with a chimney starter, or the use of household items like sugar or egg cartons, providing cost-effective and environmentally friendly options.
  • People may avoid using lighter fluid due to unpleasant flavors, toxic fumes, or health concerns.

6 Substitutes for Charcoal Lighter Fluid

1. Chimney Starter

A chimney starter with charcoal on top as a lighter fluid substitute

Maybe the most obvious choice to light charcoal grill models is a charcoal chimney starter is a great device that doesn’t need any extra chemicals or materials.

Thanks to this, you’ll be left with a much more natural grilling taste.

Moreover, it is also a good choice if you’re looking to save some money since you can pick them up for as little as $11.

If you’ve never used a charcoal chimney starter before, check out this short how-to guide:

  1. A charcoal grate separates the upper and lower portions of the charcoal chimney. Use paper or some of the best types of charcoal briquettes that are easy to light and fill the lower part of the charcoal chimney starter.
  2. Pile the top part of the charcoal chimney with charcoal.
  3. Light the charcoal pile and the bottom portion of the charcoal chimney starter.
  4. Fan them to light the upper charcoals. Carry on fanning until the papers or charcoal briquettes are completely burnt.
  5. After about 15 minutes, you’ll have the perfect lit coals from the charcoal briquettes. Once they’re burning happily, you can drop the coals onto your charcoal grill and get on with your cooking. [1]

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to use heatproof gloves!

These charcoal grill chimneys also come in different shapes, sizes, and types. Pick one that meets your needs the best as your charcoal lighter fluid substitute to heat your grill grate up.

2. Electric Metal Lighter

This lighter fluid substitute features an oval or U-shaped horseshoe set into a handle. It is heated through a metal element when the device is plugged into an electrical outlet.

How I use it:

  1. Place the lighter under briquettes or a pyramid of charcoal and plug it in.
  2. Once the charcoal has begun to show gray ash, you can unplug it and remove the starter.

3. Vegetable Oil or Lard

Clear glass bottle with vegetable oil inside

As shocking as it seems, oil can be used as a substitute to light charcoal without lighter fluid.

You will need a helping hand though, and that is a newspaper.

How to use cooking oil or lard:

  1. Set up the grill in a draft-free zone, completely free of residual dirt and gray ash.
  2. Open up the vents as far as possible before adding the newspaper - this will help oxygen flow in the right direction.

This method to light charcoal without lighter fluid is pretty simple, all you have to do is ball up 5 or 6 sheets of newspaper and soak them in oil, lard, or bacon grease.

You can then pile them in the bottom center of the grilling chamber and light them up.

Newspapers are a great fire starter, and the paper will light up almost anything. Be cautious when lighting the newspaper, as the paper will fire up easily.

If you’d like to add some extra flavor to your food, try using bacon fat if you have some on hand.

4. Alcohol

Don’t drink alcohol and stand close to the fire -- it’s known to be quite the flammable liquid.

Thus, this makes it a perfect substitution for charcoal lighter fluid. Either whiskey or vodka is great for lighting up your grill.

But, any high-proof alcohol will ignite.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Drench a few newspapers or paper towels in your chosen liquid.
  2. Add them to your coals to start your flame.

Keep in mind, while this works well, it is also quite costly since liquor evaporates quickly.

We only recommend alcohol as a substitute if you don’t have any other option on hand. But it’s good to remember if you’re ever stuck with no fluid.

The Whiskey soaked newspaper burns quickly when you add them to the coals. We recommend using a match on the towels instead of a lighter to avoid flare-up flames.

5. Sugar

A tablespoon full of sugar

Sugar is also a great fire starter trick, thanks to its abundance of glucose. The main components of glucose are hydrogen and carbon - everything you need for a successful light. Once you light the carbon sprinkled on your hot coals, it releases heat and fire energy.

Follow this simple how-to guide if you’re using sugar as a lighter-fluid alternative:

  1. Spread the sugar where you wish the fire to start.
  2. Light your sugar-soaked charcoal pile.
  3. Add some paper sheets if you need an extra burn.

Be careful when you light a charcoal grill though, as your BBQ might ignite quickly.

6. Egg Carton

Another way to light charcoal without lighter fluid is by recycling the cardboard your egg came in.

Here’s how I use it:

  1. Get the carton as kindling to start your next BBQ charcoal grill. You’ll want to remove the carton’s lid and place paper or briquettes where the eggs would go.
  2. Place the carton in the cooking chamber and burn all 4 corners of the cardboard egg carton. Your charcoal will start to burn as the cardboard does. It may take just a few minutes to get going.
  3. Once it starts burning, feel free to add a small amount of cooking oil to your grill. You can also use the discarded lid next time!

“Heat is more even on a gas grill. On a charcoal grill the flame varies so much that it takes a very skilled hand to grill things properly.”

- Bobby Flay, Chef

Why People Avoid Using Lighter Fluid

A hand holding an unbranded lighter fluid

Lighter fluid is great to light a charcoal grill, that's for sure. However, there are quite a few reasons why people avoid using it and stick to an electric starter or another heating element option.

Check out some of the reasons people have sworn off this fluid forever:

  • Unpleasant Flavor

Soaking your charcoal in fuel can leave behind a rather unpleasant taste and smell on your grilled food, especially if you’re using a lot of it - no one likes that.

  • Toxic fumes

Lighter fluid is made up of a chemical called petroleum, which can be harmful to your health, especially if it gets into the food you’re cooking.

While it is quite unlikely, there is a small chance of developing cancer by overusing lighter fluid. [2]

Related Article:

Which Lighter Fluid Substitute Options Have You Tried?

There are an unexpected amount of charcoal lighter fluid subs out there that even we weren’t aware of.

Whether you decide to ditch the fluid for a safer alternative or you’ve just run out of it at the time of grilling up some food, try some of these tricks next time you’re ready to get your charcoal grate hot.


  1. https://www.weber.com/US/en/blog/burning-questions/how-to-use-a-chimney-starter/weber-30557.html
  2. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/07/02/how.make.grilling.safe/index.html
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