Last Updated On: May 13, 2021

Lighter fluid is easily the most convenient and quickest way to get your 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 lighter 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 lighter fluid substitutes that don’t include the dreaded match-light briquettes.

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, 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 before, check out this short how-to guide:

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

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to use heatproof gloves!

These charcoal chimneys also come in different shapes, sizes, and types. Pick one that meets your needs the best.

2. Electric Metal Lighter

Electric starters feature 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, vegetable oil can be used as a substitute for lighter fluid.

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

How to use oil or lard:

  1. Set up the grill in a draft-free zone, completely free of residual dirt and 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 is pretty simple, all you have to do is ball up 5 or 6 sheets of newspaper and soak them in vegetable 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 really 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 paper 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 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.
  3. Add some paper sheets if you need an extra burn.

Be careful though, as your BBQ might ignite quickly.

6. Egg Carton

Another handy lighter fluid alternative is recycling the cardboard your egg came in.

Here’s how I use it:

  1. Get the carton as kindling to start your next BBQ. 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 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 for lighting your grill, that's for sure. However, there are quite a few reasons why people avoid using it all together.

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

  • Unpleasant Flavor

Soaking your charcoal in fuel can actually 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 actually 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]

Which Lighter Fluid Substitutes Have You Tried?

There is 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 grates hot.

References:

  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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