How to light charcoal without lighter fluid made simple

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  January 9, 2023

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Using lighter fluid to heat up charcoal grills is fast and efficient, but the problem is that it imparts the smell of chemicals on the food you’re cooking. NOT exactly tasty!

To get your coals going without the help of lighter fluid, use a rag or paper towel soaked in cooking oil to wrap around the coals. Or fill a chimney starter with coals, light a small fire in the bottom, and the coals will start to heat up.

If you’re looking for a way to light your barbecue coals without using lighter fluid, you’re not alone. Many people prefer to avoid using lighter fluid when grilling so in this guide, I’ll show you how.


But did you know there is also such a thing as an electric charcoal starter?

Let’s look at all the options you have to get coals burning without the help of synthetic lighter fluid.

How do you start a fire without lighter fluid?

There are ways to get a fire going if you run out of lighter fluid.

Using a paper towel or rag soaked in cooking oil

For this most simple method, all you need are household supplies like a rag or paper towel and some leftover cooking oil.

Here are the steps:

  1. Pile charcoal in the grill or where you’re setting the fire.
  2. Soak a paper towel or rag in cooking oil (leftover oil can be used here, so don’t waste new oil).
  3. Throw it on the coals and wrap it around.
  4. Light the paper towel or rag on first.
  5. Let it burn; it takes around 4-5 minutes to be done.

Use a metal chimney starter

The easiest way to light a fire is to make use of a chimney starter.

This thing looks just like a flour sifter, but with plenty of holes for ventilation. It’s placed directly into the grill and covered with a pile of crumpled papers.

After you fill the chimney with paper, place the charcoal right above it. When you light up the paper with a match, it’ll produce heat, which will go upward.

This is when the charcoal starts burning.


If this is the first time that you’ve heard of a chimney starter, then you’re probably curious as to how this thing works:

  1. Load up the space at the bottom of the chimney with some paper.stuffed-crumpled-paper-under-the-chimney
  2. Load up the space at the top of the chimney with charcoal.put-charcoal-in-chimney
  3. Light the newspaper bottom of the chimney.
  4. Let it burn for about 10 – 15
  5. After that, Boom! It’s done!put-burning-charcoal-in-the-grill

The fire that the paper produces will ignite the coals, so you’re ready to grill your meat. Once the coals are covered with ash, you can get started with using your charcoal grill.

The coals will usually be concentrated vertically in a small space, which is why using the chimney starter is truly effective.

It’s capable of lighting enough coals that are good for heating a 22-inch kettle in just 15-20 minutes!

This method is much better than lighter fluid and you won’t have to deal with any chemical smell that could potentially affect the taste of your food.

Electric charcoal starter

Another popular method to get coals burning is using an electric charcoal starter.

This device plugs into an outlet and uses electricity to heat up the coals.

The metal part is either in the shape of an oval or a horseshoe, like this one here. As the name suggests, this lighter is heated with electricity.

600W Electric Charcoal Starter – Quickly & Easily Ignite BBQ Grills Without Lighter Fluid or Matches –Quickly Ignite Coals Briquettes, Angled Handle Safely Heats in Just 5 Minutes

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All you have to do is place the coals in the starter and wait a few minutes for them to get hot.

Once the chunks start to fire up or gray ashes appear, you can remove the lighter.

Hot air charcoal starter

Hot air charcoal starter is probably not the most easily available alternative, but doubtlessly the most effective one.

It takes less than a minute to light charcoal with the device.

Much like an electric lighter, you will need to connect it to an electricity source.

Then, you will need to hold its one end close to any coal of your liking and hold it there until you see any sparks.

It’s kind of like a blowdryer for coals, HomeRight sells a good one.

HomeRight Electro-Torch C900085 Fire Starter, Charcoal Starter and Lighter, BBQ Smoker, Grill Starter, Chemical Free Heated Air with Built-in Blower

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Once you do, pull it back a little and wait for a minute. The coals will start burning hot.

Though you can turn off the lighter at this point, you could hold it in the position to quicken the burning process.

It is the safest, fastest, and most effective way of burning coals.

Newspaper and kindling

Don’t have an electric lighter or metal chimney? Don’t worry, as long as you have some newspaper and kindling in your house.

Just pick up a few newspapers, scrunch them up, and place them at the bottom of the heating chamber.

Top them off with some kindlings and arrange the charcoals as you normally would.

Now light the paper with a match stick and wait for it until it fully combusts. Within 15-20 minutes, you’ll have fully burning coals.

I would also recommend blowing some air into the coals with a hand fan once they catch some fire.

It will significantly quicken the burning process, reducing the time to as less as 10 minutes.

The downside of using newspaper to light your coals is that pieces of paper can go flying and create dangerous sparks.

The ink from the newspaper might also leave a residue on your food.

Firestarter briquettes

Firestarter briquettes are another great option when you want to light the charcoal better and quicker.

The best thing is these briquettes won’t leave any odors or residues behind, unlike newspaper or lighter fluid.

Melt Candle Company Fire Starter - Tumbleweeds Fire Starter Pack for Chimney, Grill Pit, Fireplace, Campfire, BBQ & Smoker - Water Resistant and Odourless - Camping Accessories

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All you need to do is to arrange your charcoal in the cooking chamber and bury the firestarter briquette in the middle or at the top, covering it completely with coals.

Afterward, open the vents to allow efficient airflow, set the briquette on fire, and close the lid.

Now wait and let the briquette do its magic.

After roughly 10 mins, open the lid, and the coals will be burning super hot.

If you still see any unburned charcoals, rearrange them with a glove on, wait a while, and voila! Your grill is ready for some delicious BBQ.


Whiskey contains high sugar and alcohol content, making it another great option for lighting charcoal.

Plus, it won’t taint your food with a weird taste while efficiently lighting your grill. It might actually enhance the flavor of your grilling!

To burn charcoal with whisky, simply get some paper towels, compress them in lumps, soak them in whiskey, and put them in between the coals.

Now throw a lit match stick carefully to light the lumps and wait. The charcoal should be burning nice and hot in a few minutes.

Of course, you could say this is a waste of good booze. So perhaps not use your best whiskey.

Do you need lighter fluid for a charcoal grill?

As you can see, there is no need to use lighter fluid to fire up your grill.

Invest in a good chimney starter or electric charcoal lighter, or simply use some household supplies to get your grill going.

But of course, If you don’t have a metal chimney or electric metal lighter to use for your charcoal grill, you could still use lighter fluid to get your coals burning.

But for your safety, make sure you learn the proper steps. Use ¼ cup of lighter fluid for each pound of charcoal.

Leave the liquid on the coal for up to 30 seconds and then carefully light the charcoal with a long match.

And remember: never add lighter fluid to burning coals!

Even if no flames are visible, the heat will vaporize the lighter fluid and can cause a serious flare-up the second the vapor encounters a flame.

Before you know it you have singed your eyebrows, or even worse, sustained burns.

Better go with my best methods to light charcoal without lighter fluid that I have talked about here and keep your grilling session tasting good and be safe!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.