A little help getting it lit.

28 Apr
A little help getting it lit.

Note: I should of broken this into multiple blog post. My apologies.

There are two things guys don’t talk about…. EVER.  Erectile dysfunction and they’re inability to light a charcoal grill. Seeing as this is a BBQ blog, I hope to help you with the later of the two. So after the wife and kids are safely tucked in bed, and sound asleep, slip out, boot up the computer, and read this in privacy, on your own time. The internet is anonymous, NOBODY, will know.

Lights off? Doors locked? Ok here we go.

Some quick figuring, we’ve lit over 2,350 fires over the past 15yrs, and I’ll bet we haven’t had 10 misfires (charcoal that doesn’t light on the first try) in that time. That number includes pouring rain, storms, extreme wind, and snow storms.

First let’s take a quick look at how not to light a grill….EVER. Lighter fluid. Whomever came up with this idea should be arrested and banned from ever buying charcoal again. I don’t like this method for three main reasons.

1) It gives the food an off taste.

2) It has to be the most unreliable way to light charcoal. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t. Your just tossing the dice each time. I used this method myself for years, so I know. As further proof, I can’t count how many times in Tailgate Town, I’ve seen people struggle with it, with the only option being to be to continue to pour more and more lighter fluid on their unlit charcoal. When they do get the coals lit it’s time to go into the game.

3) Cost. I’m all about saving money. Shoot I even reuse wood chunks that don’t burn completely. I haven’t bought lighter fluid in years, but a quick check with a work mate, he said it was between $5.00-$7.00 a bottle. Two bottles and you’ve paid for a chimney starter. (note he now has a chimney starter on loan from me)

Bad charcoal is the number one reason for misfires. Learn from my mistakes people. DON’T EVER BUY CHEAP CHARCOAL! When you buy cheap charcoal your just buying trouble. I’ve tried many different brands of charcoal, everything from “designer” charcoal to generic. Time and time again I come back to Kingsford. Even in the Kingsford camp not all charcoals are equal. The Match Light works, but it burns extremely hot and fast. It’s also infused with lighter fluid giving you once again the fore mentioned “off taste”. So just reach for the good ol’ blue and white bag, you won’t go wrong. 

Now that we’ve ruled that out. Let’s look at the three main ways we have left. We’ll start with the most basic and cheapest.


Simple newspaper and charcoal method. Just for the record I did this the other day, when it was a damp, drizzly, day. Hadn’t done it in a long time, but got it on the first try drizzle and and all.

Begin by making sure all the vents are wide open, especially the bottom vents. Take two full sheets of newsprint and loosely wad them up and place them in the bottom of your grill. Then build a pyramid over it with your charcoal.


After about 10 minutes take a peek, you should see some of them starting to burn.

Then after 10 minutes more, 20 in total, you should  have a nice little fire going.

We’re not quite ready to cook yet. Rake (spread) your coals out making sure to evenly mix lit and unlit coals. Give it about 10 more minutes to even out, so that you don’t have hot and cold spots, and can grill your food evenly. If you going indirect, just pile to one side or split evenly between the sides, making certain to stack unlit coals on top of the lit.

After another 10 minutes your coals should be evenly lit and ready to cook on.



The coffee can method.

Grab an old metal coffee can and cut the bottom out of it. Did this one on an extremely windy day. The coffee can we used is one we use for a special technique, for very long cooks, but it will serve our purpose here.

Add two sheets of loosely wadded newsprint in the bottom.

Carefully pile in charcoal until it’s full with out packing it tight, or crushing your paper down.

Now just slip your lighter under or gently tip the can and light the newsprint.

In 10-15 minutes, you should see glowing coals.

Now with a pair of pliers remove the can and rake out the coals as before, giving them time to even out and your ready to cook.


Now for my personal favorite. The chimney starter. It’s basically the same as the coffee can, just more convenient, and it will hold a more charcoal.

Just a note on lighting your chimney or coffee can starter, be careful not to wad your paper too tight, or the paper won’t burn completely, causing you to have a misfire.

So, now climb back in bed, knowing the next time your neighbor ask “What ya cookin?” you won’t be saying “Lighter fluid”.

Tricks of the trade notes:

In the event of in-climate weather once you get a good start you can then cover your coals, but allow as much air as possible to continue to flow. In extreme cases you can close the lid completely, making sure all vents are wide open. You may need to add about 10 minutes more before spreading the coals.

High winds will cause your paper to burn too fast and your coals not light. Simple fix, this is one of the few times you’ll want to wad your paper tighter.


Posted by on April 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “A little help getting it lit.

  1. Greg Mills

    April 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I love the chimney starter myself. Works every time!



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