Summer Grilling Week: How to Light a Charcoal Grill

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 25, 2013 · 17 Comments

in Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure, Visual Guides

Welcome back to Summer Grilling Week on Art of Manliness!

In today’s video, award-winning BBQ chef, Karl Engel, shows us how to light a charcoal grill without making your meat taste like lighter fluid.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the ins and outs of the three-zone fire.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jente Meulmeester June 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm

This will help alot when I’m of camping next week! I always used lighter fuel.. but I think I’ll make myself a charcoal burner to take with me.

2 brian June 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm

If you don’t have the chimney or starter brick another great way (that I use all the time) is napkins and canola oil. You start with a half pile of charcoal, take three napkins and douse them in canola oil, stuff the oiled napkins right in the center of the coal pile and then stack the rest of your charcoals around and ontop of the napkins. Make sure you don’t completely cover the top of the napkins so you can still put a match in the middle and light them. It essentially works like a candle and your charcoal will be lit in less than 20 minutes. It’s cooking oil so no toxic fluids and it has never failed me.

3 Bob Whitaker (@WhitakerAlmanac) June 25, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I had never seen that BBQ in a Bag used. Interesting. Love the chimney starter – it takes some time, but it is nearly foolproof.

4 Jordan June 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

All I’ve ever used is charcoal and have used all of these methods. The chimney method works great . If one wants to use charcoal and not have to worry about a chimney or lighter fluid I recommend a grill that uses gas to light the coals. I have a Weber Performer charcoal grill that uses a small propane tank and an ignition switch built in to light the coals. I usually pile my coals in a pyramid and turn the gas on, light it, and let it sit for about 4-5 minutes. In about 20 minutes the coals are ready to grill on. I’ve been using a Weber Performer for about 12 years and prefer it to just about anything else.

5 Andrew Vandever June 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Wow yes, charcoal chimneys are amazing! I switched last summer after seeing my dad use one, and it may be the best $10 purchase I’ve made in my whole life. I still get a thrill every time I use it.

6 Terry June 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm

I made the switch to chimney starters (and lump charcoal) this summer, and while it takes a little longer, it’s well worth the wait.

7 Brock June 25, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I will also add, only use whole wood lump charcoal too, and add wood chips during the process to get extra smoke on whatever you are grilling. I use Royal Oak.

If you are cooking a fillet or nice steak, stick with the gas grill though.

8 Don June 26, 2013 at 5:19 pm

My Dad was using a chimney starter 40 years ago. Back then we called them coffee cans!

9 Lisa June 28, 2013 at 1:46 am

I’ve just seen this video and don’t know about a chimney starter. I always think that gas grill is the best because I can start it within a few seconds. :p

10 Johann July 1, 2013 at 3:10 pm

These are all great methods.

Nevertheless the so called chilean method is still my favourite.

The first thing you need is a bottle of beer or wine (preferably an empty one, just because emptying it is already part of the fun)
Put it in the middle of your empty grill. Then start to roll sheets of newspaper into crude rolls and wrap them around the the bottle one at a time. Press them down every once in while to create a compact layer of paper around the bottle. Now bury the whole thing in charcoal and pull the bottle out. Here you are a perfect chimney of paper in the middle of your grill. All you have to do now is to throw a lit match in there and watch as your little volcano burns off.

This video shows the most mportant steps although the description is in German.

11 zeb July 2, 2013 at 12:14 pm

The chimney is the way to go if you are gonna use charcoal. A nice, basically free alternative to buying one, though–for those of us that like to be a little thrifty, or just like the idea of repurposing, especially with what is essentially trash–is to get yourself a #10 can (these are the cans, roughly gallon sized, that are restaurants use or you find in your big-box-bulk-savings-stores). After you’ve used up whatever is in the can and cleaned it out (assumedly you already took the top off of it!), then cut out the bottom of it, either peel the label off–or it will most likely burn up the first time you use it anyway–and take a can opener (the pointy kind, like on the flip side of a bottle opener) and open a ring of little triangles around one end of the can. Use the same as a store bought chimney, with the openings around the bottom. The only thing you don’t get with this is a handle to grab it from, but just use oven mitts and two hands and you’re all good. Do respect the fact that there will be some sharp edges around the inside, though…you don’t need a nasty cut when you’re just tryin’ to grill up some tasty vittles!

Just searched, and of course, there are plenty of youtube videos showing you just how to do it. I searched “homemade charcoal chimney starter”.

12 John July 7, 2013 at 8:30 am

Has anyone else used rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol as lighter fluid? It lights easily and burns off quickly without the taste and odor of traditional lighter fluid.

13 Fernando July 11, 2013 at 3:05 am

I usually just pour lighter fluid on the charcoals. or paper.

14 Seth Ballard July 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I like the using the chimney and it makes it easy to know how much charcoal to use as well. The BBQ in a Bag is a nice idea but I have always had a hard time getting it started. Its perfect when going to the park and you want to grill something there. The idea on using a hand torch has me thinking though….. Great video.

15 Pete July 12, 2013 at 1:45 am

Personally, When we have a company/platoon barbecue at work we use the oxygen from a gas axe as an accelerant. Works a treat

16 George July 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I’ve never been able to use a charcoal chimney. My method is to build a tepee of cardboard strips and then build my charcoal pyramid around it. The cardboard burns long and hot enough to light the charcoal and then you can spread it out with a spatula after it ashes.

May have to give the chimney another try though.

17 Randy August 9, 2013 at 7:58 am

You don’t need newspaper or starter blocks for the chimney. Instead, I just tear off some of the charcoal bag and use that as my starter. You have to peel the paper layers apart to get the best performance, and after the first bag, there’s usually enough left over that I have an empty charcoal bag that I tear starter strips off of, and another bag with charcoal still in it.

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