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How to Start a Charcoal Grill Using These 3 Easy Methods [2022]

by Outdoor Cooking Pros May 29, 2021

How to Start a Charcoal Grill

The quality of your grilling does NOT only depend on your recipe… 

You should also SET UP YOUR GRILL perfectly. This is your one-stop guide for starting your charcoal grill.

With our experts, let’s get grilling!

The THREE Methods You Can Try

Method 1: With Just Charcoal

  1. Arrange the coals into a neat mound.
  2. Light the coals.
  3. Wait for gray ash to cover the coals.

This method just takes 10 minutes to set up your grill.

It’s the simplest method as it relies PURELY on the coal-to-coal interaction for the fire to spread.

However, it comes with the disadvantage that it can get a little bit too messy on the grill. It requires the closest monitoring for you to ensure SAFETY and FIRE MANAGEMENT.

Method 2: With a Lighter Fluid

  1. Arrange the coals into a neat mound or pyramid.
  2. Add lighter fluid to the pile of unlit coals and light immediately.
  3. Wait for gray ash to cover the coals.

You’ll have a perfectly started grill in just under 15 minutes!

This method works similarly as Method 1. The only difference is the addition of a lighter fluid.

Arrange the coals into a neat mound

But what exactly is it? Simply put, it’s a flammable liquid that also powers cigarette lighters and similar devices.

It may be introduced to the grilling system to help FACILITATE the spread of embers from charcoal to charcoal.

Don’t worry because it’s perfectly safe to use! Just remember not to add the fluid DIRECTLY on hot coals.

Method 3: With a Chimney Starter

  1. Fill the chimney with charcoal.
  2. Add newspaper on the chimney grate and ignite the fire.
  3. Pour out the coals when flames appear over the chimney.

In just under 15 minutes, you’ll have yourself a perfectly started grill!

But… what exactly is a chimney starter?

Simply, it is a metal cylinder used to HOLD your charcoal pieces together. 

Fill the chimney with charcoal

The kindling, most usually made of newspaper, helps spread the fire in the chimney faster AND at an even rate.

The method’s primary advantage is how you can grill LARGE QUANTITIES of hot coals in a SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME.

It is also the cleanest and most organized on this list. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Types of Charcoal Are There to Use?

There are TWO: briquettes and lumps.

You can easily use any of the two depending on your DESIRED PRODUCT and OVERALL PREFERENCE.

Choose LUMPS if:

  • You want to ignite fires FASTER 
  • You want to grill at HIGHER TEMPERATURES at a FASTER RATE
  • You want toeasilyCONTROL the head over SHORTER PERIODS OF TIME

Lumps are made from whole pieces of hardwood. This is the main reasonwhy andhow they are able to burn faster.

What Types of Charcoal Are There to Use?

Lumps are most ideal for grilling burgers, steaks, and meat chops.


  • You’re after long and slow cooking
  • You’re looking to burn over LONGER PERIODS OF TIME at a STEADY TEMPERATURE

Briquettes[1] are made of compressed wood and other additives. These are ideal for smoking briskets or making pulled pork.

Searching for grills? Check out our review of the best charcoal grills here.

How Do I Set Up My Grill Perfectly?

Great question! You don’t just set up your grill anywhere, nor does it ONLY depend on the type of charcoal you’re using.

#1 Take these into consideration:

  • You need GOOD VENTILATION. Grilling outdoors is best.
  • Your grill should be away from ANYTHING that could catch fire: trees, leaves, porches.
  • Your grill should be on a FLAT and SOLID surface. You wouldn’t want your setup to fall over mid-grilling!

These are the essentials you NEED to follow when looking for a place to set your grill up.

 Of course, indoor grilling is also possible… just maybe not with charcoal. 

How Do I Set Up My Grill Perfectly?

You may always pan sear and oven bake your steaks. Just make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated or has a ventilation hood.

#2 Other than the position of your grill, always make sure your equipment is CLEAN.

  • Remove old charcoal, ash, and grease from previous grilling sessions.
  • Clear the ashes from air circulation channels to ensure the fire will start.

Old charcoal can be carcinogenic on top of it affecting the odor of your food.

That said, make sure you have JUST ENOUGH charcoal when grilling. This is to avoid unnecessary by-products. 

You would usually only need an even layer to cover half of your grill. 


Our team recommends choosing any of the three presented methods according to MATERIAL AVAILABILITY.

But more than that, a good general rule of thumb to follow would be to choose:

  • Method 1 (With Just Charcoal) for SIMPLICITY
  • Method 2 (With a Lighter Fluid) for LIMITED CHARCOAL
  • Method 3 (With a Chimney Starter) for EFFICIENCY

Check more of our guides below:

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