Many folks find that they opt for their propane grill, especially those that regularly do some serious grilling. We love grilling with charcoal, though propane grills come with their fair share of perks. Namely, coming up to temperature rather quickly.
When it comes to pros and cons of charcoal vs. propane though, we’d have to say that’s where propane trumping charcoal ends. In many other ways, charcoal is our go-to!
Is there any other better feeling than feeling the sunlight on your skin, sipping on a cold drink with friends and family, and smelling the charcoal as it heats up? We think not! Yes, the charcoal takes a while to come up to temperature and be ready to cook, but we usually incorporate that time into our plans, laughing with those we love along the way.
Some people will say they don’t have the time to wait on charcoal, but we find that if that’s the case, we aren’t out grilling that day, opting for cooking at the stove instead. Because for us, the charcoal is just as much a part of the ritual as the great food, icy drinks, sunny day, and laughter.
Once you’ve learned the ways of grilling with charcoal, you may find that while it does take a bit of patience, it often becomes second nature. There are even people who go the extra mile to grill with charcoal sans the lighter fluid. Why would anyone be interested in grilling without lighter fluid, though?
The Benefits of Grilling Without Lighter Fluid
One of the most significant issues of grilling with lighter fluid we have is the safety aspect. In our college days, it was not a thing we even thought about, a bunch of guys hanging around the pool, having drinks, maybe some of their girlfriend’s intermingling, no big deal.
Nowadays though, those girlfriends turned into wives, and the guys who were hanging around are all parents to the little ones running wildly through the yard. Of course, we teach them safety and ask that they don’t run near the grill, but accidents can always happen.
According to the Home Grill Fires report, 85 percent of home fires involving a grill were at the fault of a gas grill while just 15 percent included a charcoal grill. In the same report, the NFPA’s 2019 “Research Fact Sheet” states that 19,000 people per year of the study required a trip to the
emergency room due to injuries involving grills, including 9,300 victims of thermal burns. Yikes!
We want to eliminate as much risk as possible. Lighter fluid is also dangerous while it’s doing nothing but sitting on a shelf. That’s why it’s imperative that it be stored responsibly. If swallowed, lighter fluid is poisonous. Though, it won’t poison your food when used while grilling. Still, with kids around, it’s sometimes best to avoid the issue altogether.
Beyond the safety risk, many people claim they can taste the difference in their food when using lighter fluid. We can’t say it’s a taste we’ve ever encountered, but there are tons of people with sensitive enough taste that they prefer alternate means of cooking. Finally, it’ll shave a couple of bucks off your party bill to not use it, so hey, why not?
Let’s jump into alternate methods of lighting up that charcoal and getting your backyard grill session started!
Method One: Start with Fire, Add Coals After
Starting a fire first is one of the simplest and most effective ways of getting your charcoal ready for use. To begin, simply start a small fire in your grill base. Once it’s lit and ready, add charcoal on top of it and let the process begin. We’ve used this method plenty of times in a pinch, and it’s always been full-proof.
We’ve all done it, we’ve been the one tasked with heading out in search of burgers, hot dogs, charcoal and lighter fluid. We’ve set out, maybe taken a few of the kids with us so others could prepare the house for the party, and picked up all the things we needed – or so we thought.
You’d think we’d remember everything on the list, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made it back home or over to a friend’s house without picking up the lighter fluid! Anyway, sometimes time or the weather doesn’t allow for another trip out, so what do you do when you find yourself here?
Grab whatever you’ve got on hand to make a fire. If you’ve got old newspapers stacked up or some junk mail, possibly some crushed cardboard boxes, you can probably get a decent fire going to get your charcoal on the road to grilling.
Honestly, it works in a pinch, but it’s not our favorite method for cooking. The coals will indeed get started, but it may not be the best grill session you’ve ever had. Save this method for when others aren’t available.
Method Two: Use Briquettes Infused with Fluid
Did you know that some charcoal companies offer briquettes infused with lighter fluid? I guess, to be fair, that’s technically not a method san the lighter fluid, but hey, we’re just giving you options! Since you don’t need extra fluid, it can be just as effective. You can find these briquettes quickly enough, Kingsford Match Light comes to mind first with a useful product.
- Two 16.7 pound bags of Charcoal Briquettes
- Ready to cook in about 15 minutes
- Sure Fire Grooves help coals light faster
- More edges for quick, easy lighting
- Made with natural ingredients and real wood
For larger gatherings, you may end up using an entire bag, but if you don’t, beware. These briquettes must be stored airtight. Otherwise, the fluid will evaporate out of them. Then, you’ve just got an expensive bag of natural charcoal left-over.
We don’t mind using the fluid infused charcoal at all, but we have found an even better way to go without lighter fluid, let’s move on to the final method.
Method 3: The Chimney Starter
A charcoal chimney starter is an excellent, inexpensive tool that pays for itself rather quickly. You can find these chimneys just about anywhere ranging from $10 to $20.
If you’re into the top of the line gadgets, you can find some pristine ones for up to $60. At the higher end, you’ll find the devices that come with a release, so you don’t have to pour the coals out later. We find that this isn’t necessary, but the choice is yours!
Being the grill-lovers that we are, we’ve got to say this is our go-to method. Since you aren’t buying fluid, the few extra bucks you’ll spend on this gadget will more than make up for the cost in no time at all. The best part of all is that as long as you take care of yours, they’re made to be durable, lasting you through many happy years of grilling.
Here’s How to Use the Charcoal Chimney to Get Your Coals Going
If you’ve got some paper or cardboard on hand, crumple a bit up and set it in the bottom of the charcoal chimney.
There should be a grate in the chimney, separating the bottom portion from the top. Now, fill the remaining space with charcoal.
Set the chimney in the grill and light the paper that you’ve added to the bottom portion and wait as you usually would for the coals to get started.
Around the 15-minute mark, you should have correctly started coals as the heat from the fire rises through the top.
You’ll use the handle to tip over and pour the coals out into the bottom of the grill, slowly and carefully. Now, you’re all set!
You’ll notice that using the chimney starter will burn the paper/cardboard you started the fire with up into ash that won’t leave behind a big mess as it did in the first method we described. You should end with about the same pile of ash you would have had, had you used coals and fluid.
Well folks, you now have three alternate ways to light your charcoal without additional lighter fluid. Whether you’ve got a sensitive taster on your hands who doesn’t enjoy the taste, you’re concerned with safety, or you don’t want to use lighter fluid, you’ve got a method to get your coals started without it.
We prefer to use the chimney starter after we were gifted one at Christmas and fell in love with how easy it is to use. If we forget ours at home and we’re grilling out with friends, we’re not above the other methods, after all, we want to enjoy delicious food and a good time! What’s your preferred method?