How To Light a Charcoal Grill (Simple Steps)

Using charcoal is one of my favorite ways to cook food on the grill.

It feels more traditional than just turning on a gas grill.

My mates are always asking how to light a charcoal grill as well as how long does it take to light a charcoal grill?

Unless you know what your doing it can be time-consuming.

Even the best charcoal smokers or grills won’t light themselves!

Lucky for you, I have two methods below that don’t take so much time (both also help to keep your charcoal fire going longer!)

These methods work on the theory that heat rises. Working on this theory helps us light more charcoal quicker and create a good bed of red hot coals

lighting a charcoal grill
Great bed of charcoal to cook my greek lamb

Ever wondered how to light lump charcoal & charcoal briquettes? I have created a guide which compares the two as fuels, as well as step by step instructions. to using them both.

How To Light Charcoal Grills The Easy Way

There was two basic ways to light a charcoal grill.

The pyramid lighting method and the chimney starter method.

Below we will outline the steps for each method and what cooking units they are more suited too.

The Pyramid Lighting Method

The first thing you need to do with the pyramid method is to soak your coals in lighter fluid.

This ensures that your coals will light the first time, and stay alight. 

Note: This isn’t my preferred way of lighting charcoal, as the lighter fluid can taint you food. But a lot of fold still use this method. So I thought I would include it.

  1. Soak your coals in lighter fluid for 2 minutes minimum. This ensures they are well soaked and the lighter fluid doesn’t just burn off.

  2. Once well soaked, simply arrange your coals in a pyramid shape. Once you have a well shaped pyramid light from the bottom. 

  3. The pyramid shape allows the heat to rise up through the pyramid and light the coals above, creating lots of heat and a good base for your cooking. 

  4. When lighting the coals be sure to leave the lid open. This will ensure maximum airflow and help keep the pyramid alight.

Using the pyramid method is the most common way of lighting a charcoal grill. This is because it is quick, simple, and easy. 

The pyramid method has been around for years and years. I learnt this method from my dad around 20 years ago. Its a tried-and-tester method that never fails.

How To Light A Charcoal Grill Without Lighter Fluid? (lets try the chimney starter method)

Wondering how to use a chimney starter? Well look no further!

The charcoal chimney starter is a great method for those who don’t like the idea of their coals soaking in lighter fluid.

This method will require you to buy a charcoal chimney starter.

But it is a much more natural way to light your coals. 

The starter is a more expensive option outright, but over time will save you from buying lighter fluids. 

The charcoal chimney starter method is quite a new method of lighting charcoal. 

This technique was developed to advance the pyramid method and physically channels he heat straight up.

Another perk of this method is that it is a faster method of lighting charcoal. Once you have the method dialed. It should only take around 10 minutes to get nice hot coals. 

This is a picture of my charcoal chimney start below.

How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

  1. To start the chimney charcoal smoker, simply add newspaper (or part of your used charcoal bag) to the bottom section of the chimney starter. 

  2. Once you have the correct amount of paper, turn over and fill the coal section right to the tops with coals.

  3. Then light the paper the whole way around, grab a cold beverage and wait for around 10 – 20 minutes until you see the coals hot and glowing white.
  4. Then just pour the coals into your grill. Make sure you wear BBQ grade gloves when you do this.
  5. Follow these steps to ensure your charcoal grill stay hot for the entire cook. You don’t want burnt or under cooked food!

Make sure you don’t overfill the paper compartment with paper. This will prolong the lighting time, cause a lot of unnecessary smoke and be a waste of paper.

how to start charcoal grill

Charcoal looking red hot!

how to light a charcoal grill without lighter fluid
My chicken grilling on my charcoal grill

Wrapping It Up

These methods are two methods that I know of.

Personally, I am not such a big fan of using the pyramid method anymore.

I find that the lighter fluid does taint the flavor of your cook, and to be honest, I don’t like adding unnecessary chemicals to my family’s food.

I find the charcoal chimney method is a much better method.  

I like to use the Pit Barrel Cooker when cooking with charcoal. Here are some of my favorite recipes!

Do you have any other methods of starting your charcoal smoker?

Smoke On!


Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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