How To Keep Charcoal Lit (The Secret to Building a Long Lasting Charcoal Fire)

During summer, nothing beats an afternoon cookout.

No matter what you’re cooking on your grill — chicken, beef steaks, pork cuts, vegetables — you’re going to need your charcoal hot.

Charcoal is a fuel source that can burn and produce high heat.

In fact, it can generate temperatures of up to 4892 degrees Fahrenheit.

This makes it great for any recipe that requires medium heat or -high heat. They’re also excellent because they give your food this unique smoky flavor.

Many people struggle to build a long-lasting charcoal fire. That can be a problem if you’re barbecuing something that takes a long time to cook.

So how do you get the charcoal in a charcoal grill to burn for a really long time?

Continue reading to learn the tips that will help you keep your charcoal grill hot for as long as you need.

Charcoal Snake method on a Weber Kettle grill

The Different Types of Charcoal

The common types of charcoal are BBQ charcoal briquettes, natural lump charcoal, and hardwood briquettes.

Lump Charcoal
Since we’re focusing on the burn time in this article, lump charcoal is not the best option.

Lump charcoal burns hot very quickly, it tends to only produce a burn for a very short amount of time. If you’re into quick cooks, rather than long grill sessions, then this type is perfect.

Charcoal Briquettes
If you’re looking for something that burns for longer, then briquettes are a good way to go. Charcoal briquettes are often the cheapest and most reliable kinds around. They’re round in shape and look like large pebbles.

If you own a charcoal grill, you’re most likely very familiar with this type — you might even have a bag of it! There are many different brands, a popular one in Australia is called Heat Beads, they are made of similar products to briquettes and are slowly gaining popularity in the US.

If you want to know how to light Heat Beads, you can see here how easy it is.

Hardwood Briquettes
Hardwood briquettes are another type of charcoal that is commonly used. Hardwood briquettes burn slower than regular round charcoal briquettes. This is because these pieces of charcoal actually have a higher density.

If you don’t want to actively monitor your fire, hardwood briquettes are a good option due to their slow burn.

There are two other types of charcoal that you might not be as familiar with — binchotan coals and coconut shell charcoal.

Both of these are excellent choices if you want your charcoal grill to burn for a longer period of time.

They’re especially useful for those who are tired of buying bags of charcoal in a desperate attempt to keep their grill lit.


Binchotan is a Japanese charcoal. It has been used in traditional Japanese cooking since the Edo period.

It’s made of wood from a Japanese oak tree that’s native to Wakayama. Note: Binchotan is actually a pure and natural form of charcoal.

Unfortunately, many people often confuse it with ogatan charcoal, which is not a pure form of charcoal.

Hence, binchotan is also now known as Kishu charcoal — ‘Kishu’ being the former name of Wakayama. Kishu binchotan charcoal can produce a consistent temperature and burn for five hours on average.

For reference, regular charcoal briquettes offer a steady heat output, but they usually only last for about an hour before you need to top it up.

Another feature that distinguishes them from a regular batch of charcoal is that you can reignite them up to four times! Typical black charcoal briquettes are only good for two uses.

How to Keep Binotan Burning

  • Always make sure that the binchotan is dry — even in storage, and especially before use.
  • Stack up the pieces of charcoal so that you have two or three layers.
  • Make sure that all of the charcoal pieces are lit, and keep an eye on the first for at least 20 minutes.
  • Light it by placing the unlit charcoal (with bits of paper) inside a chimney starter — never use lighter fluid.

You can also save your binchotan pieces and re-use them another day. Simply immerse the heated binchotan in cold water before laying them out to dry in the sun. Before storing them in an airtight container, make sure they are completely dry.

Coconut Shell Charcoal

Who would have thought that coconut shells would make such good charcoal?

If you search up ‘coconut charcoal’ on the Internet you’ll find that it’s a popular health item that’s supposedly beneficial for cleansing the body and maintaining good digestive health. But it’s great it is for keeping your charcoal grill lit for longer.

There’s actually a special process behind making coconut shells such an effective fuel source.

It’s called the ‘dry distillation’ method. This procedure entails heating the coconut shell to extremely high temperatures while ensuring that it does not come into contact with any air during the process.

How to Keep Coconut Charcoal Burning

  • Ensure that the coconut charcoal pieces are incredibly dry.
  • To start off, you’ll want to light about 33 pieces of coconut charcoal to create a decent fire.
  • To ensure that all of the coconut shell charcoals are lit and in contact with one another, use a chimney starter and paper to ignite it.

Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal is actually the by-product of burning charcoal.

While it is a common type of charcoal that most people use for their charcoal grill, it doesn’t not burn for very long.

However, they do light up faster and they also produce more intense heat.

While the fire produced cannot last as long as binchotan or coconut shell. Here are a few tips on how to keep lump charcoal burning longer.

How to Keep Lump Charcoal Burning

  • Once you’ve got the charcoal pieces lit, add some kindling to maintain the heat.
  • Fire feeds on oxygen, so keep the vents of your grill open.
  • Keep a constant eye on your charcoal grill. Before the fire goes out, make sure to add more charcoal pieces.

If you’d like to know how to make homemade kindling, we’d highly recommend using dried orange peels! You can dry them by leaving them out in the sun or placing them in the oven.

How to Build a Long-Lasting Charcoal Fire (Our 4 Favorite Methods)

While the types of charcoal you use for your grill may differ, the principles for increasing the longevity of your fire remain the same.

Here are four common methods that we think will help you.

The Minion Method

The minion method is extremely simple.

Fill your charcoal grill with unlit coals and then add a generous amount of dry wood chips.

The key is to ensure that these two elements are mixed properly.

Next, make a small concave area in the middle of everything. Finally, simply light a few pieces of coal and fill the hollow area.

The Top-Down Burn Method

If you mainly use lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes, then the top-down burn method is the way to go.

  1. Fill your grill 3/4 of the way up and toss in a handful or dry wood chips or chunks.
  2. After that, go ahead and light 1/4 of your coal in a chimney starter with some newspaper or other bits of paper.
  3. Once those are lit, chuck it on top of the unlit pieces.

This method will ensure that your fire burns for quite a bit. This is because it’ll take some time for the coal pieces to slowly ignite from the top to the bottom.

The Snake Method

If you have a circular charcoal grill, then the snake method is the one that you’ll want to try out.

  1. To start, place three rows of charcoal along the inner side of your grill. It should end up looking like a semi-circle.
  2. Top it off by sprinkling a generous amount of dry wood chips along the snake-like shape.
  3. Next, use a pair of thongs to pick up a piece of charcoal and light it. You can then use this lit coal to light up one of the ends of your charcoal semi-circle.
  4. Keep holding the lit charcoal in place until four or five pieces have been completely lit.

    Need more help with this method? We have a detailed guide on the snake method with pictures here
Charcoal Snake

The Ember Spread Method

Mix in some extremely dry wood chips with your unlit charcoal. Don’t worry about lighting all of the pieces of coal from the very start of your grilling session.

  1. For this process, you’ll need to use a fire starter. Light it and put it in the middle — on top of the unlit coal and wood chips.
  2. After that, all you need to do is open the vents at the bottom, close the grill lid, and leave the top vents slightly open.
  3. Soon all of the pieces of charcoal will be lit, and the dry wood chips should maintain the flame.
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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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