Flame On! How to Light Charcoal without Lighter Fluid?

August 21, 2022

There are four alternatives you can use – a chimney starter, paper, kindling, and charcoal method, electric starter, and firestarters.

Coming from a barbecue obsessed family, I learned at a young age that lighter fuel was a no-no. It is effective but the chemical taste it adds to the food is inexcusable. Fortunately, I managed to come up with a few other tricks over the years!

In this post I will show you how to light charcoal without lighter fluid and highlight the pros and cons of each option. Let’s begin!

How to light charcoal without lighter fluid

What Can I Use to Light My Charcoal without Lighter Fluid?

As mentioned, the main options for lighting charcoal but avoiding a fuel source is to use a chimney starter, the paper, kindling, and charcoal method, upgrade to an electric starter, or give firestarters a try.

I’m going to give you a brief description of each option and show you to utilize the technique as well…

Chimney Starter

This is my go-to method when barbecuing. It is efficient, affordable, and once you get the hang of it, a breeze to use. It is often referred to as a charcoal chimney as well.

It is essentially a metal tube with a grate on the bottom to prevent the charcoal from falling out. You add the charcoal into the tube and then ignite it from the bottom by placing the chimney on your grate. When you do this, the heat rises up through the chimney, causing more air to enter from the bottom. This creates a fanning affect, causing the coals to light even more and to get hot.

grill above fire

Here is how to use a chimney starter.

Step 1: Place newspaper at the bottom of the chimney, but make sure not to put too much – you don’t want to block the airflow.

Step 2: Pile the fresh charcoal briquettes into the chimney. It doesn’t have to be filled to the brim. Only use enough coals to get your charcoal grill going.

Step 3: Place the chimney on the grill grate and light the edges of the newspaper on fire.

Step 4: Wait for about minutes or so – when gray ash begins to form on the top coals, it should be ready. Then, very slowly, pour the coals into the grill. You are all set to barbecue now.

Electric Lighters

There are many old-school pitmasters that might scoff at the idea of electric lighters but I would advise you to ignore them. This is one of the fastest and most fuss-free way to get your grill going.

The only downside is that you do need to be close to an electrical outlet in order for this electric charcoal starter to work. Due to this, they may not be the best option for grilling outdoors. They can also be the most expensive option on this list, so you do have to invest a bit. It is certainly worth it, though.

You should know that there are several types of electric starters on the market. Some are pretty basic while other are top-of-the-line, but also come with a premium price tag. Do some research and figure out which one is right for your needs and budget.

Most electric lighters work in a similar fashion. You plug it in and place the heating element on the grill. Then, you pile lump charcoal on and around it. The heating time can vary for every model so you will need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It often takes just a few minutes until you get hot coals.

After it is hot enough you unplug it and set it aside. Remember, it is going to very hot still so you need to keep it on a heatproof surface and away from where anyone can burn themselves on it.

One of the electric starters that has been getting a lot of attention recently is the Loof Lighter. This tool works a little differently from others – it blasts superheated air – around 1200°F at the coals.

This concentrated heats the coals at an accelerated rate, taking only about 60 seconds to get your barbecue going. Of course, this convenience does come with a significantly higher price tag, but it is a great way to save time while grilling!

Paper, Kindling, and Charcoal Method

I can’t begin to tell you the number of frantic phone calls I’ve gotten from friends asking:

What can you use if you don’t have lighter fluid?

This question tends to be the result of someone forgetting lighter fluid while they are on a camping trip. Luckily, I have just the trick for you to use in this instance.

bbq fire

You should be warned, though, that it isn’t the easiest option but will do in a pinch! You will require charcoal briquettes, kindling, and newspaper here. The kindling does need to be as dry as possible to catch fire. And, if you don’t have newspaper, try crumpled paper towels instead.

Place the briquettes in a square-like or circular formation in your grill – this will be your base. Next, wad up some newspaper tightly and place it on top of the base. Place kindling on top of this in a crisscross fashion. Create a charcoal pile on top of this layer.

Then, set light to the newspaper or paper towels. When the charcoal begins to ash over, add more charcoal, enough to get your charcoal grill going.

Some people will add a small amount of cooking oil to the pile, but I would advise you to be very careful when doing this. It is easy for a fire to get out of hand so only add a couple of drops. If it doesn’t seem to be working, dont add any more vegetable oil.

And, if you have ever wondered:

How do you light charcoal naturally? – this is your answer!


These are store-bought implements that are typically used for camping but are great otherwise, too. These can use paraffin wax or types of paper to get the coal hotter more quickly. Despite the use of additional components, a firestarter briquette doesn’t add smell or flavor to your food.

In fact, if you find newspaper too tricky to work with when using a chimney starter, I would suggest that you give this option a go.

To use firestarters, simply place them on the coals in your charcoal grill. Then, set light to it with a long match- it will begin lighting charcoal after a while. Then, you can start grilling

Using Lighter Fluid Without Side Effects

There is no denying that lighter fluid makes charcoal grilling a lot easier. So, it is only natural to want to find a way around that horrible taste it adds to your food.

Well, there is a way to get the best of both worlds when outdoor grilling.

I first take a small amount of charcoal – about a handful will do. Place these on the grate and squirt a little bit of lighter fluid. Do this carefully as you don’t want to add too much lighter fluid. The goal here is to limit the risk of flavor contamination.

Next, carefully light the charcoal – lighter fluid is combustible so be wary as you do this. Once the lit coals have reached the desired temperature, then pile on more coals. This will mask the lighter fluid on the bottom coals.

So, there you have it – getting your grill going without lighter fluid. Sure it involves a little bit of time, creativity, and mastery but I believe it is well worth the effort. Once you find the perfect technique for you, you will be able to light your grill without any trouble at all.

Go ahead and figure out which option works for you best. You will not regret this decision!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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