Building a Charcoal Fire Quickly and Without Frustration

How to Light Charcoal Fast and Stress-Free: Our Top 5 Methods

Do you have bad memories of trying to light charcoal for cookouts? Does the stress of starting the fire make you feel like giving up before you start?

In this article, I'll give you 5 simple methods anyone can use to light charcoal fires. These are quick to master, and once you learn them you can light the charcoal for any home cookout with confidence. 

For each method, you'll get clear instructions and recommended tools. Each method also includes a time estimate to help you avoid surprises and keep your meal on schedule.

CAUTION: As always when playing with fire, never leave chimneys, torches, or any other live fire sources unattended. We're trying to light some charcoal, not burn down your home!

1: Use a Chimney Starter

A charcoal chimney is a handy metal cylinder for lighting charcoal. It holds the charcoal in an upright column, and the vents in the bottom of the chimney let the air draft through the chimney. Just fill the chimney with charcoal, add some kindling to the bottom, then light it with a match or lighter.

A chimney is not the fastest way to light charcoal, but it’s easy—once you get it started, you can let it do its thing while you prep the meat.

Camp Chef Chimney Starter for Lighting Charcoal

Here are several slick ways to light a charcoal chimney:

  • Crumpled Newspaper or Part of the Charcoal Bag. Wad up several pieces of paper and tuck them into the bottom end of the chimney. Add the charcoal on top and light the paper with a match.
  • Paper Towel and Cooking Oil. Oil or grease a paper towel or two and lay it in the bottom of the chimney. Add the charcoal on top and light the paper. The oil slows the burning like wax on a candle wick. This method makes less ash than the newspaper method and doesn’t require a stash of newspapers.
  • Side Burner on Your Gas Grill. Add charcoal to the chimney and set it on top of the gas burner. Turn the burner on until the charcoal is lit.
  • Wax Fire Starter. Place one or two fire starter squares or tumbleweed starters in the bottom of the chimney. Fill it with charcoal and light the fire starter with a match. It will burn long enough to light the charcoal.

Once the flames are leaping out of the top of the chimney or the edges of the briquettes on top are gray, carefully dump them into your grill or smoker using leather gloves. This should take only about 15 minutes.

You can get a charcoal chimney at our barbecue supply store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, Pennsylvania or online.

BBQ Dragon Chimney of Insanity for lighting charcoal fast

Turbospeed Tip: The absolute fastest chimney method is to use a Chimney of Insanity and the BBQ Dragon Fan. This setup can light your charcoal in a fraction of the time it takes in a regular chimney!

Talk to us. Lighting a charcoal fire is easy with the right tools and skills. Visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA or call us at (717) 355-0779 for any questions about starting and managing a charcoal fire. Our store hours are listed at the bottom of this page.

2: Use a Wax Fire Starter

If you’re cooking in a Big Green Egg or other ceramic cooker, skip the chimney starter and light the charcoal right in the cooker using one of the methods below. (Always use lump charcoal in a ceramic cooker.) 

This method also works in any backyard grill or smoker where you'd rather not use a chimney. I use this method in the Meadow Creek BX25 Box Smoker. It would also work great in a Weber Kettle grill or a park grill.

Big Green Egg Wax Fire Starters for Lighting Charcoal Fast
  • Partly bury 1–3 wax fire starters in the charcoal, light each one with a handheld lighter or torch, and let them burn. This method will reliably get your charcoal burning, but it will take about 20–30 minutes to get ready—unless you use a fan. (Keep reading.)
  • To speed up the process, clamp a BBQ Dragon Fan onto the rim of the grill and aim the fan directly onto the flame. This can get a blazing fire going in under 10 minutes! When the charcoal around one starter is burning well, adjust the fan to target the next one.

If you use wax fire starters without the BBQ Dragon, remember to budget enough time to let the coals get hot. If time is a luxury for you, invest in a BBQ Dragon. You’ll find it useful not just for starting charcoal, but also for boosting fires in your grill, fire pit, and other places.

It’s also perfect for getting the Big Green Egg up to 700 degrees F for grilling steaks. Just close the lid and direct the fan through the bottom vent.

3: Use a Propane Torch

propane weed burner torch is our favorite way to light charcoal in a large smoker or grill. It’s the perfect way to fire an offset smoker, especially a big one with more steel to heat up.

The torch lights the coals and heats up the smoker in the same operation. Using a propane torch is also our standard method for lighting briquettes in the Meadow Creek chicken flippers and pig roasters.

Greenwood Propane Torch for lighting charcoal fast

The downsides to this method are that you need to keep a close eye on the torch while it’s burning, and you have to keep propane on hand. But it’s a quick and easy way to get the job done. A torch can get a large handmade tank smoker, such as the Meadow Creek TS250, up to cooking temperature in 20 minutes. The alternative is using one or more charcoal chimneys and waiting 2–3 hours until the heat from the coals warms up the tank.

“A torch can get a large tank smoker up to cooking temperature in 20 minutes!”

4: Use the Bison Airlighter

This handy gadget is the combination of a torch and a blower, which means it both lights the charcoal and boosts the fire. It can light lump charcoal in 20 seconds or less, accelerate an existing fire in 1 minute or less, and get your charcoal ready to cook in only 5–6 minutes.

One nice feature of the Airlighter is that it stays cool to the touch, unlike a chimney that can hurt someone or damage your deck while it's cooling off. 

Bison Airlighter for getting charcoal burning at home

Because it also produces heat, you can even use this tool to sear meat or caramelize sugars. It's handy for camping trips and for lighting other fires around your home, like your fireplace or fire pit.

The downside to this tool is that you have to hold it the entire time, similar to a propane torch. The upside is that it’s a bit faster than a BBQ Dragon.

5: Use Lighter Fluid

The only time we recommend using lighter fluid is when lighting briquettes in an open grill, such as a Meadow Creek BBQ96 or BBQ60 Flat Top Grill. This is a handy method if you rarely grill and don't want to invest in equipment, or if you're cooking on charcoal away from home without your usual gear.

It takes around 15–20 minutes for to get charcoal briquettes burning with this method. Follow the instructions on the bottle and stay safe!

Lighter Fluid Gets Charcoal Burning Fast

Quality Charcoal

When you’re cooking with charcoal, you’ll need a good supply of quality charcoal. We carry a variety of lump charcoal brands and a premium quality 100% hardwood charcoal briquette from Royal Oak that burns clean and long.

Scroll down to browse our quality charcoals.

  • Big Green Egg – Natural Canadian Maple Lump Charcoal
  • FOGO Premium Lump Charcoal
  • FOGO Super Premium Lump Charcoal
  • Lighter Fluid Gets Charcoal Burning Fast

Let's Talk Barbecue!

Let's Talk Barbecue!

Need answers to a burning barbecue question? Ready for an upgrade that old grill? Running low on your favorite rub? To solve those problems and many more, the next step is to call or email us using the information below. Better yet, stop in at the store to browse our huge line of barbecue products and talk to our experts in person.

Call Us: 717-355-0779

Store Location:
Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply, 140 W Main St, New Holland, PA 17557, United States

Store Hours:

Mon – Thur: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm
Fri: 8:00 am – 7:00 pm
Sat: 8:00 am – 12:00 pm
Sun: Closed

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Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply is a specialty BBQ equipment and supply store in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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140 W Main St in New Holland
Phone: 717-355-0779

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