Building a Charcoal Fire Quickly and Without Frustration

5 Methods for Building a Charcoal Fire Quickly and Without Frustration

Are your memories of cooking with charcoal filled with frustration and embarrassment? Do you enjoy cooking with charcoal, but end up losing interest in cooking before you even get the fire ready?

You can master building a charcoal fire and learn how to light your charcoal quickly and without a hint of stress. In this article, I will show you how.

To light a charcoal fire successfully, you’ll need to budget enough time to get it lit and you’ll need the right tools for your smoker or grill. Below I’ve outlined five methods for lighting charcoal to help you decide when to use each one.

Prefer to talk with us? With the right tools and know-how, lighting a charcoal fire is quick and easy. Visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA or call us at (717) 355-0779 for help building a charcoal fire in minutes and without frustration. Our store hours are listed at the bottom of this page.

1: Using a Chimney

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. Simply 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 focus on prepping the meat. 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 about 15 minutes.

Visit our barbecue supply store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, Pennsylvania to purchase a charcoal chimney.

Turbospeed Tip: If you wish to dramatically accelerate the process, 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!

2: Using a Wax Starter + BBQ Dragon Fan

If you’re cooking in a Big Green Egg or any kind of ceramic cooker, we recommend lighting the charcoal directly in the cooker. (In a ceramic cooker, you should always use lump charcoal.) This method also works in any backyard grill or smoker where you prefer not to use a chimney. For example, I like to use this method in the Meadow Creek BX25 Box Smoker. It would also work great in a Weber Kettle grill or a park grill.

  • Partially bury 1–3 wax fire starters in the charcoal, light each one with a handheld lighter or torch, and let it burn. The wax starters will last long enough to light the charcoal. This method will take about 20–30 minutes.
  • To speed up the process, clamp a BBQ Dragon Fan onto the rim of the grill and aim the fan directly onto the flame to get a blazing fire going in under 10 minutes! After a few minutes, adjust the fan onto the other starter(s).

Visit our barbecue store to purchase a box of these dandy little fire starters. They are handy for lighting a fire in a fire pit and indoor fireplaces too.

If you’re only using the 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. I think you’ll find it really useful not only for starting charcoal, but also for boosting fires in your grill, firepit, and other places.

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

3: Using a Propane Torch

Our favorite method for lighting charcoal in a large smoker or grill is using a propane weed burner torch. It’s the perfect way to fire an offset smoker, especially one with a large amount of steel to heat up. The torch both lights the coals and heats up the smoker. Using a propane torch is also our standard method for lighting briquettes in the Meadow Creek chicken flippers and pig roasters.

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 multiple) charcoal chimneys and waiting 2–3 hours until the heat from the coals warms up the tank.

Check out our propane torches here.

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

4: Using a 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. Because it also produces heat, you can even use this tool to sear meat or caramelize sugars. It would be handy to take on a camping trip or for lighting a fire in your fireplace too.

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.

Check out the Bison Airlighter.

5: Using 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’re renting a grill or cooking at a park and don’t want to invest in the equipment I mentioned above or don’t have room to pack your gear.

It takes around 15–20 minutes for briquettes to light using this method. Follow the instructions on the bottle and stay safe!

We carry lighter fluid in our store.

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.

  • FOGO Premium Lump Charcoal
  • FOGO Super Premium Lump Charcoal

Still have questions? Need some gear? With the right tools, lighting a charcoal fire doesn't have to be stressful or time-consuming. Visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA or call us at (717) 355-0779 for help building a charcoal fire quickly and without frustration. Our store hours are listed at the bottom of this page.

About the author: Lavern Gingerich is a writer and the digital marketing manager for Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply.

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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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