How to Light a Charcoal Grill the Proper Way - Backyard Boss
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How to Light a Charcoal Grill the Proper Way

Charcoal grills come with many benefits. For one, they’re highly portable and let you take your grilling almost anywhere. Secondly, they give your food a unique and bold flavor that’s just not the same with other grilling methods. Finally, charcoal grills are highly affordable. But some people find it difficult to light a charcoal grill. You don’t need to be frustrated by your grill. Instead, follow this step-by-step guide and learn everything you need to know about how to start a charcoal grill.

What You Need

Charcoal, lighter fluid, and grill

One of the benefits of charcoal grilling is the fact that you don’t need too many materials. If you want to use charcoal for your grilling needs, you should have all of the following:

  • Charcoal grill
  • Charcoal bricks
  • Charcoal starter
  • Long-handled lighter or long matches
  • Long spatula

Although you could eliminate the need for a charcoal starter by using self-lighting charcoal bricks, the shortcut will affect the flavor of your food. Self-lighting bricks contain high amounts of lighter fluid. You can taste the fluid in your food and it often leaves behind a residue. If you take your barbecue seriously, you should avoid self-lighting bricks.

Another way of lighting your grill is to use lighter fluid. Much like the self-lighting bricks, lighter fluid can affect the flavor and texture of your food. That said, it does make lighting charcoal easier. At most stores, you can find plant and alcohol-based lighter fluid. You should learn how to light charcoal without lighter fluid, or with the fluid. Then, decide which method you prefer.

How to Light a Charcoal Grill

Pull out your favorite meats or vegetables and get ready to grill. If you follow these steps, you’ll have your grill lit and hot in no time.

1. Choose Your Starter

Charcoal Chimney Lighting Method

Before you get your grill ready, you need to decide how you want to start it. You could use a charcoal chimney, which uses newspaper to ignite your charcoal. Newspaper goes into the bottom of the chimney, which goes underneath the charcoal. When you light the newspaper, the newspaper catches fire and lights the bricks.

A more popular option is an electric charcoal fire starter. With this method, you put the starter on the grill with the charcoal. Once the charcoals get going, you can remove the starter.

Finally, you can use lighter fluid. The rest of this tutorial explains how to light a charcoal grill with lighter fluid. Although lighter fluid can cause a bad taste, lighting your grill properly will prevent this from happening.

2. Prepare the Grill

After you choose your starting method and buy all of the materials you need for it, you should prepare your grill. If it’s a new grill, read the directions and be sure to listen to all of the safety warnings.

An older grill requires a little more work. To avoid any unwanted flavors on your food, you should clean your grill. Remove and clean the grate, scrape off carbon flakes, and clean up grease spatters.

3. Figure Out How Much Charcoal You Need

Mound of Charcoal

If you don’t use enough charcoal in your grill, your food won’t cook. It will either take too long for your food to cook, or you’ll end up with raw meat. On the other hand, too much charcoal will cook your food too quickly and burn it.

The more coal you use, the hotter your grill will get. If you’re only cooking some hamburgers or hot dogs, 15 to 20 charcoal bricks should be enough. But large steaks, roasts, and whole chickens require more bricks. They need to be placed in a mound to concentrate the heat.

Pro Tip: Cooking food slowly will require fewer bricks, but you’ll need to monitor the grill closely. For a slow, long cook, you need to add more bricks as you cook. You can even turn your grill into a smoker this way.

4. Pour the Coals Into the Grill

Add the charcoal to your grill, being sure to place it in the right area. If you’re not sure where the charcoal goes, you should read the instruction manual.

Pile up the charcoal into a cone or pyramid shape, only using as much as you need to fully cook your food. If your coals are too far apart, they won’t all light and the heat won’t be concentrated enough to cook your food through.

5. Place Lighter Fluid on the Coals

Lighting the Charcoal

Now, it’s time for the lighter fluid. Open the bottle and squeeze it over the coals. For the best results, use more fluid in the center of the coals than the edges. Every pound of charcoal needs about ¼ cup of fluid.

If you use too much lighter fluid, your food will taste like the fluid. Err on the side of caution and know that too little is better than too much. You can always add a little more fluid to your coals, if they don’t light.

Pro Tip: Depending on the type of lighter fluid you use, you may need more or less than ¼ per pound of charcoal. Read the instructions on the back of the container for recommendations.

6. Light Your Bricks

Allow the fluid to soak into your coals. Typically, this takes about 30 seconds. Use your long-handled lighter or a match to light the charcoal. You should light it from the bottom of the stack on at least two sides. If you fail to do so, the fire could go out before all of the coals catch.

During this step, you need to be very cautious and avoid holding your hand over the coals. Don’t attempt to light your grill with a regular lighter or with short matches.

Pro Tip: Never add lighter fluid to coals that are already burning. The result could be a hazardous flare-up.

7. Wait

Wait and Grill Your Food

The hardest part of grilling with charcoal is the wait. You can’t use the grill until all of the coals are white. Although the time frame for this varies, it usually takes about 20 minutes for your coals to be ready.

Once they’re ready, spread the coals around with a long, metal tool. A spatula or tongs can usually get the job done. Close the lid of your frill, and wait about five minutes.

Enjoying Your Food

Once you light a charcoal grill, the hard work is over. You can get your food on the grill and watch it sizzle. Whether you’re new to charcoal or it’s your favorite method of grilling, you might find that you’ll never switch back to another grilling method. It’s an easy way to cook your food and doesn’t rely on costly propane. Furthermore, it makes your food taste great.

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