How To Start a BBQ Fire With Charcoal And Firelighters

The enticing aroma of sizzling meat brings family and friends together. Charcoal is the griller’s choice for its ability to infuse that irresistible smoky flavor into your food, making it an essential ingredient in the art of barbecuing. Firelighters are compact, odorless, and greatly efficient tools made to kindle fires easily. They are the unsung heroes of BBQ ignition.

The art of grilling meat with charcoal and firelighters is an easy one. All you need to do is arrange your coal in the grill, position a firelighter at the center of the charcoal bed, and light the firelighter. It will gradually ignite the charcoal. You wait for it to ash over afterwards as a sign that it’s ready for cooking.

How do you start coals on a BBQ?

Starting coals on a BBQ means to ignite the charcoal that you will use as the heat source for grilling. It’s the initial step in preparing your barbecue grill for cooking. To start coals on a BBQ, you can follow these steps:

  1. Prepare your grill: Set up your grill in a safe and well-ventilated area, away from any flammable materials. Make sure the grill is clean and in good working condition.
  2. Gather your materials: You’ll need charcoal briquettes, a chimney starter, and a fire source like lighter cubes or crumpled newspaper.
  3. Fill the chimney starter: Fill the chimney starter with the desired amount of charcoal. Typically, it should be about 2/3 to 3/4 full.
  4. Light the chimney starter: Place the chimney starter on the grill grates or on a heat-resistant surface. Ignite the charcoal using lighter cubes or crumpled newspaper underneath it.
  5. Wait for the coals to ash over: Let the charcoal burn until it’s covered with a layer of white ash. This usually takes around 15–20 minutes.
  6. Pour the coals: Carefully pour the hot coals from the chimney starter onto the grill’s charcoal grate.
  7. Spread the coals: Use long-handled tongs to spread the coals out evenly across the grill’s charcoal grate.
  8. Preheat the grill: Put the cooking grates back in place and let the grill preheat for a few minutes to get it hot and prepared for cooking.
  9. Start grilling: Begin cooking by placing your meat on the cooking grates. Adjust the heat by opening or closing the grill’s vents.

Always follow safety precautions, and have a fire extinguisher or water nearby in case of emergencies. This method ensures that the coals are evenly ignited and prepared for grilling.

Do you need firelighters for charcoal BBQ?

Using firelighters for a charcoal BBQ can be helpful but is not always necessary. Firelighters are designed to make it easier to ignite the charcoal, and they can be particularly useful in adverse weather conditions or if you’re looking for a convenient way to start the coals. Here are some considerations:

  1. Firelighters: Firelighters are small, flammable blocks or cubes that can be placed under the charcoal to help start the fire. They’re convenient and can speed up the ignition process.
  2. Alternatives: If you don’t have firelighters, you can use crumpled newspaper or a chimney starter to ignite the charcoal. A fire starter chimney is a popular and effective tool for starting coals without the need for firelighters.
  3. Environment: Some people prefer not to use firelighters because they may contain chemicals or produce odors when burned. In such cases, using alternative methods like a newspaper or a chimney starter can be more appealing.

In summary, while firelighters can make the process more convenient, they are not an absolute requirement. You can start charcoal for your BBQ using various methods, including crumpled newspaper or a chimney starter, based on your preferences and what you have available.

How do you start a BBQ with charcoal and firelighters?

Using  charcoal and firelighters, you can start a BBQ following these steps

  1. Gather your materials: You’ll need charcoal, firelighters (small cubes or blocks designed to ignite easily), a chimney starter (optional but helpful), a long lighter or matches, and a grill.
  2. Prepare the grill: Set up your grill in a safe, well-ventilated area and ensure it’s neat and also in good working condition.
  3. Arrange the charcoal: Spread your charcoal briquettes or chunks evenly across the grill’s charcoal grate. The quantity of charcoal you use will depend on your grill’s size and your cooking needs.
  4. Position the firelighters: Place the firelighters strategically within the charcoal. You can either bury them slightly within the coals or place them on top.
  5. Light the firelighters: Use your long lighter or matches to ignite the firelighters. Ensure that they catch fire and start burning.
  6. Let the coals ignite: Allow the firelighters to ignite the charcoal. It may take about 15-20 minutes for the charcoal to burn and develop a layer of white ash, indicating they are ready for cooking.
  7. Spread the coals: Once the coals are hot and have ashed over, use long-handled tongs to spread them out evenly within your grill.
  8. Preheat the grill: Leave the lid on for a few minutes to ensure its hot and prepared for cooking after putting the cooking grates in place for grilling. 
  9. Start grilling: Place your meat on the cooking grates and begin cooking. Adjust the heat by opening or closing the grill’s vents.

Using firelighters can make the process of starting a charcoal BBQ more convenient, especially in adverse weather conditions. Always follow safety precautions and use firelighters as directed on the packaging. Keep a fire extinguisher or water nearby in case of emergencies.

What is the difference between firefighters and firelighters?

Firefighters and firelighters are two distinct things with different purposes:

  • Firefighters: Firefighters are trained professionals who respond to and combat fires. They work for fire departments and emergency services and are responsible for extinguishing fires, providing medical assistance, and performing other rescue operations in emergency situations. Firefighters are crucial for public safety and disaster response.
  • Firelighters: Firelighters are small, flammable cubes, blocks, or sticks used to ignite fires in a controlled and often domestic setting. They are designed to make it easier to start fires for purposes like lighting a BBQ grill, campfire, or wood-burning stove. Firelighters are usually comprised of materials that are easy to ignite and generate a flame suitable for lighting kindling or charcoal.

In summary, firefighters are professionals who respond to emergency situations involving fires, while firelighters are products designed to help start fires for specific, non-emergency purposes, such as lighting a fire for cooking or heating.

What are the dangers of firelighters?

While firelighters can be convenient for starting fires in controlled settings, it’s essential to be aware of their potential dangers.

  1. Chemical Exposure: Some firelighters may contain chemicals that, when burned, can release potentially harmful fumes. Prolonged exposure to these fumes can be harmful, especially if used in poorly ventilated areas.
  2. Skin Irritation: Handling firelighters without gloves can lead to skin irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin. Some firelighters may have chemicals or substances that can cause skin discomfort.
  3. Ingestion: Firelighters are not meant to be ingested. They can be toxic if consumed, leading to health problems or poisoning.
  4. Fire Hazard: Firelighters themselves are flammable, and if not stored or handled properly, they can pose a fire hazard. Keep them away from open flames, heat sources, and children.
  5. Environmental Impact: Some firelighters may have an impact on the environment, particularly if they release pollutants when burned. This is a concern in outdoor settings like camping or picnicking, where environmental responsibility is crucial.
  6. Improper Use: Using too many firelighters or placing them inappropriately in your fire or grill can lead to uncontrolled fires that can be harmful and damaging.

To minimize these dangers, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using firelighters. Always use them in well-ventilated areas, handle them with care, and store them in a safe and dry place away from heat and open flames. If you have concerns about the ingredients in firelighters or their environmental impact, consider exploring alternative fire-starting methods like natural fire starters or chimney starters.

What can I use instead of firelighters for BBQ?

You can use several alternatives to firelighters for lighting your BBQ. These are some options:

  1. Newspaper: Crumple up sheets of newspaper and place them beneath the charcoal in your grill. Light the newspaper to ignite the coals.
  2. Chimney Starter: A fire starter chimney is a popular and effective tool for lighting charcoal. Fill it with charcoal, place crumpled newspaper or a fire starter beneath, and light it. The chimney starter helps the coal catch fire and ash quickly.
  3. Natural Fire Starters: You can find natural fire starters made from materials like wood shavings, sawdust, or wax. These are eco-friendly and can be used to ignite your charcoal.
  4. Wood Kindling: Small pieces of dry wood can serve as kindling to get the fire started. Place them beneath the coal and ignite them with matches or a lighter.
  5. Electric Charcoal Starter: This is a convenient option. It’s a metal probe that you insert into the charcoal, and it heats up to ignite the coals without the need for firelighters.
  6. Charcoal Grate Method: Place a few charcoal briquettes on the lower part of the grill, and then stack more briquettes on top in a pyramid shape. Light the bottom briquettes, and the fire will spread to the ones above.
  7. Heat Gun: Electric devices like the heat gun blow hot air onto the charcoal, helping it ignite without the use of firelighters.

When using alternatives to firelighters, it’s important to ensure proper ventilation and safety measures. Always follow the instructions for your chosen method, and never leave a fire unattended.


In the world of barbecuing, mastering the art of using charcoal and firelighters to start a BBQ fire  is a true skill. The combination of firelighters’ convenience and charcoal’s flavor-enhancing abilities results in culinary perfection.

The steps to starting a BBQ fire with coals and firelighters are easy. You just need to follow the aforementioned steps carefully, and you’re good to go.

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