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Different Ways to Ignite Charcoal

Char-Griller ambassador James Llorens of Certified Creole BBQ is a charcoal grilling master. From offset smokers to classic barrel style grills, he has used his a lot of charcoal. With all that practice has come some key tips for how to ignite charcoal for your grill. He gives his best tips below. 

Charcoal is one of my favorite things about BBQ. Getting it ignited and fired up is always fun for me and means it’s time to BBQ.

Over the years I’ve used my fair share of different types of charcoal and have tried various ways to igniting it. Below are the many ways I’ve ignited charcoal. It can take 15-20 minutes or just a few minutes to ignite charcoal depending on the way you go about it. Here are some ways I go about getting my charcoal started along with my firsthand experience and opinions.

Char-Griller Charcoal Chimney: Using the charcoal chimney from Char-Griller is my favorite way to ignite charcoal. The trigger release is a unique fun way to get the charcoal into the grill/smoker and also much safer than a chimney that you have to dump the charcoal into the grill/smoker.

Whenever I use the chimney, regardless if I’m cooking hot n’ fast or low n’ slow I always fill it up over the top. This allows the grill/smoker too thoroughly warm up and you can manage the temperature by using the damper and smoke stack to lock in to your desired temperature. Place at least two fire starters under the chimney and fire them up. You can use more fire starters if you want to start it up quicker.

It takes 15-20 minutes for the charcoal to gray over and get hot. If you have a dual fuel grill/smoker that has a side burner you can place it over the side burner fire and get it started that way as well. It takes 10-15 minutes for the charcoal to gray over and get hot using this method. After it’s released into the fire pit area, spread the charcoal evenly in the area you wish to have it using the Char-Griller grate lifter accessory. The Char-Griller Charcoal Chimney can be found on Chargriller.com, Lowes, and Menards.

Campfire Style: Stacking charcoal campfire style in the grill/smoker is also a way to get the charcoal ignited and something I do quite often. I begin by clearing the fire pit area and begin to stack the charcoal in a pyramid leaving some pockets for air flow and room for the fire starters. Place 2-3 fire starters under the charcoal and fire them up. Takes 15-20 minutes for the charcoal to gray over and get hot. When it’s ready, spread the charcoal evenly in the area you wish to have it using the Char-Griller grate lifter accessory.

Natural Fire Starters: These are my go because they ignite quickly, all natural, strong flame, burns long enough to ignite the charcoal in 10-15 minutes in camp fire style charcoal stacking and underneath a charcoal chimney. 2 can get the job done but sometimes use more just to bump up the heat to ignite the charcoal a bit quicker and hotter. My go to fire starters are Fogo Starters made by Fogo Charcoal and use these the most to ignite my charcoal and even my outdoor fire pit.

Fire Torch: I have two fire torches and love them both. The JJ George Fire Torch has strong flame but is a bit tiny, has a long rod but gets the job done and use it often. My Sear Pro torch has a crazy strong flame, short handle so you are close to the charcoal and sometimes the sparks fly everywhere when used directly on the charcoal to ignite. Both of these torches can it the charcoal when the flame is directly applied to it literally just a few minutes but I now us them more as a lighter to ignite the natural fire starters and save on propane that is needed to use the fire torches. Having a torch is highly recommended

Tortilla Chips: yes you can use tortilla chips to ignite charcoal but do only recommend this as a last resort option. The chips will light up and provide a flame but it’s a smaller flame and takes a bit longer to fire up the charcoal. Use about 3-4 chips or even the crumbs so don’t throw the chips away!

Side Burner: If you have a side burner on a dual fuel grill you can easily and quickly ignite charcoal using a charcoal chimney. Fill up the chimney, turn on the side burner heat on high, place the chimney over the flame and allow it to start up the charcoal for 3-5 mins. Turn off the side burner and allow the charcoal to completely warm up for an additional 10-mins. This is one of my favorite ways to ignite charcoal because it gets the job effectively and quickly!

Toilet Paper, oil and salt: On TikTok I received a comment about igniting charcoal with this combination. It ignited the charcoal in about 15 minutes but feel the salt is not needed and would rather not use toilet paper. This is a similar method I learned from Fogo Charcoal but they recommend us a paper towel and olive oil. Use this method on camp fire style charcoal stacking.

Paper Towel and Olive oil: Learned this method on the back of the Fogo Charcoal bag. Lightly soak a paper towel with olive oil. This is a method I use every so often especially when I’m out of natural fire starters and use it on camp fire style charcoal stacking.

Newspaper: Using newspaper underneath a charcoal chimney is a good way and cost effective way to ignite the charcoal. It can create a lot of smoke while igniting the charcoal and used a lot of newspaper in the beginning days of my BBQ journey and not a method I use too much any longer.

Blazaball: this is accessory holds in the natural fire starters and helps protect them from being touched by the charcoal and helps airflow in camp fire style charcoal stacking. This is an accessory I rarely use but will say it does work and helps the airflow to help quickly ignite the charcoal but I don’t like the space the blazaball takes away from the fire pit area and don’t like leaving it in the Pit while I’m cooking. Let’s just say I’m still getting use to using it.

Looftlighter: this is an electrical fire starter that works effective and once used quite often. It gets hot immediately and ignites the charcoal in about 5-10 minutes. The only reason why I don’t use this anymore is because I don’t like being plugged in due to the fire torches I have that use propane tanks and no electricity or cords get in the way