Why You Shouldn't Use Lighter Fluid
The worst way to light charcoal is by using lighter fluid, kerosene, or any hydrocarbons. They soak into the coals, and will emit noxious vapors. Not to mention, these products stay in the smoke, in turn giving your food an awful chemical flavor. This also includes easy lighting charcoal. There are so many fillers and binders involved in the manufacturing process, that it's essentially the same as using lighter fluid. Natural lump charcoal lights faster, burns hotter, contains no additives or filler materials, and can be re-used multiple times.
How Much Charcoal Do You Need?
As a basic rule of thumb, the more charcoal you have, the hotter your fire will be. If using a chimney starter, filling it about halfway full will give you a nice medium heat for cooking foods like burgers or hot dogs. For high heat, like when grilling or searing steaks, fill the chimney all the way to the top. The size and shape of your grill will dictate how much charcoal is necessary. Consult your grill's owner's manual for a recommended amount.
Methods of Lighting Charcoal
- Chimney Starter:
- There is no better way to light your charcoal than with a chimney starter. Remove the cooking grate from your grill, fill the top of your chimney starter with charcoal, and use either newspaper or firestarters to light the coals from the bottom. A chimney starter works by creating an updraft. The hot air from the fire rises and sucks oxygen in through the bottom, which ignites the coals. In about fifteen minutes, your coals will be white hot and ready to use. Make sure your vents on the bottom of your grill are open, pour the charcoal into the bottom of your grill, replace the cooking grate, and you're ready to go!
- Using a looftlighter makes lighting charcoal super easy, and will allow you to begin grilling in a matter of minutes. Simply arrange your charcoal in the bottom of your grill, place the looftlighter into the charcoal, and press the button. Once sparks appear, pull the looftlighter slightly backwards. No lighter fluid, no matches, no hassle.
- Electric Starter:
- An electric charcoal starter is a coil similar to those on a hotplate. Arrange your coals, and place the coil into the pile. As the coals begin to ignite, remove the coil and mix the them together. It ignites only the coals that are in contact with the coil, so you'll need to effectively stir them to make sure they're all lit.
Discarding Dust and Ashes
There is often dust and small particles in the bottom of a charcoal bag. Pouring them into your grill can compromise the airspace between coals and constrict overall airflow. The amount of oxygen received can be just as important as the amount of charcoal! In addition, it is also important to discard the ashes from the bottom of your grill after each use. They can reduce the amount of heat allowed to escape through the bottom of the grill, and can potentially coat your food with a layer of residue.
Stopping Your Charcoal Fire
The easiest way to stop a charcoal fire is to suffocate it. By closing all air vents, the coals will die in about an hour. If using a non-ceramic grill, you can also extinguish a charcoal fire with water. Keep in mind that wet ashes can form a crust that can be difficult to clean and can also corrode your grill.