How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit (And Troubleshooting!)

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You’re trying to make the perfect dinner for your family, but you’re not sure how to keep your charcoal grill lit. You’ve come to the right place! 

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you will learn:

  • How to keep a charcoal grill lit
  • Tips for finding out why your charcoal grill won’t stay liy
  • And much more!
hot charcoals being pushed into a grill with food

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How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit

Many people prefer cooking on a charcoal grill simply because the flavor is so much better than using a gas grill. But for what they gain in flavor, they lack in ease of use as it can be difficult to keep a charcoal grill lit. 

There are several reasons your charcoal grill may not be staying lit. You need to check that your grill is dry, has ample airflow, and that your charcoals are stacked properly. If you still find you are having problems after that, it may be worthwhile to switch out the type of coal you are using. 

Not quite sure exactly how to remedy each situation? We’ve broken it down so it’s simple, read on to learn more.

Reasons Why Your Charcoal Grill Won’t Stay Lit

As mentioned above, there are several reasons our charcoal grill isn’t staying lit. We recommend going down this entire list and double-checking each potential problem against your current situation. 

1. It’s Wet

Charcoal won’t stay lit when it’s wet. Check to ensure yours is dry before you begin. If it’s not, allow it to dry a bit in your grill. We recommend storing charcoal somewhere dry to avoid this problem in the future. 

2. There Isn’t Enough Air

Fire needs air in order to burn. If you are smothering your coals by denying them access to air, there is no way they will stay lit. Check to ensure your air vents are open (and clean) and that your charcoal is in an arrangement where it can breathe. 

3. Your Charcoal Isn’t Arranged Right

While it may seem easy to dump your charcoal in a grill and go, this won’t allow for optimal burning. You should try staking your charcoals, or at least keeping them all together, as spreading them in one thin layer won’t keep them lit. We recommend looking into a chimney starter if you need help with this. 

4. You’re Using the Wrong Charcoal

There are actually two different types of charcoal, and they function completely differently from each other. While briquettes burn longer, they are also difficult to keep lit. Maybe consider trying lump charcoal instead. 

Also, know that cheap charcoal is cheap for a reason! You are better off using charcoal with a higher carbon content as this is what will stay lit the longest. 

5. You’re Closing the Lid Too Early

We understand you want to cook your steak with the lid closed. We do too. But know that you must keep the lid off while you are starting the charcoals. If they are only partially started, putting on the lid will stifle the progress they made. Yes, this means you will need to be patient. 

Supplies Needed to Keep Your Charcoal Grill Lit

You may not realize that a charcoal grill not staying lit may be because you have the wrong materials. Let’s look at what you should have on hand to keep a charcoal grill lit. 

  • Charcoal
  • Lighter
  • Newspaper
  • Dry wood or pine needles

Seems simple right? It is! Read on to see the steps below. 

How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit (6 Easy Steps)

Now that you know some reasons why your charcoal grill may be going out, it’s time to go over how to keep your charcoal grill lit. Surprisingly, much of this goes back to properly starting your charcoal grill in the first place. 

Here are the directions for properly lighting a charcoal grill which, if followed properly, should keep your charcoal lit. 

Step 1: Newspaper

Before you even think of putting charcoal in your grill, it’s time to crumple some newspaper. We recommend starting with at least 5 balls but having some on backup. Place these on the bottom of your grill near each other. 

Step 2: Pine Needles or Wood

Next, take some dry pine needles or wood chips and put them on top of the paper. Remember, these must be dry. 

Step 3: Arrange Charcoals

Take 5 charcoal and arrange them in a single layer on top of the newspaper balls. 

Step 4: Light the Paper

Start the fire by lighting the paper balls on fire. If they seem like they will extinguish before the wood has caught on fire, add more paper balls to the flame. Ensure the vents on your grill are open so air can reach the flame.

Step 5: Add More Charcoals

Once the initial charcoals have lit and you’ve got a decent flame going, slowly add more charcoals to the grill. We recommend stacking them a little bit for best results, but be careful not to cut the airflow from the already lit charcoals. 

Of course, if you have a chimney, you can do all of the aforementioned steps using your chimney. 

Step 6: Add the Food

Once you have a nice flame coming from your desired amount of charcoals, you can toss your food on and close the lid. 

And just like that, you should have some nice hot coals to cook over, and they shouldn’t go out!

Tips for Keeping Your Charcoal Grill Lit

We know that cooking with charcoal isn’t always easy, so here are some tips that can help you to keep them lit after you have started them properly. 

Tip 1: Use Lump Charcoal When it’s Humid

We know you can’t control the humidity in the air, and unfortunately, it can be rough to grill over charcoal when it’s humid. Briquettes worsen the problem as they absorb lots of moisture. So when the weather is muggy, use lump coal instead. 

Tip 2: Don’t Use Soaked Wood Chips

While it may seem ideal to soak some wood chips in whiskey for that perfect BBQ, if your charcoals won’t stay lit, your meat won’t cook. Skip the soaked wood chips this time around, and instead stick to dry ones for the sake of your meal. 

Tip 3: Clean Your Grill Regularly

Sometimes people find their charcoals are going out and check the air vent to find it is clogged. This typically happens when the ash isn’t chained out after you are finished grilling. To avoid this pesky problem, we recommend doing a quick clean of your grill after every use. 

Tip 4: Patience

Our final tip for you is to be patient. Closing the grill too early or putting your food on before the charcoal is ready will only cause the charcoals to go out and your meal to be half cooked. Take the time to build up a nice healthy bundle of charcoals before you even think of putting that steak on the grill.

Final Thoughts on How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit

Overall, it can be challenging as you learn to keep a charcoal grill lit. But once you ensure you aren’t making one of the common mistakes and that you are lighting the grill properly, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep a flame going. 

If you still find yourself struggling, check your quality of charcoal, as this could be the culprit. But also remember that cooking on charcoal takes patience, so you may want to start early to make sure the charcoals are nice and hot when it’s time to cook.

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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