How to Start a Charcoal Grill Without a Chimney or Lighter Fluid

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Do you want to start your charcoal grill but just realized you don’t have a chimney or lighter fluid? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

In this TheGrillingDad.com Guide, you will learn:

  • How to start  your charcoal grill without a chimney or lighter fluid
  • Tips for using your charcoal grill
  • And much more!
hot charcoals on fire

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What You Need to Know About Lighting Your Grill

There are numerous ways to start your charcoal grill, as all you need to do is find a way to get the charcoal to light on fire. In the past, this has led many people to use lighter fluid in order to get the job done quickly.

While lighter fluid works, it’s actually not a great way to start your charcoal grill. And while we are a fan of the chimney starter, you may not always have one with you, especially if you are on a camping trip and forgot some of your supplies at home. 

Either way, don’t panic, as we promise you will still be able to get your charcoal grill to light without either of these items. You just have to start by thinking outside the…grill?

Related >> Best Charcoal Grills

Why You Should Start Your Charcoal Grill Without a Chimney or Lighter Fluid

Many people take the easy route and use lighter fluid, but this can be dangerous, and it is one of the number one ways people get burned while grilling.

Not to mention that lighter fluid is poisonous and can be nerve-wracking to keep on hand in a home where small children could get ahold of it accidentally. Even if you don’t have kids and use lighter fluid safely, it can still cause your food to have a chemical taste.

Therefore it is actually better to learn to start your charcoal grill without using lighter fluid. While a chimney is a great and easy alternative, it costs money, and you may not have one on hand right now.

Keep reading to learn more about the other methods you can use to start your charcoal grill that doesn’t involve a chimney or lighter fluid. 

facts about lighter fluid poisoning

Tools You Need to Start Your Charcoal Grill

Because there are a few different methods to starting a charcoal grill without a chimney or lighter fluid, you likely won’t need all of the supplies below to get your grill going. But you will need a few, so be sure you have some of the below items on hand before you begin trying to start your charcoal grill. 

  • Newspapers
  • Olive Oil (or Canola Oil)
  • Sticks
  • Dry grass or pine needles
  • Matches (Or a Lighter)

Have some of these things on hand? Let’s get started!

How to Start  a Charcoal Grill With Newspaper 

In a pinch, you can start a charcoal grill with newspaper only (or any other paper you can find).

Just know that you will need a lot of this paper for this method to work. But it can be a real lifesaver when you are camping, and it has recently rained (aka the sticks are too wet to use for kindling!)

Step 1: Crumple and Arrange

Crumble five or more balls of newspaper and put them on the bottom of your grill. 

Step 2: Place Charcoal

Place 4-5 pieces of charcoal on top of the paper balls. Ensure you have more paper handy as it will take a while for the charcoal to catch. 

Step 3: Light the Paper

Light the paper on fire using matches or a lighter in multiple places. A fire should start to burn and hopefully catch the coals on the fire. 

Step 4: More Paper

If the paper is almost burned and the coals still aren’t lit, continue to add more until they do finally light. 

Step 5: Add Charcoal

Once smoke begins to billow from your grill, this means the charcoals have lit. Slowly begin to increase the charcoals in the grill. 

Don’t dump too many on at once, as this can extinguish the coals. Slow and steady is best when lighting a charcoal grill!

Step 6: Distribute and Cook

By now, you should have a decent amount of lit coals. Distribute them around the bottom of your charcoal grill and begin cooking!  

Related >> How To Make a Charcoal Grill Hotter

lit charcoal inside of a black weber kettle grill with a grill grate leaning next to it

Starting Your Grill With Newspaper and Oil Method

Don’t want to keep shoving balls of paper on your charcoal grill to get the charcoals to start?

Well, if you’ve got some cooking oil on hand, you can soak half of each piece of the paper in oil to get a longer-lasting burn.

We recommend using olive oil, but you can use any cooking grade oil you would like. Repeat the steps from method one (above), but use these half oil-soaked sheets instead, lighting the dry part of the sheet in step 3. 

Lighting Your Grill With Newspaper(or Dry Grass) and Stick Method

The newspaper and stick method is by far our favorite. So if you have access to dry sticks and newspapers where you are, definitely try this method first!

Step 1: Crumple and Arrange

Start by crumpling 5 balls of newspaper and putting them in the bottom of your grill. 

Step 2: Place Sticks

Arrange a small pile of dry sticks on top of the balls of paper. 

Step 3: Place Charcoal

Place 5 pieces of charcoal on top of the sticks.

Step 4: Light the Paper

Just as with the other methods, you will start by lighting the paper in a few different places and watch for the sticks to also catch fire. 

If the paper is almost burned and the sticks haven’t caught yet, add more paper balls to the flame. 

Step 5: Add More Charcoal

Once the charcoals have lit and have begun to produce smoke, you can slowly add more charcoals to the grill. Remember, there is no need to rush this step as you risk putting out the charcoals you have already successfully lit. 

Step 6: Disperse and Cook

When all of your charcoals have lit, disperse them around your grill and start cooking!

Note: This method is possible without newspapers. You can replace the newspapers with pine needles, dry grass, or anything that is very easy to light on fire that will burn long enough to catch the sticks.

Related >> How To Control the Temperature of a Charcoal Grill

How Much Charcoal Do You Need to Start a Charcoal Grill?

You are probably looking at the above methods and wondering how much charcoal you should add after the initial 5 pieces. Generally, the average small charcoal grill will need 20-30 pieces of charcoal to cook food properly.

Of course, the final number depends on how large your grill is and how much you plan to cook. For extremely long cooking sessions, you may find you need to add to the charcoal coals mid-session.

For medium size grills, you should have at least 40 charcoals on hand for the average cooking session. And for those with a large or commercial grill, buy a bag or two of charcoal and know that the newspaper method for starting your charcoal grill probably won’t work for you!

Final Thoughts on Starting a Charcoal Grill Without a Chimney or Lighter Fluid

As you can see, it is actually very simple to start a charcoal grill without lighter fluid, so why take the risk of using it? While we still recommend purchasing a chimney while you are in a bind, the aforementioned methods can help you to have your charcoal grill cooking in no time! 

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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