Back when I was young lighting a charcoal grill meant that you soaked the charcoal with lighter fluid and tossed in a match. Sometimes it started, but most often it didn’t. So, manufacturers came up with self-lighting charcoal, so no need for the lighter fluid. That is not how to light a charcoal grill. Some people still do it that way, but for most the idea of cooking your food over those chemicals and fumes, isn’t very appealing.
Things have advanced since I was young, and there are a couple of ways to light charcoal this is cleaner, and safer, so no more burgers with a chemical smell, or singed eyebrows.
First off there is an electric charcoal starter. Basically an electric charcoal lighter is a looped heating element that you put under your pile of charcoal. For most types you plug it in and wait for the coals to ignite. Usually it will take about 15 minutes for the coals to light, but with some models it takes less.
These electric starters are easy to use, but there are a couple of drawbacks to them. First, they don’t light the charcoal evenly since there is only a looped heating element. The other problem is that you need to be near a power outlet, which may not be an issue for some, but for others it’s a big drawback.
I find that the electric charcoal starters are great if you are using a small charcoal grill, like a hibachi, or if you are using a deep grill like ceramic big green egg or komado grill. If you are looking to get an electric charcoal lighter, this one is a great choice because it has more wattage than most, and has a double loop for more coverage area.
The most popular method for lighting a charcoal grill and the one that I use most often is using a chimney starter. This type of charcoal starter is large, hollow metal cylinder that sits upright. It has a wire partition in it in which the charcoal sits on, and crumpled newspaper goes underneath. I use crumpled up newspaper, but instead you could also use paraffin starters.
Basically how it works is you take about three loosely crumpled up pieces of newspaper and place it at the bottom of the charcoal chimney starter. You then place it on the bottom grate of your charcoal grill. You then fill the chimney with charcoal briquettes; you can also use lump charcoal, or even chunks of wood.
With a long match, or a lighter, light the newspaper. It will be smoky at first, but in around 15 to 20 minutes depending upon the size of the chimney or how full it is, you should have blazing coals. Once the coals are glowing, you can dump them on the bottom grate of your charcoal grill. Wear some heavy, protective gloves, because there will be a lot of heat when you pour the coals.
A chimney starter is perfect for getting coals started quickly and evenly. Here is the one that I use, it is a really popular model that is large, and heavy-duty. So, if you are looking how to light a charcoal grill in a clean and safe manner, your two best choices are either an electric charcoal starter, or a charcoal chimney starter.