How To Light Charcoal Without Fluid Lighter: 11 Efficient And Eco-Friendly Options

Fluid lighter has been around for a long while, but it is currently being frowned upon because of the stinky fumes it leaves on food. Moreover, the charcoal does not stay lit for long. But you do not have to stay wound up with it. There are several other ways you can light charcoal without a fluid lighter.

Grilling and BBQing with charcoal add a natural smoke aroma to your food. Fluid lighters replace the smoke aroma with a toxic residue and chemical aftertaste.

This can be disappointing and frustrating, especially when you have invested so much – time and ingredients – in grilling.

Additionally, there is a higher risk for injuries because you handle fire directly. So, continue scrolling if you have been looking for other options besides the common fluid lighter when grilling or BBQing.

How to light charcoal without fluid lighter

1. Newspaper and chimney starter

newspaper and chimney starter - millenora

To light charcoal with newspaper and a chimney starter, start with a small amount of charcoal to ensure progressive and even burning. Squeeze the paper and put the rolls under the chimney starter.

Light the paper and place the chimney starter over it. The heat from the burning newspaper will rise to the top of the charcoal and saturate it. You can now add more charcoal to the chimney.

When the coals are hot enough and have begun to turn slightly grey or ashen, carefully pour the burning coals into the grilling chamber and arrange them properly using long tongs.

Newspaper and chimney starters give your food the natural smoke aroma, unlike the noxious smell and petroleum aftertaste of fluid lighters. You can also work with only newspapers. Roll up old newspapers, load them into the grilling chamber, and light them up.

Keep an eye on the burning papers and add more if need be. Ensure that the charcoal ignites before the fire goes off. While the paper burns, keep the vents open to allow airflow into the grill.

2. Electric starters

electric starters to light charcoal instead of fluid lighter - millenora

Electric starters use heat from a U-shaped coil to light the charcoal. This device heats up once it is plugged into an electric source. Place the heated coil under the charcoal and watch it transform into a heap of gray ash.

The good thing about using an electric starter to light charcoal is that it is eco-friendly, unlike fluid lighter. The mode of operation of electric starters varies with brands. Always check the guidelines on the pack for directions.

3. Egg crates

egg crates with charcoal - millenora

Remember those empty egg crates you were going to trash? Here’s a good way to put them to use. Dust them and arrange pieces of charcoal in the holes meant for eggs.

Then, place the crates of coal in the grilling chamber and light them in all four corners. As the crates burn, the heat will close in on the pieces of charcoal and ignite them.

4. Propane grill torches

propane grill torches to light charcoal in place of fluid lighter - millenora

A propane grill torch is easy to use and ignites charcoal quickly. Once you turn on the gas knob and igniter switch, it is ready to heat any piece of charcoal that it comes in contact with. Propane torches are the best options for large grills or smokers.

They generate so much heat that can light up coals and the grill or smoker. Because of this, you must keep an eye on this torch to avoid hazards. Also, if you are cooking for a large crowd, you will need to have an available supply of propane.

5. Paper towels and olive oil/alcohol

how to  light charcoal with paper and whiskey instead of fluid lighter - millenora

Olive oil, vegetable oil, and alcohol work alike. They require a medium like paper to transfer heat to the coals.

Soak the paper towels in the oil or alcohol, place the paper between the coals, and light them up. Allow the paper some minutes to ignite the coals.

You should be very careful with alcohol because it ignites violently and can lead to burns if you are too close. Always keep a distance when dropping the igniting match on the alcohol-soaked papers.

If you don’t have vegetable oil, you can use lard or bacon grease. You can also use whiskey if you have it on hand.

6. Bison AirLighter

bison airlighter - millenora

A Bison AirLighter is a perfect alternative to a fluid lighter when going camping. It is easy to carry and very efficient. The Bison AirLighter has both a torch and a blower to keep the fire burning. It will get your grill ready to cook in less than ten minutes.

7. Paraffin wax cubes

Paraffin wax cubes - millenora

Paraffin wax cubes are non-toxic, odorless materials you can use to light charcoal instead of a fluid lighter. It does not leave ash behind like paper. It ignites fast, does not smoke, and is environmentally friendly.

Arrange the cubes at the bottom of your chimney starter or underneath the pile of charcoal. Then, light the paraffin wax cubes and wait for the heat to distribute around the charcoal.

8. Paper and kindling

paper and kindling  for lighting charcoal - millenora

Paper and kindling are inexpensive alternatives to light charcoal without a fluid lighter. Before you begin, open the vent of the grill to allow proper airflow and even burning of the coals.

Arrange the kindling – dry sticks or twigs – in the lower grate of the grill. Then, crumple old papers into balls and place them on top of the kindling. Layer charcoal briquettes on the balls of paper. Arrange all materials properly to support the distribution of heat.

Ignite the paper at multiple points for an even distribution of heat. Give the paper some minutes to burn and ignite the charcoal. Also, keep the lid of the grill open for proper airflow until the coals begin to transform into a heap of gray ash.

You can close the lid of the grill to preheat and get the grates ready for grilling. If you are opting for paper and kindling, do not use colored paper or paper with a glossy surface. The chemicals in these papers could leach into your food and affect its taste.

9. Heat gun/torch

heat gun to light charcoal - millenora

Heat guns were not made for igniting charcoal, but they can suffice if you want to avoid the noxious fumes of fluid lighters. However, you need to be close to an electrical outlet to use these devices. They can heat up to 750-1000°F.

After plugging the heat gun, point it to the base of the charcoal. Hold it in place until the coals ignite and begin to glow. Do this to as many pieces of coal as possible. Gradually, the entire charcoal will ignite. Then, you can turn off the heat gun and get ready to grill.

With heat guns, you can be sure that there will be no smell or taste of chemicals in your food. The only downside to them is the need for electricity which may not always be available.

10. Briquettes fire starter

fire starter in briquettes - millenora

Firestarters are easy to use. All you need is the fire starter, briquettes, a matchbox or lighter, and some patience. First, open the grate and vents to allow free flow of air. Then, add the coals place the fire starter in the middle of the coals, and light it up.

Close the lid and leave it for 10 minutes or more until the coals light up. As the fire starter burns away, you will see the light on the coals spread and burn evenly.

You can speed up burning by positioning a fan in the direction of the burning coals. The fan increases air circulation and speeds up burning. You can begin your grilling or BBQing already.

11. Hot air charcoal starters

hot air charcoal starters - millenora

Hot air charcoal starters use superheated air to ignite coals. It is safer to light charcoal with hot air charcoal starters than fluid lighters. Although it is pricier, its efficiency makes up for the cost.

How to arrange charcoal properly to ensure even burning

There are different ways to arrange charcoal in a grill to ensure even burning. It all depends on the type of food you want to cook.

For foods that cook quickly like vegetables, pizzas, and some proteins, you need a single layer of coals in the grill to supply direct but gentle heat for even cooking. You can regulate the cooking temperature by adjusting the vents at intervals.

Use the 2-zone method for cooking multiple food items that cook at different temperature and cooking time. To do this, you will fill only one-half of the grill with coal to create a hot and cool side.

Arrange the coals in an even layer, so that there is intense heat on one half and mild (indirect) heat on the other half of the grill where there are no coals.

After searing in the hot part, move the meat to the other side (without coals) to finish cooking.

When cooking food items that need charring, use the pan arrangement. Arrange the coals in a pan and place it at the center of the grill, so that intense, direct heat cooks the food. This method is usually used for grilling burgers, chicken cutlets, and thin steaks.

Foods like pork loins, whole chicken, or ribs require long cooking times. For the best result, you should arrange the coals in such a way that they indirectly heat the food. Arrange the coals on opposite ends of the grill.

With this arrangement, the meats do not burn and there are no flame flare-ups due to melting fat that drops into the fire. Before you close the grill, fill an aluminum tin (or any container that won’t catch fire) with water for extra moisture while the food items cook.

Is the lighting method the same for all types of grills?

While all lighting methods can work with all grill types, some methods best suit some types of grills.

For instance, despite the disapproval of the fluid lighter, it is the best lighting method for portable grills. This grill does not need extra gear and you can carry them around. Moreover, it is easy to use.

Chimney starters are best for kettle and park-style grills and electric starters are good for barrel and built-in/custom grills.


outdoor charcoal grilling - millenora

Is wood better than charcoal for grilling or BBQing?

While wood fire grills can be difficult to control, they help to bring out all the natural flavors in your food through the organic compounds that are released as the wood burns.

It is easier to control the heat in a charcoal grill, but it tends to make more mess with its black dust. Also, wood burns longer. This is highly beneficial when grilling tough meats like brisket and pulled pork which take hours to get ready.

Are briquettes better than lump charcoal?

Lump charcoal is the preferred material for generating heat in grills and smokers. Its purity and jagged surface make it light quickly and burn fast. It is the best choice for fast and hot cooking.

On the other hand, briquettes are not pure. They are wood and filler that have been compressed into smooth, round pieces of coal. Briquettes burn evenly, which makes them preferred for low and slow cooking.

Also, lump charcoal burns out quickly unlike charcoal briquettes that produce long-lasting heat. Also, lump charcoal adds more flavor to your meals.

Should you leave the grill open when lighting charcoal?

Yes, you should. Leaving your grill open while you light the coal exposes it to the free flow of air that supports the burning of the coals.


Newspaper and chimney starters, electric starters, propane grill torches, paper towels and cooking oil, and the several other materials listed above are better options than fluid lighters. So, this is goodbye to the unappealing fumes and petroleum aftertaste.

Fluid lighters do not last long, and the flame is not lit for long too. However, you should remember that these materials are not without their downsides, but they are preferable.

Elevate your grilling experience with this guide on how to grill food during summer.

Thanks for reading.