How to light a charcoal BBQ - foolproof methods for firing up your grill

Don't make summoning a flame harder than it needs to be

A barbecue situated against a tiled wall in a garden
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Picking up tips on how to light a charcoal BBQ ahead of your next garden party is essential if you want to avoid stressing out over hot coals in front of your hungry guests.

Especially since charcoal BBQs are often considered to be the best BBQ type of foodies everywhere, this is the skill to pick up if you've got alfresco entertaining on your agenda. 

With these easy methods lighting a charcoal BBQ like the Weber Original Kettle is about to get a whole lot easier, and once you know how, you'll earn the respect of everyone at the grilling station forever. Here are our essential charcoal BBQ lighting tips, including foolproof methods to turn back to time and time again. 

How to light a charcoal BBQ

If you're here, then you likely need a way of getting your BBQ lit and fast. But even if you're in a rush, think about your safety first.

Home and lifestyle insurance expert Matthew Harwood from advises checking the following before you take your sausages out of the fridge.

'Use a flat surface. Make sure the BBQ placed on a flat, flame-retardant surface, so that embers or coals cannot spill out onto grass and plants, which could be a risk. Also, always barbecue at least 10 feet from your property.'

Garden furniture, kitchen island, utensils, bbq, barbecue, alfresco, wooden decking, herbs, plants, lanterns, .

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Matthew goes onto say 'Never leave the barbecue unattended. And be prepared. Always make sure the fire is fully extinguished, as even the smallest of embers can allow it to grow again.'

With that said and done, let's get all up in that grill and start lighting.

How to light a charcoal BBQ without fire starters

There is one method that is often relied on for lighting charcoal BBQs quickly: fire starters or firelighters. While most definitely effective, traditional fire lighters are not necessarily the most environmentally friendly choice out there. 

Instead, why not use newspaper instead for a quick way to get your fire started? Hilary Anderson, BBQ expert and Char-Broil UK ambassador, advocates for the newspaper method.

'“The traditional method is to scrunch up some old newspaper into loosely packed balls and place them underneath a neat stack of fuel, whether it is wood or quality charcoal, then light away with matches or a BBQ lighter.

Within ten to fifteen minutes your charcoal should be burning with hints of red or amber glow and will begin to naturally light up the surrounding coals. Wait for any smoke to pass, check with your hand about 4 to 6 inches away from the fuel that it is warm enough to cook and, voila, you are ready to BBQ!'

Corner of garden with tabletop BBQ, festoon lighting and potted plants

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

And if you're still keen to use firefighters, then why not look into eco-friendly alternatives? This pack of 200 from Amazon should keep you stocked up for a good while.

How to light a charcoal BBQ using a chimney starter

What's a chimney starter, I hear you ask? These canisters, like this very popular one made by Weber, provide a vessel for you to light your charcoal in a quicker time. 

Thanks to the cone-shaped bottom, which encourages tour charcoal briquettes to take flame rapidly, investing in a chimney starter makes for foolproof fire lighting.

outdoor kitchen with white base, grey worktop, BBQ, white floor tiles, hanging chair, turquoise side table, rug, bar stools

(Image credit: Future PLC)

You can then take the handles on the top of the chimney and deposit your already hot coals into your BBQ and voilà, you're good to go. Hilary Anderson is also a signed-up fan of using a chimney starter. 

'A handy addition to your BBQ toolkit is a chimney starter where you add the charcoal in the top, firelighters underneath and when it is lit then pour the fuel into your BBQ – a worthwhile investment that is safer, more efficient and will keep your hands cleaner.'

Another popular gadget for lighting without using firefighters is the Looftlighter Hot Air Barbecue Lighter, which is available for £74.99 at Lakeland. This tool uses a stream of 600°C air to light your coals with no firefighters or lighter fluid needed. And it's not just BBQs it's good for, it also works wonders with the best fire pits, or with fireplaces or wood burners. 

Though the initial cost is quite pricey, it comes highly recommended for all sorts of fire lighting, and once you've cashed out once, you'll be able to use it for years. It'll be especially cost-effective if you're planning on spending a lot of time outdoors this summer too. 


Do you light a charcoal BBQ with the lid on or off?

In order to start your charcoal BBQ up, you need to leave the lid off during the lighting process in order to promote air flow. Once the coals are adequately heated you can then pop the lid on if necessary to preheat your grill if you need to achieve a certain temperature. 

Why won't my charcoal light?

If your charcoal is failing to light in your BBQ, then it might be the case that there's not enough air flow to sustain a flame. To solve this, check your air vents on your BBQ and make sure to open them to promote more oxygen inside your BBQ. 

Molly Cleary
Ecommerce Editor

After writing for all of Future's Homes titles, Molly is now an Ecommerce Editor at Ideal Home, working across a range of shopping content to find the best buys for your space. Previously, she was the Staff Writer at TopTenReviews, another Future site, where she covered home content, which to a US audience is anything from turkey fryers to ride-on lawn mowers. Now, she spends her time writing reviews of appliances she’s tested at home and at our testing facility (we're talking air fryers, vacuums, dehumidifiers and more!), as well as curating buying guides. She's a certified Consumer Expert for several product categories after passing a five-step program including hands-on experience, consumer interviews and extensive research into her specialist areas including kitchen appliances and vacuums.