Lighter fluid is a quick and convenient way to get your coals ready for action. But did you know that it’s not strictly necessary? If you’re out of lighter fluid or just don’t want to add chemicals to your coals, you have other options–and none of them involve “match light” briquettes, which are an abomination to true pitmasters. Take a look at our charcoal lighter fluid substitute suggestions before you strike that next match.
1. Chimney Starter
The most obvious charcoal lighter fluid substitute is a chimney starter. These nifty devices will eliminate the need for any chemicals or additives. As a result, the food you cook will have a more natural taste.
To use a chimney starter, fill the chamber with briquettes. Don’t be tempted to overfill it–you’ll only need as much charcoal as you would normally use. Roll up a wad of newspaper and stick it in the bottom of the chimney.
Next, place the chimney in the center of the grill and light the newspaper using a long match or a stick lighter. Watch for a few minutes to ensure that the coals have ignited; if they haven’t, you’ll have to start again with a fresh wad of newspaper.
After about 15 minutes, put on a pair of heatproof gloves and carefully pour the lit briquettes into the cooking chamber. Replace the grilling grates and wait for another 10-15 minutes before you start to cook.
If you’re having trouble visualizing the process, this video tutorial should give you the information you need.
2. Electric Starter
These tools consist of an oval- or U-shaped piece of metal set into a handle. The metal element heats up when the device is plugged into an electrical outlet. To use one, set the lighter beneath the briquettes and plug it in. Wait until the coals are coated in a thin layer of gray ash before unplugging and removing the starter.
If you don’t have a chimney starter or electric starter, plain old newspaper can help you get those coals glowing.
You’ll need to make sure the grill is set up in a draft-free zone and completely free of residual ash and dirt. Also, open the vents as far as they’ll go before adding the newspaper. These steps will keep the oxygen flowing in the right direction.
Next, crumple up 5-6 sheets of newspaper and place them in the center of the grilling chamber. Set the desired amount of charcoal briquettes on top, making sure you can still see a bit of the paper peeking through the gaps.
Light the newspaper on fire and watch to make sure the coals ignite. If they don’t, carefully remove the briquettes and try again, this time dousing half of the newspaper sheets in vegetable oil or lard before adding it to the chamber. You can also try adding a handful of very dry wood chips to the top of the newspaper, to give the flames something to bite into, so to speak.
4. Lard or Vegetable Oil
As we just mentioned, cooking oils and animal fat are effective fire starters as well. Soak a few paper towels in vegetable oil, lard, or bacon grease, then use the same method we described for the newspaper technique, above.
Stand back and use caution when lighting the towels, as they can flare up easily. We would recommend trying bacon fat if you have it on hand–it can boost the flavor of your grilled meats.
Whiskey is the most popular choice for this method because of its generous sugar content, but any high-proof liquor will do.
Drench a few paper towels in the liquor, then add the towels to the coals. Again, you’ll need to be very careful when you start the fire. We would recommend dropping a lit match onto the paper instead of using a lighter to avoid flare-ups.
6. Egg Carton
You can also recycle the cardboard box that your eggs came in by using it as kindling during your next barbecue. To do so, remove the lid of the carton and place the briquettes in the spots where the eggs would go. Set the carton in the cooking chamber and light all four corners of the cardboard. As the carton burns, it will slowly ignite the coals.