How to Keep a Grill Lit: All the Do’s and Don’ts

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Despite so many conversations on how charcoal grills are wasteful and bad for the environment, people can’t seem to stop using them. 

The onion grill trend might be grass grill at the moment, but the charm of good ol’ fashioned charcoal grill stays the same. 

Maybe it’s due to the irreplaceable smoky flavors or the gorgeous char marks on stakes, charcoal grill is not going anywhere anytime soon.

One issue however, people have with them is how tricky it is to start a fire on them. And if you manage to actually do so, it does not want to stay lit. 

So in this guide, we will explore how to keep a grill lit. We will also see the best methods of firing up a charcoal grill. And as a bonus, you will get our expert tips for the best BBQ experience!

How to Light a Charcoal BBQ with Fire Starters

Charcoal BBQ with Fire Starters

The easiest way to light a charcoal BBQ is to use fire starters. It takes approximately 40 minutes for it to heat up all the way through. Here’s how you do it.

01. Use Enough Briquettes:

Most people end up using too little charcoal and the fire dies very fast. Use enough briquettes so this doesn’t happen. Read the instructions behind your charcoal package and it should say how much you’ll need for a certain period of grilling.

02. Pile ‘em Up!

Do not spread the charcoal all over the grill. Instead pile them in one spot like a pyramid. It’s better to pile all the charcoal in one corner of the grill. 

03. Place All Natural Starter Cubes:

Now it’s time to bring out your starter cubes. Use all natural ones as they don’t contain any chemicals. 

Place them in different corners in the pile. Tuck them inside so the fire gets all the way through.

04. Open the Vent:

Light up the fire starter cubes using an automatic fire starter. Then open the vent of your BBQ grill. This will cause the air to flow easily and make the charcoal lit up faster.

05. Start the Timer:

Start the timer and wait for 40-45 minutes. Fire starters are the easiest way but it does take more than half an hour for the grill to be ready. So always plan ahead for your BBQs.

You can simply go somewhere else and go to your BBQ marination or other tasks. When the timer goes off, your grill will be ready. 

How to Start a Charcoal Grill with Lighter Fluid

lighting a charcoal grill

Lighter fluid is probably the most common method of lighting up a charcoal grill. Well loved by all dads around the world, this method can be quite risky if you are not being careful. 

Lighter fluid lights up inconsistently. So it can be tricky to learn how to do it the most efficient way. We recommend following these simple steps.

  1. First you have to arrange your charcoal and gather them together into a pyramid-like shape. So it should go from larger to smaller piles. 
  2. Pour the lighter fluid evenly over all the coals. Be sure to read the instructions on the packaging to know exactly how much you need to use.
  3. In general, you need a light even coating but not too much. Do not pour the liquid in one spot. 
  4. Wait 30 seconds for the coals to absorb the liquid. Then lit it up with a matchstick. 
  5. You can use a grill lighter to light the coals in separate places. Once the coals are lit, don’t add any more fluids. 
  6. It might take a few minutes for the coals to catch fire. But once they do, you can spread them evenly using a stick and start grilling. 

Tips for Getting Started with Charcoal Grills

  • It’s important to prepare the grill for lighting.  This part needs to be done long before you start. Make sure to buy the best quality charcoal you can find within your budget. 

    If you save bucks in this step, your food might end up tasting a bit off. As the charcoal gives the smokiness, picking the right type is essential. 
  • Choosing the right charcoal includes figuring out whether you want big lumps or smaller chunks. What kind of scent you want. 

    Whether you want hardwood or oak or cedar. Certain dishes benefit from certain smokes. So do your research on this part.
  • Arranging the charcoal is not as simple as you might think. You can’t just dump all your charcoal into the grill. You need to arrange the pieces from bigger to smaller. 

    This way you get the best smokiness and result. The way you spread your charcoal also ensures even/uneven heat distribution. 

How to Keep a Grill Lit

how to keep a grill lit

If you struggle to keep your grill lit, there might be some stuff you’re doing wrong. Here’s our simple guide to keep your charcoal grill lit and ready for cooking:

01. Use Dry Charcoal:

This one is pretty obvious but your charcoal needs to be dry. Sometimes when we store our charcoal in the garage on concrete floors, it gets damp and wet. 

Using those charcoal can make the grill smoke way too much. They might not even lit up in the first place. So make sure your charcoal is dry. 

02. Dampers: 

Dampers are very important to keep a grill lit and hot. Every charcoal grill comes with one or two damers. 

They control and moderate the airflow and keep the fire going. You can control the dampers to moderate how high or low the fire should be. 

Pampers basically let oxygen run through the charcoal. More oxygen means more fire. So when you’re preheating, open the vents and let the oxygen do it’s thing. 

03. Always Stack up:

Charcoal should be stacked rather than scattered. When you stack your charcoal, the fire stays the same and high for a longer period of time. The charcoal then works as a shield and keeps the temperature consistent. 

It’s ideal to stack up your charcoal right in the middle of the grill. This way the fire can reach every single corner.

04. Clean Your Grill:

This is no other obvious one but you need to clean your charcoal grill more often. If you don’t clean your grill on a regular basis, the ashes and grimes can cause it to not stay lit for a long time. So clean your astray more than you think you have to.

05. Consider the Weather:

The weather plays a very influential role in keeping a grill lit. If the weather is humid, the charcoal can get damp and thus not lit up properly.

If the weather is too windy, the fire can die from the high airflow. Breeze is not your friend in grilling. You might need to use some sort of shield or cover the grill with its lid to prevent the fire from dying. 

How to Keep Charcoal Grill Hot

Keep Adding Charcoals:

As you turn on the fire and the charcoal starts burning, you have to keep adding more charcoal after a certain amount of time. As the charcoal keeps burning, they disintegrate, so the quantity decreases overtime. 

Adding more charcoal helps to keep the temperature steady so your charcoal grill stays hot.

Add Wood Chunks:

Many people get intimidated by woods. They don’t add wood for BBQs. Many things can go wrong with wood. You can pick the wrong type that creates a bad odor, it can be too damp. 

But if you can pick good quality wood chunks, they will help to keep the charcoal grill hot for longer. They are great at keeping the fire alive. 

Invest in a Temperature Probe:

If you are passionate about grilling, it’s smart to invest in a temperature probe. If you want to keep your grill stable and at a specific temperature level, keep an eye on the temperature prble. 

This way whenever the temp is going down, you can add a few bits of wood or change the airflow to fix it.

Create 2-Zones:

Most modern gas grills come with double grilling zones. If you want to keep your charcoal grill hot for longer, creating double zones is essential.

What it basically means is, you have to create direct and indirect heating. This helps to use your grill in a very versatile manner. You can even use it as a smoker. 

To do that, you have to move all the coals to one side after lighting them up. Put them on either the left or right side in a stacked manner. 

Then put the grill grates back on. Once the grates are in place, you will notice half of the grate is super high in temperature while the other half is moderately hot. So you can sear your steaks on the hot side for a few minutes then move it to the moderate hot side. 

This helps to not only use the coals in an efficient way, but also makes cooking faster and versatile. You will be able to cook a few different types of meat at the same time. Due to seperation, the moderate hot side remains steady in temperature which is perfect for grilling.

How to Stop Charcoal Grill 

If you are done with cooking and want to put out your charcoal grill, there is a fool-proof method for it.

You can simply close the lid. Yes it can be this easy. When you are tired and can’t be bothered, close the lids and vents on your grill and let it sit like that for a while. 

The lack of oxygen will eventually cause the fire to die. The coals however can take 2-3 days to completely cool down. This method is by far the safest way to put out a charcoal grill.

Frequently Asked Questions

01. Can I Add More Charcoal While Cooking?

Yes you can. You can definitely add more charcoal during and in-between grilling. Infact, we recommend doing so. This is a great way to keep the temperature steady. 

As you cook, the colas start to disintegrate. Longer grilling can cause them to decrease in amount. So adding a few scoops of charcoal in between grilling can actually help. 

We recommend doing it in smaller amounts. Instead of adding a big portion of charcoal, divide it in 3-4 parts and add them in a closed interval. This way the temperature won’t suddenly drop due to cold charcoal. 

02. Can I Pour Water on My Charcoal Grill? 

No matter what you do, never pour water directly on hot charcoal. Yes it will definitely put out the fire but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. 

The thermal shock of drastic temperature change can cause your grill to crack. This is not  a joke when grills are so expensive to begin with! 

Another issue with pouring water over hot charcoal is the sudden cloud of steam. It can be hazardous and cause your eyes to water severely. 

Then after all this imagine the cleanup you’ll have to do. You’ll have to remove all the charcoal from the grill, clean the bottom of the grill very thoroughly to remove the ash and water. It can get very messy. So why bother?

03. Does Closing the Grill Make It Hotter? 

Contrary to popular beliefs, closing the grill does not make it hotter. In fact, it cools down the coals and turns the temperature down. 

The misconception probably comes from traditional cooking. When you are cooking on the stove and you put a lid on a pot, the inner temperature increases because the air can not get out. In grilling however, the opposite happens.

This is due to the vents underneath the grill. Those vents provide oxygen which causes the coal to burn faster. The faster the coal burns, the higher the temperature gets. 

So when you put a lid on, the air can jto pass through cand the charcoal starts too slow-burn. It’s a great way to smoke your food as the temperature remains steady and low.

04. Why Does My Fire Keep Going Out on My Grill? 

If your fire keeps going out, chances are there isn’t enough air ventilation going on. Fire needs oxygen to stay lit and hot. Without sufficient air, the coals will eventually die out. 

So make sure the vents underneath your grill are open. Another thing to focus on is to not use damp coals or wood. 

Damp coals might lit up but they won’t stay lit for longer. So make sure the charcoal is bone dry. 

05. How Can I Save Unused Charcoal?

After you have coveted your grill and killed the fire, a good amount of charcoal can be left inside. Keep in mind the charcoal keeps burning until they cool down completely. So you might not have enough salvageable colas left. 

But if you do, there is a way to save them for next time. Fill up a metal basket with cold water and then dunk the charcoal in the water. Wear a heat-proof glove and use metal tongs to move the charcoal around. 

Grab each individual charcoal and dunk them in the water for 60 seconds. Then transfer them to somewhere with enough air. 

Allow them to dry in the sun. When they are completely bone dry, store them in an airtight container until needed. 

06. Is It Better to Leave Grill Open or Closed?

This depends on what kind of meat you are cooking. If you are grilling thin cuts of meat, you don’t need a longer period of time to cook it. 

So you can keep the lid open. The high temperature will grill the mat within a few minutes. 

But if you are grilling something large like a brisket or ribs, it’s better to close the lid to let it cook for longer. When you close the lid, the temperature remains steady and low. 

So you won’t have a piece of meat that’s burnt on the outside but raw on the inside. 

To End

Keeping the temperature of your charcoal grill consistent is a very tough job. It takes a long time for grill enthusiasts to master this skill. As it’s one of the integral parts of barbecuing, knowing how to keep a grill lit is super important. 

Hopefully with our easy guide you were able to grab some useful tips and hacks. Now tell us, what method do you use to light up your BBQ? 

Do you have any tips for us to keep the heat consistent? Let us know in the comments down below!