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How to Light a Charcoal Grill

barbecue bbq grill

By: Christian Lutz

How to light a charcoal grill the right way

Those of you who still prefer the traditional way of doing a barbecue with a charcoal fired grill often face the important question: How to light it correctly to get a fast and satisfying ember to sizzle a nice steak or sausage? 
First a warning, not under any circumstances use any petrol based or another flammable liquid that is not intended to light a barbecue. That is highly dangerous and also leaves some residues that you don’t want to have in your food! 
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To get a good result to light your charcoal please ensure that they are dry and might not have absorbed some moisture during storage. Otherwise, it will be difficult to set them on fire and you it will also result in a lot of white smoke from the water vapor. If you are not sure, you can sun dry your charcoal already placed in the fire bowl for a few hours. 
When you start piling your charcoal in the fire place please make sure not to pack it too tight as enough air and air flow is the key to a fast lighting. 
So what methods are available now to ignite the charcoal. Basically there are 3 methods: solid or liquid grill lighters, a BBQ chimney starter or an electric powered grill lighter. 
Chemical grill lighters, also known as solid or liquid grill lighters, are usually based on paraffin. Place the solid pieces in the middle of the pile or soak the pile evenly with a liquid one. Once the charcoal has some spot burning, you can speed up the process with some forced air flow from a foot pump or similar. Paraffin-based grill lighters can influence the flavor of the grilled food therefore make sure they are completely burned before you put some food on the grillage. Because of this fact, they are not my personal favorite. 
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A chimney starter, also called a charcoal chimney, is a device that utilizes the physical principle of air flow. It consists of a steel cylinder that has some holes near the bottom and a grate inside. You put the lump or briquette charcoal on the of this grate and some newspaper at the bottom. Light the paper and the flames will start to ignite to charcoal. The resulting air flow will speed up the process. Once all the charcoal is burning properly (you can see a red glow and some ashes on the top), carefully grab the handle of the starter and dump the charcoal into the grill. Because this method doesn’t use any chemicals, it is nowadays the preferred method for a healthy barbecue. 
The last method is an electric powered grill lighter device. It looks like a modified immersion heater that you put underneath the charcoal pile. From the resulting heat the charcoal lights evenly and without any emission or influence to the grilled food. Disadvantage is that they need a power source nearby. 
I will also mention a blow torch or hot-air blower used in for several DIY purposes. They can be used to fire the charcoal efficiently. However, same as the device above, they either need a power source or a full gas cylinder which means they are not always operational. 

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