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How to Light a Grill

BBQ U: How to Light a Grill

Is this your first Summer to face a grill? If so, don't be afraid to face the coals head-on: we've got you covered with a new series, BBQ U, where we coach you on all the fundamentals of grilling, and then some. First things first: firing up the grill. It may sound like a no-brainer, but when you're playing with fire, you'd rather be safe than sorry.

Depending on whether you're working with a gas or a charcoal grill, your instructions for heating will be rather different. If you're working with a new grill, as always, be sure you've read the instructions particular to your grill, and then follow some basic grill-starting guidelines.

For a gas grill

  1. Make sure your grill is outfitted with a propane tank and that the burners are positioned on "off." Lift the lid of your grill so that the grates are visible; never light a grill with the lid down as gas can accumulate under the lid and combust.
  2. Turn on the gas burner (or one of the gas burners, if you have more than one). Simultaneously press the auto light or ignition button. Flames should appear; if not, hold your hand over the burner briefly to make sure there's heat.
  3. If you don't see flames or feel heat, turn off your burner, wait a few minutes for the propane gas to dissipate, and try pressing the ignition button again until flames appear. If you have other burners, turn them on, now that the grill's been lit.
  4. Wait five to 10 minutes before placing food on the grill; this will both heat the grates and allow remaining food or grease to burn off completely.

For a charcoal grill

There are two ways to light a charcoal grill: with or without a chimney starter.
Without a chimney starter

  1. Start with a clean grill and charcoal. Depending on the size of your grill, this may vary, but if you're looking to grill in high heat, you'll want to have enough charcoal to form two layers on the bottom of the grill. Once you've added the layers, stack any remaining charcoal in a conical shape in the center of the grill.
  2. If your coals aren't presoaked with lighter fluid, pour lighter fluid over your coals; you'll want 1/4 cup of fluid per pound of charcoal. Allow the fluid to soak into the coals for half a minute. Do not add lighter fluid once coals have begun burning.
  3. Using a grill lighter or a fireplace match, ignite the coals from the bottom on at least a couple of sides; let coals burn until they are white or gray on the surface.
  4. Once coals have turned gray, spread the coals evenly across the grate using a long-handled utensil; close lid, wait five minutes, and start cooking.

With a chimney starter

  1. Crumple a couple of sheets of newspaper; place them in the bottom of your chimney starter, under the wire partition. Fill the rest of the chimney starter with charcoal.
  2. Check to ensure the vents in the bottom of your grill are open and the grates have been removed. Place the chimney starter in the center of your grill. Using a grill lighter or fireplace match, light the crumpled newspaper in several spots, and watch to make sure it catches fire.
  3. A few minutes later, black smoke should start to come out of your chimney starter; this is normal. Wait for the coals to become evenly lit; when they begin to glow red (about 20 minutes), you're ready to dump your coals into the bottom of the grill.
  4. Protect your hand and arm with an oven mitt, grab the handle of your chimney starter, and transfer the coals to the bottom of the grill. Using a long-handled utensil, spread the coals evenly across the bottom of the grill. Close lid, wait five minutes, and start cooking.

If you've got more questions, feel free to leave them below, and we're happy to answer them. For those afraid of the flame, here's some advice: feel the fear and do it anyway!

Source: Flickr User pegwinn

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Susannah-Chen Susannah-Chen 4 years
Jason just reminded me of another thing I forgot to add: if you're using lump charcoal (made form natural or processed wood), you don't need lighter fluid like one might with charcoal briquettes (compressed charcoal with additives). It's more expensive and burns faster, but imparts a smoky flavor without any chemical taste.
Susannah-Chen Susannah-Chen 4 years
 @jason I just got one of those sent to me to try out!
jason jason 4 years
i like to use lump charcoal, which does not require lighter fluid.  i just got a big green egg and purchased this looftlighter to get the charcoal going quickly.  it's like a hair dryer that get's really hot.  works really well.
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