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How To Light A Grill: A Complete Guide

Learn how to light a grill like a pro in this easy-to-read guide, complete with tips on lighting different grills for various cooking methods. Get ready to become a grill master just in time for the summer!

How To Light A Grill: A Complete Guide

It’s officially summertime, and you know what that means—grilling season is here! Whether you’re lighting the grill to cook a few steaks, smoke a brisket, or grill burgers and dogs for the family, the summer season is meant for grilling. Unfortunately, many of us spend more time trying to light the grill than actually cooking on it. 

This quick guide will help beginners, amateurs, and grilling pros learn helpful tips on how to light a charcoal grill or gas grill easily. By the time you’ve finished reading, you will have all the knowledge you need for everything from searing steak to slow-cooking meats like a true grill master. Pretty soon, your family will be coming to you for help starting the grill at every party, backyard BBQ, and neighborhood potluck. 

Let’s get a little background out of the way. I was 17 years old the first time I cooked on a grill. I had always seen my uncles cook on the grill, and it seemed easy enough, so I figured I could do it too. My first attempt was on a small Weber grill that I was cooking on for 10 people. The menu included barbecue chicken, burgers, hot dogs, and fresh grilled fish from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Four hours later, I had successfully lost my grilling virginity, and we all left feeling stuffed and satisfied. Not bad for a kid who had no clue what he was doing, huh? Since that day, I’ve grilled hundreds (if not thousands) of times and learned a great deal about how to grill like a professional on a charcoal or gas grill. 

Today, I’m sharing some of the best tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way so you can do the same. Now, let’s get into it.

Grilled Lamb Chops6

Tips for Lighting a Charcoal Grill

With so much conflicting information out there about lighter fluid, wood chips, cooking temperature, and charcoal grills, it can be hard to know the best way to light a charcoal grill. Luckily for you, I’m sharing my pro tips on how to light your charcoal grill consistently every time. 

Here are the top charcoal grilling tips to follow:

  • Check which way the wind is blowing. The wind is great for lighting a grill because fire needs oxygen, but setting your grill up in the wind will delay the entire process of eating your delicious bbq to a snail’s pace.
  • Replace lighter fluid with fire starters. Masterbuilt makes fantastic fire starters that light with ease. 3 of them will get 2 lbs. of charcoal ash-gray and hot in 15-20 minutes. By using a fire starter, you don’t have to use a whole bottle of lighter fluid to attempt to keep your charcoal ignited. Fire starters do all the heavy lifting without leaving a weird chemical taste on your food from lighter fluid chemicals.
  • Can’t find fire starters? Drizzle ¼ cup of canola oil (or whatever oil you have on hand) over 4-5 sheets of paper towels and make sure they’re covered in oil. Then place your charcoal on top, add lighter fluid, then light the paper towels on fire. 
  • Open the bottom vents. When lighting the fire, keeping your bottom vents open will allow the wind to keep your fire lit.
Beef Ribs with Black Cherry Cola Glaze
Grilled Beef Ribs with Black Cherry Cola Glaze

How to Heat a Grill

Now let’s break down the various ways you can heat a grill. Generally, I prefer to use the indirect cooking method for optimum results because I believe that the best-grilled foods are cooked slowly. Always make sure to clean your grill before you start cooking by preheating it to heat the grill grates and then using a grill brush to wipe it down. I also like to season my grates with cooking spray before I start.

Grilled Coriander Steak with Salsa Verde4
Grilled Coriander Steak

Gas Grill Guidelines

If you’re cooking with a gas grill, turn all the burners on high, then cover and heat for 10 minutes before adjusting the heat according to your recipe. For indirect method grilling, turn off a burner (the end burner if there are 3) before you start grilling.

Charcoal Grill Guidelines

Cooking with a charcoal grill? Open the bottom vents on the grill. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of oil on a few sheets of paper towels, place in grill, place charcoal on top, pour lighter fluid on charcoal, then light with a long handle lighter. 

Using a fire starter, you can omit the sheets of paper towels and lighter fluid.

It will take about 15 minutes for the charcoal to heat. Once they turn ash gray, they are adequately heated. Hardwood lump charcoal is the best-performing choice, but traditional charcoal also works fine. 

Direct Method Grilling: Place them over 2/3rd of the bottom rack before lighting charcoal. This will allow you to move food over the cold side in case of flare-ups and for low and slow grilling.

Indirect Method Grilling: Before lighting charcoal, place them on one side of the bottom rack. This will allow you to sear your food and move it to the cool side to cook slowly. If your grill has a top rack, place the majority of the food on the top rack over the cool side.

For Direct or Indirect Method: The grill will be at its hottest when charcoal turns ash gray. Holding your hand 5 inches from the grill will help you find the hot and cold spots. If you can hold your hand over for only 1 to 2 seconds, that’s the hottest part. If you can hold your hand over for 3 to 4 seconds, that’s medium-high heat. If you can hold your hand over for 5 to 6 seconds, that’s medium-low heat. Simple!

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Wild Mushroom Pesto Pizza
Grilled Mushroom Pesto Pizza

Latest Recipe Video:

Whole BBQ Chicken
BBQ Chicken
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Grill Recipes

If you’re looking for some crowd-pleasing grilling recipes, try these:

Hopefully, this basic guide on how to light a grill has helped you learn more about how to grill like a pro at your next barbecue. Whether you’re cooking with a charcoal grill or gas grill, lighting that baby up should be a breeze for you going forward. Have any other questions about grilling? Let me know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “How To Light A Grill: A Complete Guide”

  1. It sure was helpful when you said that to keep the fire of a charcoal grill lit, you must keep your bottom vents open. My husband and I are planning to visit a barbecue equipment store on Friday afternoon. We want to be able to enjoy barbecue parties every Sunday with our kids. For sure, your tips will help us use the barbecue grill properly and safely.

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