It sounds pretty obvious but in practice, lighting charcoal can sometimes turn out to be trickier than imagined. The charcoal sometimes just wants to ignite with difficulty, or perhaps it creates a lot of smoke or unpleasant odors when lighting the barbecue. Also, the most appropriate ignition method may differ among types of charcoal. And sometimes it just has to do with personal preference. Below are the most common ways to light charcoal.
From my childhood home, I knew only one way to light charcoal and that was with cheap, chemical firelighters, on which a mix of cheap charcoal and briquettes were thrown. This always smelled quite chemical and smoked heavily, but that was part of barbecuing in my opinion. I didn’t know any better. In addition, my father had the bad habit of throwing a good splash of spirit on the burning coals as well. In retrospect, I too am surprised that the house is still there and that he still has eyebrows….
My interest in the different types to light charcoal began when I bought my first barbecue. Since my barbecue is on the balcony of an apartment complex, I wanted to make sure the smoke and smell was minimal. Pretty soon I found a lot safer and healthier options for lighting my charcoal. Whether you want to grill expensive meat or cheaper options, you want to get as few chemical smells or fumes on your food as possible. It can affect the taste but also is just downright bad for you.
Here are some types of charcoal kindling materials and how best to use them.
Lighters are well known to most people but what is less well known is that there are both white and brown firelighters on the market.
These firelighters have been used for a very long time because they are so easy to light. That is then immediately the only advantage of these cubes. These cubes consist of benzene, kerosene and other chemical combustion agents. Lighting these cubes releases a toxic vapor that you want to keep far away from your food. Therefore, we definitely do not recommend these cubes to light the barbecue with! There are plenty of options that are a lot better for health, the environment and just as easy to use.
This is a much better and healthier option than the white variety. These brown firelighters are made from compressed sawdust, cardboard and other mostly natural materials. Stick a few firelighters between the coals and light them with a long lighter, long match or small gas burner. This can sometimes be a little more difficult than with the white variety, but once they burn it is odorless and a lot better for your health.
Lighting wicks / kindling wood shavings
Another popular way to light the barbecue or kamado is with kindling wicks (or kindling wood shavings). These are coiled wood wires with ecological resin/wax that are very easy to light. Since these wood shavings are made only by plant and ecological means, they burn almost completely smoke and odorless. Place 3 wood shavings in a triangle lightly between/on the coals and light them. The charcoal will burn toward each other after a short time. Note: If white smoke does come off the wood shavings, it may be that they are not getting enough oxygen. Therefore, turn on both the lower and upper slide of the barbecue so that sufficient oxygen can flow through the barbecue.
Many barbecue enthusiasts swear by a charcoal starter. Use is very simple: fill the charcoal starter with charcoal or briquettes, place a few firelighters or newspaper under the starter and light it. The coals and/or briquettes will start to burn and can be used after about 10 / 15 minutes. Pour it from the tube evenly into the barbecue after which you can get started right away.
The Looftlighter works very simply: plug it in, hold the end of the Looftlighter just short of the coals and click the button. The Looftlighter will then blow very hot air on the coals until they spark. Then pull the Looftlighter back about 10/15 inches while continuing to press the button. This ensures that the coals are red hot, and thus usable, after only about one minute. Light a few spots and in no time the barbecue is on and ready to use. The Looftlighter is also called the one-minute-lighter for this reason. This way of lighting the barbecue is becoming increasingly popular. I too have since switched to this device for the following reasons:
- Virtually no smoke at all
- Very easy to use
- No more firelighters or wicks needed
- Can also be used for the fireplace
- Harder pieces of charcoal (such as Quebracho charcoal) can be difficult to light. This is sometimes because of the large chunks in which this is delivered. Therefore, it is recommended to put some smaller pieces in addition to just the larger chunks. This smaller stuff will burn faster and eventually light the larger pieces as well.
- Always make sure the air slider at the bottom of the barbecue is open when lighting the barbecue. This allows more oxygen to reach the charcoals and they will ignite sooner.