One of the worst parts about using charcoal is getting it started. While few would argue that charcoal creates a better flavor than cooking over propane, propane is much more popular due to its ease of use. While none of these will make charcoal as easy to use as propane, you can look at the different ways to light charcoal to find the one that works best for you.
Charcoal lighter fluid is the familiar way to light charcoal for most people. With lighter fluid you spray the fluid onto the stacked charcoal, let the charcoal soak in the fluid, and then light the charcoal. Another option is charcoal that does not require additional lighter fluid as the charcoal comes straight from the bag ready to light. This type of charcoal is very easy to use.
A charcoal chimney is a tube shaped device that you can purchase or make from an old coffee can. With a charcoal chimney, you place a newspaper or a fire starter at the bottom of the chimney and fill the rest with charcoal. By lighting the newspaper, the flame is drawn up the tube lighting the charcoal. Once the charcoal is burning, you can dump the charcoal into your grill.
Commercial charcoal lighters are available that use electricity to light the charcoal. The lighters create heat from a metal hoop that extends from a handle. You place the loop into the charcoal, turn on the lighter and wait. The charcoal will begin burning in a few minutes and you can use the handle to remove the lighter. For home use where electricity is available, the charcoal lighter may be the simplest of the different ways to light charcoal. Another advantage of this method of lighting is that there is no lighter fluid, newspaper, or other burned item to leave a bad taste on the food.
A wood fire is the most common way that I light charcoal for the simple reason that I never have (or at least can never find) any lighter fluid. To light charcoal with a wood fire, begin by making a ring of charcoal in your grill. Then begin stacking very small, dry pieces of wood into a teepee shape inside the ring. After you have the wood in place, begin stacking charcoal on top of the charcoal ring until it covers the teepee. Light the wood through a gap in the charcoal and let it burn. As the wood burns, it will light the charcoal. The small pieces of wood will quickly burn away leaving charcoal for you to cook over.
How to Light a Charcoal Grill Without Lighter Fluid
1) Spread out the briquettes at the bottom of the grill. You can use lump charcoal as well, that is wood chips.
2) Take any kind of household cooking oil and either paper towels, newspaper, or maybe the pages from an old telephone book. Place the piece of paper on a flat surface. Pour a small amount of cooking oil into the center of the paper.
3) Spread the oil with your hands all over the paper. Repeat this process three times.
4) Crumple up the three pieces of oil soaked paper and place them in the middle of your grill.
5) Using the briquettes or wood chips, begin creating a volcano or pyramid around the crumpled pieces of paper. Make sure to leave some space between the pieces of charcoal so that there is room to light the paper and for air to get in.
6) Using a long match or lighter stick, or even a thin candle, light the paper. You may want to light the paper in a few places so that it catches quickly.
7) Begin preparing your food for the grill! The briquettes should be fully lit in 15-20 minutes.
This is an easy and chemical free way of lighting a charcoal grill that requires no additional special equipment and very little time. The charcoal lights just as quickly as using lighter fluid, without the smell and taste.