How to light a BBQ in 7 easy steps
You’ve marinated the meat, prepped and seasoned your sides, and it’s time to light the BBQ…
But once again, you’re fumbling with firelighters.
Because we’ve put together a super-simple guide explaining how to light a BBQ.
We’ll start with seven easy tips to light a BBQ without firelighters, before offering lots of BBQ-lighting hacks – some might surprise you!
Whether you’re lighting a charcoal BBQ, gas BBQ, or even using a chimney starter, our step-by-step guide guarantees to ignite your next cookout.
Why is lighting a BBQ important anyway?
Lighting a BBQ correctly is essential for three reasons.
Primarily, it ensures heat is evenly distributed through the meat, killing harmful bacteria like salmonella. But it also cuts cooking times and makes grilled food look – and taste – better.
Now you know why lighting a BBQ is important, let's get that charcoal BBQ lit.
1. How to light a charcoal BBQ
That irresistible, smoky flavour grilling over charcoal gives is what summer cookouts are all about!
But using charcoal to light a BBQ can be tricky if you’ve never done it before.
Use these tips, though, and you’ll be a BBQ master in no time.
Here’s what you’ll need:
A charcoal chimney (optional)
A barbecue temperature gauge
High heat neutral cooking oil (like sunflower oil)
2. Set up your BBQ in an open space
First things first, set up your BBQ in an open space, ensuring it’s a safe distance from fences and trees.
Then check it’s standing securely on a flat surface before firing it up.
Bear in mind that smoke from a BBQ can be a nuisance for the neighbours, so check the direction of the wind and position your BBQ accordingly.
If possible, keep a fire extinguisher or a water bucket nearby and use long-handled tongs to handle the meat.
Oh, and that’s our bestselling American-style BBQ, if you were wondering!
3. Season the BBQ before lighting
Seasoning a BBQ serves three purposes:
Zaps toxic contaminants from the metal
Makes any food you grill extra tasty
Ensures that delicious crispy skin won’t stick to the grill
Here’s how to season your BBQ:
Wipe the grates all over with a high heat cooking oil (vegetable oil and canola oil work well), wipe off any excess with kitchen roll and you’re good to go!
4. Give it time to heat up
Unlike gas BBQs, charcoal barbecues need a little time to heat up – 10-15 minutes will do it.
Using a charcoal chimney will speed things up, but more on this later.
5. Prepare the BBQ
Prepping your BBQ is easy – just remove the grate and open the bottom vents. Done!
This lets the air circulate around the charcoal, resulting in a strong, even burn.
How much charcoal should you use to light a BBQ?
As a rule of thumb, use 5-10 pieces of coal per piece of meat.
So, if you’re grilling a couple of sausages or burgers, 15-20 coals will do.
But for hotter flames and a longer burn, use more charcoal and pack it tighter.
6. Wait until the charcoal is covered with ash
Before tossing your burgers on the grill, ensure the coals have lost their black colour before barbecuing – this takes 20-30 minutes.
Be careful if there are still flames licking the charcoal after this time, as you risk burning the food’s surface while the inside remains undercooked.
There are two signs your coals are ready: they’ll be covered in ash and no longer smoke.
7. Monitor the BBQ's temperature
Use a BBQ temperature gauge to ensure your barbecue retains adequate heat, which is at least 107°C (225°F).
You can also reduce the heat to slow or lengthen the cooking time by closing the vents almost completely (never fully or the fire will extinguish).
Opening the vents will create fiercer flames to cook quickly.
If you’re still struggling to light the charcoal, try these fast hacks before reaching for the lighter fluid:
Light the BBQ using an empty egg carton
Fill a leftover egg carton with charcoal lumps and pop it on the barbecue.
Light the carton, and the coals will ignite before the carton turns to ash.
Use newspaper to light a BBQ
Scrunch a few sheets of newspaper and distribute them evenly among the coals.
If this doesn’t get the fire going, drizzle some vegetable oil on the sheets to get it going.
Light your BBQ using nachos
It’s certainly nacho average way to light a BBQ (we’ll stop now), but nachos work like magic fire lighters thanks to their cornmeal and fat content.
Simply scatter a few on the grill and light it up!
They’re also great for relighting dwindling embers, so always keep a packet nearby!
Using alcohol to light a BBQ
If you’re struggling to light your BBQ, fold a few sheets of newspaper and dip the ends in rubbing alcohol.
Then pop them in the BBQ, surround them with coals, and light.
Just make sure you wait until they’ve burnt away before cooking over them.
For those of us more acquainted with a bottle of Scotch or vodka, these work too.
Just don’t waste your finest single malt on your sausages!
And remember, never add alcohol to a BBQ that’s already lit.
How to light a gas BBQ
Propane connected, knob turned, ignition pressed – you’re almost ready to get grilling.
Just ensure you’ve got a shield/windbreaker and a propane tank on hand, and follow these tips to light your gas BBQ:
Do you close the lid on a BBQ when lighting?
No, you should keep the lid open when lighting a gas barbecue.
If it’s windy, hold up a shield/windbreaker while you light it.
Let the grill heat up
While you can light gas BBQs straight away, it’s better to let the grill heat up for 5-10 minutes to burn off any residue and decontaminate the grates.
If there’s billowing smoke – it’s not ready.
Just allow the grease to burn off before reducing the temperature to cook your food.
Control the heat when cooking
If the grill gets too hot and prevents you from closing the vents, reduce the gas on the propane tank.
Keep the lid open while doing this to allow some heat to escape, too.
What is the best fuel to light a BBQ?
The best charcoal for your BBQ depends on two factors:
1. The food you’re cooking
2. The duration of your barbecue
Here are two types of charcoal and their properties:
Charcoal briquettes (compressed coal lumps) are uniform in size and burn evenly for long periods, so they’re ideal for big family BBQs or roasting a large meat joint.
Lumpwood charcoal lights quicker and burns hotter than briquettes. It also has a subtler, smokier flavour.
With its one-hour burn time, it’s best to use when grilling smaller cuts of meat or vegetables.
How to use a chimney starter
Using a chimney starter is a quicker way to light a BBQ and helps you measure the correct amount of charcoal for cooking.
Here’s how to do it:
Fill the chimney starter 1/3 with charcoal for a low heat of 90-160°C
Fill it halfway for 180-230°C
Use a full chimney starter for a high heat of 230-290°C (perfect for searing steaks)
When the flames start licking through the top of the chimney – usually 15 – 25 mins – it’s ready to go!
Now you know how to light a BBQ, go forth to grilling glory!
And don’t forget, we have more handy hacks and interior inspiration on our blog – with some easy-to-follow articles on the way.
Until then, amigo!