How to Keep a Charcoal BBQ Lit

charcoals flaming in a barbeque grill
What You'll Need
Compiled tools list, expanded content, added safety and precautions warnings
Good quality charcoal
Charcoal burning device with lid
Lighter fluid
Utility lighter or matches
Tongs or poker tool

Starting a fire in your charcoal barbecue grill isn’t all that tricky. What can be challenging however, is keeping the fire constantly lit so that it cooks your food fully and evenly. If you leave your charcoal grill burning by itself or don’t use it properly, your grill will not stay lit. With some practice, you can keep your barbecue fire going as long as you need it.

Warning: undercooking raw meats can cause foodborne illnesses.

Purchasing Your Charcoal

The simplest way to help your charcoal last longer is to buy quality charcoal. If the flame going out on your charcoal grill is a consistent issue for you and you are using low quality charcoal, no amount of maintenance is going to fully fix your issue. Generic brand charcoals are harder to start and burn out quickly. By spending a few extra dollars on quality charcoal, you’ll be saving yourself from a difficult and uphill battle trying to keep your grill flame alive.

Starting the Fire

When you need to start the fire on your charcoal barbecue grill, pile the charcoal into the shape of a pyramid and then generously cover the briquettes with lighter fluid. Make sure that your charcoal briquettes are put together as tightly as possible. While lighter fluid will help your fire start and remain lit, you can help it along by adding some kindling as well.

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Apply the lighter fluid and allow a few minutes for it to absorb into the charcoal. Don’t wait too long as the fluid may evaporate the longer you wait to start the fire. Giving the charcoal an opportunity to absorb the lighter fluid prevents a fire from simply burning through the lighter fluid on the surface of the charcoal. This can cause the fire to go out without retaining the desired heat into the coals.

Keep in mind that once your fire has been going for a while, you should avoid adding additional lighter fluid. At worst, this can cause a dangerous burst of flames. The least detrimental effect this could have is temporarily suffocating the charcoals enough that it causes the fire to go out.

Warning: Be careful when dealing with any open flame or accelerant such as lighter fluid. If you need to adjust the positioning of any kindling or move charcoal bricks around the grill once the fire is lit, use tongs or a poker tool. Always keep your body at a safe distance.

Keeping the Charcoal Burning

When the charcoal begins to have gray edges, move the charcoal around using a poker device. When the air hits the charcoals at this point, they will heat up quickly, allowing you to cook your meal. Continue to move things around every few minutes to keep the charcoals burning faster.

This is the critical step that you’ve likely been neglecting when your other grill fires have faltered. Maintaining that intermittent air flow on the coals is what continuously causes them to heat up. If you leave your grill and allow your charcoal to settle, even with the fire going, they will cool down and the fire will die.

Allow air to hit the coals while you are cooking as well.

Windy Situations

If you are barbecuing and conditions like a windstorm or even a gentle breeze threatens to put out your barbecue flames, you can remedy the situation by slightly covering your grill with a lid. Make sure you leave a 3-5 inch high gap between the lid and inside of the grill. The gap makes sure that air can still reach your fire and keep it burning, but the enclosure will shield the grill fire so that the wind will not be able to blow out the fire, or blow loose ash onto the lit coals which can act to suffocate them.

The Charcoal is the Key

When it comes to charcoal barbecuing, you do not need roaring flames to cook a good meal, just good charcoal. Though you may have flames for a few minutes, you will know when you can cook when the charcoal begins to and grays around the edges. You can now confidently spread out the charcoal briquettes without them going out.

Barbecuing is enjoyable when you can keep your coals burning strong to cook a delicious meal to completion. With practice, you can familiarize yourself with how charcoals react to creating air flow to keep them lit, and how they look and behave when they are lit. A well-lit pile of charcoal is capable of keeping heat even overnight.

Warning: The use of any device to burn charcoal is prohibited during burn bans, or may have conditional use regulations based on your premise or location. Check with the appropriate authorities in your area or residence to ensure you are following the laws and regulations.

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