Charcoal Lighter Fluid Substitute (Best Charcoal Grill Fuel Alternatives)

November 30, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Sometimes, I like to use simple chemical-free alternatives to heavier fuels when I need to start a charcoal grill. This alternative could be a charcoal chimney or a dry piece of newspaper which are both perfect for a small backyard grill. 

Those of us who can’t trade the efficiency of charcoal grilling for any other method of grilling know how difficult igniting the coals can be. It gets even more difficult if you’re out of lighter fluid. However, if you look around, there is always a quick easy charcoal lighter fluid substitute around you. Not to worry, in this article, I’ll show you my go-to alternatives for charcoal grills when I’m out of lighter fluid before my cooking sessions.

Charcoal lighter fluid substitute

What are the Best Lighter Fluid Alternatives to Use?

When it comes to charcoal lighter fluid substitutes, there are several options available for you to choose from.

Choices range from liquor such as whiskey to a chimney starter among others.

Let's look at the four best lighter fluid substitutes to use for lighting charcoal. 

1. Charcoal Chimney Starter 

A chimney starter or wood-burning stove is always the most efficient way to start charcoal. 

Charcoal chimneys come in varying specifications. However, the Weber Rapidfire Chimney is as good as any. It's 7.5 inches in diameter and comes with an ergonomic handle. Prices start from $19 and you can get it on Amazon.

Why is it my favorite? Well, it doesn’t include the use of any chemicals and your BBQ tastes more natural.

However, I also like to use my heatproof gloves for safety because you’ll need to transfer the burning embers into the grill.

If you don’t have a pair of BBQ gloves, check out the RAPICCA BBQ Gloves and wear them whenever you use your charcoal chimney and charcoal grill. 

Charcoal Chimney Starter Placed On Top Of An Outdoor Grill

2. Electric Starter

Another lighter fluid substitute I highly recommend is an electric starter. It's convenient and easy to use. It ensures you quickly produce hot coals without any hassle. 

An electric starter is the best option to quickly get your coals hot and ready in under a minute if you don't mind using some electricity.

These devices are basically like horseshoes in an oval or u-shape. Using it as lighter fluid alternatives involves placing the electric starter under your charcoal briquettes.

Then you just have to plug it into the nearest electrical outlet. 

When it's plugged in, the metal element gets hot and ignites the briquettes. Once the charcoal starts turning gray ash, unplug the starter.

Electric Starter and Spare Parts

3. Vegetable Oil

Yes, you heard that right! Cooking oil really works as a lighter fluid alternative, especially when it’s hot. It's pretty easy to use too.

You'll be needing some wads of newspaper for this one though. 

What you need to do is soak the wads of newspapers in vegetable oil and place them under the grilling chamber. Next, add charcoal and light up the wad of newspapers.

An alternative to vegetable oil is animal fat such as bacon fat or lard. The smell from this one is quite heavenly.

Follow the same process above but soak the newspaper in bacon grease instead of cooking oils.

When using this method, it is very important to clean out residual ash from your grill. I also recommend setting up your grill in a draft-free zone

Ensure the wind is blowing in the right direction to ignite the charcoal faster. A pro tip is to drench just one portion of wadded paper towels or newspaper in the oil.

This way, you'll be able to control how fast the paper burns out.

Vegetable Oil and Olive Oil with Olives

4. Alcohol

If you don't have lighter fluid handy for your next barbecue, I suggest you try using alcohol as an alternative. Alcohol is a very inflammable liquid but the flip side is that it evaporates quickly so it's not economic.

To begin, find a bottle of high-proof alcohol. It could be whiskey, vodka, or rubbing alcohol, so long as it has a high alcohol content.

Simply douse some newspaper balls or a ball of paper towels in alcohol, place it on your lump charcoal and drop a lit match on it. Ensure that the flame burns itself out before you start grilling.

Alcohol Bottles Lineup

Other Substitute Lighter Fluid

Aside from the methods mentioned above, other options are more environmentally-friendly that you could also try during your next outdoor cooking without lighter fluid.

Some of these things are common household items that you already have in your home.

  1. Cardboard Box: Cardboard cartons are notorious for their ability to catch fire quickly and that's why I recommend it as an excellent fire starter. Place some cardboard cartons in the cooking chamber and light them. As the heat rises, the flame will ignite the bottom half of the coals
  2. Egg Carton: If you have some empty egg cartons or can transfer your eggs, then this one is for you. In the absence of charcoal lighter fluid, just put an empty egg carton in the cooking chamber, put the coals in the bottom part of the cardboard crate, and light from the corners. Remember to use cardboard egg crates, not styrofoam ones.
  3. Sugar: Yes, sugar! It contains glucose whose main components are carbon and hydrogen which are, therefore, flammable. This method requires you to pour some spoonful of sugar on the charcoal and light.
  4. Dry Sticks: Although sticks emit so much more smoke, it's a good fire starter when dry. A handful of twigs and some paper is all you need to get lit coals with this method.
  5. Newspaper: Really, any kind of paper can be used as kindling. Newspaper, paper towels, and any kind of dry paper ignite charcoal perfectly in the absence of lighter fluid. Just scrunch or crumple the sheets and place the carefully in the pyramid of briquettes. Light the paper and let it burn until the coals are lit.

Can I Use Kerosene or Gasoline?

No, you should never use kerosene or gasoline as a substitute for lighter fluid. Both are dangerous and can explode and you should avoid them in any situation.

They may seem like the easiest way to light charcoal but it's not a good idea. Aside from the unpleasant smells they emit, they may likely ruin the flavor of your grilled food.

Bottom line

If you ever run out of lighter liquid for a BBQ, don't panic. From a charcoal chimney to an empty egg crate, there are several materials that you can use to start a small fire. Always apply caution as the flames can spread and cause a fire incident.

Most of the methods above will take about 15 to 30 minutes to get your grill going. On the upside, you can cook without worrying about chemicals that are harmful to your health.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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