How to Start a Charcoal Grill Without a Chimney? (No Chimney? No Problem!)

April 20, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Have you been planning to make some grilled food from the charcoal grill but don't have a chimney starter on hand?  The good news is that there are alternative ways to start your charcoal grill without a chimney or lighter fluid. You have the newspaper, pyramid minion, and egg carton methods. But how do you use these methods to light charcoal lumps? 

Originally inherited from my grandparents, I've been using these old school methods for decades as a backyard grill master. So, I'm happy to show you how these methods work. They are easy to follow, cost-effective, and require minimal equipment. So, let's get started!

how to start a charcoal grill without a chimney

Four Ways to Start a Charcoal Grill Without a Charcoal Chimney 

These are my go-to methods whenever I need to light my charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal quickly without a chimney. I’ve also included tips that can help you light charcoal more successfully.  

Method #1: Pyramid Method

The pyramid method is my best alternative to lighting a charcoal grill. You can do without lighter fluid or a fire starter with this method.

It's not like a chimney starter is bad for grilling or lighting charcoal. But I understand that sometimes you may not have a chimney on hand and want your grilling session to go ahead regardless.

The problem with lighter fluid, on the other hand, is it's made of petroleum. So, as the lighter fluid burns, it may leave some chemical taste on your food.

As the name suggests, the pyramid method involves creating a pyramid-shaped structure with your charcoal and lighting it from the bottom. The heat from the burning charcoal will then spread upwards, igniting the rest of the coals and creating a consistent temperature throughout the grill.

How to Start a Charcoal Grill With the Pyramid Method?

  1. First, ensure that your grill is clean and free of debris. You don't want any leftover ash or food bits interfering with the charcoal's ability to heat up evenly.
  2. Arrange your charcoal in a pyramid shape in the center of the grill. You can use a small amount of newspaper to help ignite the coals at the pyramid's base.
  3. Light the newspaper at the bottom of the pyramid using a long match or a lighter. Make sure to light the paper from multiple points to ensure the coals catch fire evenly.
  4. Allow the coals to burn for 15-20 minutes until they are covered with a light layer of ash.
  5. Once the coals are evenly lit, use a pair of tongs to spread them out into an even layer. This will ensure that the heat is distributed evenly throughout the grill.

Tips

  • Use high-quality charcoal that burns evenly and produces consistent heat.
  • Ensure the pyramid shape is stable and won't collapse once you start lighting charcoal from the bottom.
  • Use long matches or a lighter to avoid getting burned by the flames.
  • Wait until the coals are covered with a light layer of ash before spreading them out to ensure even heating.
Steaks on the Flaming Hot Charcoal Grill

Method #2: Minion Method

The minion method is a technique that involves creating a small pile of hot charcoal and adding charcoal around it to ignite gradually.

This method is ideal for low and slow cooking, such as when you want to smoke briskets. This is a good way to make a steady and consistent heat source.

How to Start a Charcoal Grill With the Minion Method?

  1. Start by arranging a small pile of charcoal at the center of your grill, under the grill grate. This will serve as the coals that will ignite the rest of the charcoal.
  2. Light a few charcoal briquettes using a fire starter. Once fully lit and glowing, pour them onto the top of the pile of charcoal.
  3. Place a metal barrier, such as an aluminum foil pan, between the burning coals and the unlit coals. This will prevent the heat from spreading too quickly and ensure the charcoal lights up gradually.
  4. Arrange the unlit charcoal briquettes around the hot coals in a circular pattern. Make sure to leave enough space between the briquettes to allow for airflow.
  5. Wait for the unlit coals to ignite from the heat of the burning coals gradually. This may take up to 20-30 minutes, depending on the temperature outside and how much charcoal you're using.
  6. Once the charcoal has ignited and made red embers, you can begin cooking your food. Place it on the grill grate, at least four inches away from the hot coals. Then adjust the airflow to maintain a consistent temperature.

Tips

  • Avoid overcrowding the grill with too much charcoal.
  • Be patient and give the charcoal enough time to ignite fully before cooking your food.
Meat Skewers on the Charcoal Grill

Method #3: Egg Carton Method

Have you ever wondered what to do with all those egg cartons piling up in your kitchen? What if I told you you could use them to start your charcoal grill without lighter fluid or a charcoal chimney?

The egg carton method is an easy, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way to light your grill, and it only requires a few materials.

How to Start a Charcoal Grill With Egg Carton?

  1. Start by gathering the materials you'll need; that is, an empty cardboard egg carton, charcoal briquettes, and a lighter.
  2. Next, you'll need to prep the egg carton. Take the egg carton and remove the lid. Fill each egg slot with charcoal briquettes, and pack them tightly.
  3. Place the egg carton on the bottom of your grill and light it using a lighter, probably with the help of lighter fluid or some used vegetable oil. Make sure the flames reach the briquettes.
  4. Finally, wait for the briquettes to turn white and ash before adding your cooking grate and food. This should take about 15-20 minutes.

Tips

  • Use a cardboard egg carton rather than a styrofoam one, as the latter is unsafe to burn.
  • Make sure to pack the briquettes tightly into the egg slots to ensure they catch fire.
  • Use enough briquettes for your grill size, as the egg carton method works best for smaller charcoal grills.
  • Wait for the briquettes to ash over completely before adding your food to avoid any chemical smells or tastes. 
Grilled Burger Patty on the Hot Charcoal Grill

Method #4: Newspaper Method

It's also possible to light a charcoal grill using only newspapers without lighter fluid or charcoal chimney starter. But it can be a bit more challenging and time-consuming. Just read about how I do it and you won't have a problem with this technique.

By the way, this method involves using crumpled newspaper as a fuel source to ignite the charcoal. It requires only a few materials you probably already have at home.

How to Start a Charcoal Grill With Newspapers?

  1. Begin by piling up a small amount of charcoal in the center of the grill. Don't use too much charcoal, as it may take longer to light.
  2. Take two or three sheets of newspaper and crumple them into loose paper balls.
  3. Place the crumpled-up newspaper balls on top of the charcoal, ensuring they're evenly distributed.
  4. Light the bed of paper balls using a long match or a lighter.
  5. Wait and let the charcoal burn. Then let the flames die down before adding more charcoal or starting to cook.

Tips

  • Use only black and white newspapers without any colored ink. The colored ink may contain toxic chemicals that could be harmful if ingested.
  • Don't use too much newspaper, as it may create too much ash and could affect the flavor of your food.
  • Use a long match or a lighter to light the newspaper balls. The coals will be easier to reach this way and may prevent accidents.
  • If you need more fuel, consider using a small amount of lighter fluid or some lighter cubes. If you really must avoid lighter fluid, you can drizzle some cooking oil on the charcoal. Remember how your cooking oil sparks fire when it splashes on your grill? There you go!
  • If cooking oil won't do the magic for you, a better alternative to lighting charcoal without lighter fluid, for me, always is alcohol. Dip your newspapers in some and watch how it ignites as you light charcoal.
  • Good alternatives to newspapers are paper towels. Simply take some wads of paper towels and dip them in vegetable oil. Put them under the coals and light. The idea here is for the cooking oil to serve as a lighter fluid.
  • Don't add too much charcoal to the grill, as it may take longer to light and could create a hotter fire than you intended.
Juicy Chicken Grilling on the Charcoal Grill

Conclusion

Starting a charcoal grill without a chimney is easier than you might think. While the chimney method is undoubtedly efficient, there are alternative methods that require fewer materials and are just as effective. Whether you use the pyramid, minion, egg carton, or newspaper method, the key to success is to be patient, use the right materials, and follow the instructions carefully.

Starting your charcoal grill using these alternative methods can be convenient and fun. You can experiment with different materials, mix, and match methods, and find the one that works best for you. So, next time you're craving some grilled food and don't have a chimney, remember you don't need one! 

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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