Last Updated on February 18, 2023
All out of lighter fluid or looking for a better alternative? These lighter fluid substitutes will get your charcoal lit and ready to cook in no time.
So you’re all set to grill up some tender flat iron steaks or slowly smoke a big pork butt and you realize you’re all out of lighter fluid.
Don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to light charcoal without lighter fluid and I bet you have a number of lighter fluid alternatives sitting around your house as we speak. In this article I’ll give you all the options, and the pros and cons of each. Then you can decide which method you want to try.
A charcoal chimney is always my top choice for starting a fire for my grill or smoker. It’s easy to use, only takes about ten to fifteen minutes to get your fire going, and takes up minimal space when not in use.
And since you’re not using lighter fluid there are no chemicals to worry about and no artificial flavor and smells that could affect the taste of your food.
If you don’t already have a charcoal chimney I strongly suggest you get one. Trust me, once you try it you’ll never want to light your charcoal without it. This is the chimney starter I use myself, and it’s pretty inexpensive on Amazon.
Instant Light Charcoal
Here’s a lighter fluid substitute that creates a true shortcut for the backyard griller. Charcoal with lighter fluid already mixed in will ignite without the need to add lighter fluid.
Just use a lighter or a match to light the charcoal briquettes in a few places and you should be ready to cook in about ten to fifteen minutes.
Instant light charcoal is more expensive than the regular stuff, even after you factor in that you won’t need to buy lighter fluid separately.
You probably have some newspaper or old supermarket flyers around the house and you can certainly use them to start your charcoal grill.
Scrunch up a few pages of newspaper into loose balls and place at the bottom of your grill or smoker. Build a pyramid of charcoal briquettes on top of the newspaper, and be sure to leave some of the paper visible so you can light it.
Newspaper burns quickly and this method doesn’t always work. You can can increase your chances by pouring a little vegetable oil on the newspaper balls to slow the burning process down and give the charcoal more time to ignite.
It also helps to add some kindling between the newspaper and charcoal. A handful of small, dry sticks will do the trick.
And if you don’t have any newspaper handy a few paper towels dampened with vegetable oil will work just as well.
Tumbleweed Natural Firestarters
Pretty much the same concept as using newspapers or paper towels but far more effective. Just build a pile of charcoal on top of a couple of tumbleweeds and be sure you can reach them with a match. Once lit they will burn for about eight to ten minutes which is plenty of time for the charcoal to ignite.
Tumbleweed firestarters are all natural, non-toxic and odorless. They’re a perfect and more natural alternative to lighter fluid. You can find them in stores or pick up a package from Amazon.
Lighter cubes are awesome. They’re inexpensive, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly. They light instantly with a match. And they burn clean with no smoke or nasty smells like you can get with lighter fluid.
Made of paraffin wax, lighter cubes will stay lit even if it’s windy and rainy outside. They work like a charm every time. I like to light them under my chimney starter for a truly hassle-free way to get my charcoal ignited.
Cardboard Egg Crates
My buddy recommended this idea to me and I must admit it’s pretty clever. He’s an avid camper and this is his preferred way to light a campfire.
Take an empty egg carton (it has to be cardboard, not plastic or styrofoam) and place charcoal briquettes where the eggs normally go and close the lid. You now have a portable and easy to carry fire starter system!
When you’re ready to get your charcoal started just put the egg carton in the grill or smoker and light the corners. By the time the carboard is all burned up the charcoal will be good to go.
Pro Tip: Use instant light charcoal to make this method even easier.
I’ve seen this method recommended before but I’ve never tried it myself. Any spirit with a high alcohol content should work but whiskey does seem to go well with barbecue and any smell or flavor it gives off while burning will only enhance whatever you’re cooking.
Seems like a waste of good whiskey to me, but I guess it will work in a pinch.
Two Bonus Lighter Fluid Substitutes
If you’re home or have access to electricity there are two other lighter fluid alternatives, but they both require equipment you may not have handy.
First is the electric charcoal starter, which features a loop of metal coil that looks similar to the heating element on an electric stove. Plug in the electric charcoal starter and bury it in a pile of charcoal. As it heats up it will ignite the charcoal.
But be careful removing it from the fire. The handle should be safe and cool enough to touch but in some cheaper models the handle gets extremely hot and you can get seriously burned.
Then there’s the Looft Lighter. I don’t have one yet, but I’d love to try it out!
The Loof Lighter blasts hot air at about 1200 degrees fahrenheit and when you hold it close to charcoal it’s supposed to ignite within 60 seconds.
That’s incredibly fast results an it looks really cool too. Whip the Looft Lighter out at a party and all the dads will be jealous.
The downside is that the Looft Lighter is the most expensive of all the lighter fluid substitutes mentioned above, especially if you go for the cordless model. Cool or not, I’m not sure it’s worth the price.
The Final Word
Lighter fluid is inexpensive, convenient, and easy to use when starting a charcoal grill or smoker.
But if you use too much it can be dangerous (don’t ever add lighter fluid to charcoal that is already lit or hot as it could explode in your face) and it can also give your food an unpleasant chemical taste if not burned off completely.
A chimney charcoal starter is always my first choice, but any of the lighter fluid alternatives listed above will give you great results without any potential aftertaste.