To me, nothing tastes better in the summer time than a charcoal grilled hamburger. Though I have heard there are many benefits for using gas grills, I like to stick with classic charcoal grills. However, when my husband and I bought our first charcoal grill there was just one problem; We didn’t have a clue how to light it.
Throw in some charcoal, douse it with lighter fluid, light it and you’re ready to go, right? That’s what we thought. Once we started trying to light our grill, we discovered that it wasn’t so easy. We tried to light it repeatedly, only to have the fire blaze for a moment, but quickly fizzle down to nothing. It took some advice from a co-grilling neighbor to get us on the right track to lighting our grill.
1. Stack the briquettes, and don’t be cheap. We have learned that the best way to get a good fire going is to use good charcoal. I have tried the off-brand varieties at grocery stores and Walmart and found that they don’t light as easily, they aren’t ready to use as quickly, and they don’t burn as hot. Though my theory on the quality of charcoal is unscientific, I have had much better luck with Kingsford brand.
Stack the briquettes in a pyramid. Rather than layering piles of charcoal onto your grill, stack about 20 pieces to get started. Something about this arrangement encourages the fire to get hot quickly. After the fire is established and the briquettes are beginning to turn gray, spread them around and add the amount of charcoal you need.
2. Bring on the fluid. Some charcoal comes already saturated in lighter fluid and some doesn’t. If yours is the kind with fluid, you will not need to use any more to get it started. However, if you are using charcoal without fluid, you will need to have some on hand. If you have a cheap brand of charcoal you will need to use more fluid. Let the lighter fluid soak in for at least 3 minutes, preferably 5. If you don’t wait long enough, you will have the problem of the charcoal lighting quickly and dying just as fast. The charcoal needs time to absorb the fluid.
3. Light carefully. I recommend using a kitchen lighter, rather than matches or a pocket lighter, to light your grill. This way you don’t have to be afraid of the flame burning you as you drop the match in. It is also much quicker to spread the flame via kitchen lighter than it is to use several matches.
4. Wait. After the fire is going well, wait for it to die down and begin consuming the charcoal. Once the flames are gone, you can close the lid, leaving the vent open, to help the briquettes burn more quickly. Wait until the coals have turned completely gray or “ash” colored before beginning to grill, as adding your food too soon will cook the unpleasant taste of lighter fluid into your burger. Also, if the fire is not well-established, you may find yourself needing to remove the food to re-light the grill.
5. Keep your grill away from wind. Although this is an obvious tip, it bears mentioning. On a windy day, position your grill away from the wind, or place it in a well-ventilated garage to encourage a healthy flame.
Now that you have a fool-proof method for getting your grill ready for a tasty dinner, go to it!