A popular part of the ‘living outdoors‘ in the garden experience, for many, is the family BBQ. If you’re planning a garden BBQ for family and or friends, the first step is to light the fire! How to Start a BBQ Fire with Charcoal and Firelighters provides you with 4 quick steps to achieve this.

Starting a charcoal BBQ fire can sometimes seem difficult to get going, but with a little know-how and the right tools, you can quickly and efficiently get the fire going. Below, we’ll provide you with 8 great tips on how to start a BBQ fire with charcoal and firefighters.

How to Start a BBQ Fire with Charcoal and Firelighters: Key Takeaways

  • Lighting a charcoal BBQ fire can be easy and efficient with the right tools and techniques.
  • Preparing the charcoal and using firelighters are important steps in the process.
  • Waiting for the charcoal to ‘ash’ over is crucial for achieving optimal grilling temperature.
  • Heating Methods? Direct, Indirect or a bit of Both?
  • Remember to exercise caution during the lighting process and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Before starting the BBQ fire, you need to ensure that you have all the necessary supplies at hand. Gathering the right equipment in advance will help you avoid any last-minute trips to the store while the charcoal fire dies down. Here are some essential supplies you’ll need for lighting the BBQ fire:

BBQ Fire Lighting SuppliesDescription
CharcoalCharcoal is the fuel that you will use to make the fire. Make sure you have enough to fill your grill. Between 1-5 KG bag/s, for a family of 4 BBQ. However, it can vary based on the size of the BBQ grill, the duration of the BBQ, and the specific cooking method used.
FirelightersFirelighters are the easiest and most effective way to get your BBQ fire going. Make sure to gather at least a few firelighters to get started.
TongsYou will need a pair of long-handled tongs to move the hot coals around when necessary.
Lighter or MatchesYou will need a long lighter or matches to light the firelighters and start the fire.

Keep all your supplies close at hand and make sure to place them in an easily accessible location. This will make the process of lighting the BBQ fire more efficient and enjoyable.

Prepare The Charcoal For Your BBQ Fire

To achieve the perfect BBQ fire, you must first prepare the charcoal. Follow these steps to ensure that your charcoal is ready for grilling:

  1. Start by removing any packaging or wrapping from the charcoal bags.
  2. Once the bags are open, place the charcoal briquettes into a charcoal chimney starter, if you have one. A charcoal chimney is a device that allows for the easy and efficient lighting of charcoal. (See other methods below)
  3. If you do not have a charcoal chimney, arrange the briquettes in a ‘pyramid’ shape to allow for ‘optimal’ air circulation. This will also ensure that the charcoal reaches the desired temperature quickly and efficiently, similar to being in a chimney.
  4. Before lighting the charcoal though, make sure to ‘remove’ any small bits of dirt or debris that might be left on them. This will help prevent any unpleasant flavours from being transferred to your food.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to get your charcoal ready for grilling in no time. Remember to always use high-quality charcoal for the best results.

Lighting Charcoal Your With Firelighters vs. Other Methods

Using just ‘firelighters’ is a popular and reasonably effective method for starting a charcoal BBQ fire but generally takes about 40 minutes for the coals to be ready to spread. However, there are other methods people use, such as using a chimney starter or lighter fluid which I do not recommend.

The best method without a doubt is the ‘chimney starter‘. A ‘chimney starter’ is a metal cylinder that you fill with charcoal and place on top of a lit ‘firelighter’ cube or ‘crumpled’ newspaper. using this method coals are normally ready to spread within 20 minutes.

The chimney starter heats the charcoal, allowing it to ignite slowly and evenly. This method produces less smoke and is considered safer than using lighter fluid, which can produce harmful fumes and flare-ups.

Overall, using natural wood firelighters with or without a chimney starter is a simple and effective method for starting a charcoal BBQ fire. Just be sure to use firelighters safely and as directed for the best results.

How to Start a BBQ Fire with Charcoal and Firelighters: Using a Chimney Starter

Wait For The Charcoal to Ash Over

After igniting the charcoal using your firelighters, it’s important to be patient and wait for the charcoal to ‘ash over’ before beginning to grill your food. This process usually takes around 15-20 minutes, depending on factors such as the amount of charcoal used and the weather conditions.

During this time, the flames will subside, and the charcoal will turn ‘greyish-white’, indicating that it’s ready for grilling. It’s crucial to avoid placing food on the grill until the charcoal has ashed over completely, as this ensures optimal charcoal temperature and avoids any unpleasant smells or tastes caused by partially burnt charcoal.

Tip: If you’re unsure whether the charcoal has ‘ashed over’ completely, use a grill thermometer to check the temperature of the charcoal. The ideal temperature for grilling is between 190°C – 204°C or (374°F – 400°F)

Once the charcoal has ‘ashed over’, you can spread the hot coals evenly across the grill using a pair of tongs, creating a hot and even cooking surface for your food. With the charcoal ‘ashed over’ ‘and ready to go, you’re now prepared to start grilling your favourite BBQ foods!

Grey Ashed BBQ Coles

Let The Flames Die Down, The Grey ‘Ashed Over’ Coles Can Then Be Spread Across the Grill Ready to BBQ

But Wait, Do You Need Direct, Indirect Heat or a Bit of Both?

The last step in ‘How to Start a BBQ Fire with Charcoal and Firelighters’ is getting your BBQ ready by arranging the ‘hot’ coals in your grill. This step is important for enhancing your grilling experience. The way you arrange the charcoal can affect the heat produced, and different heat levels are suitable for different types of food and cooking methods. Let’s take a closer look at the details.

Direct Heat

When you arrange your charcoal evenly across your grill, it creates a high-temperature surface similar to that of a stovetop. The heat produced is very intense, consistent, and extremely hot, similar to cooking everything on the highest heat in a very hot pan. This direct heat is perfect for thin pieces of meat that cook quickly, like burgers and thin steaks. However, it can easily overcook slow-cooking food like thicker steaks or chicken and turn them into ‘charred’ chunks, rather than taste meats full of flavour.

BBQ-Direct Heat

Indirect Heat

Move the charcoal to one side of the grill and leave the other side empty, thus creating different temperature zones. You can use the side without charcoal to cook food with indirect heat. Having hot coals on only one side allows you to cook on one half and keep food warm on the other. If you have a kettle barbecue, this method is useful for slow-cooking large pieces of meat using indirect heat.

BBQ-Indirect Heat

Direct and Indirect – A Bit of Both

Create a sloping setup to generate a range of heat levels, starting from intense heat at the top, transitioning to a gentle sizzle in the middle, and maintaining warmth at the bottom. This setup is ideal for cooking for larger groups, allowing you to prepare a variety of dishes simultaneously. It’s a versatile and efficient option for cooking.

BBQ - A Bit of Both

Now you are fully armed and ready to grill!!!!!!


Can I Reuse Partially Burned Charcoal For my Next BBQ?

Yes, you can reuse partially burned charcoal for your next BBQ. Simply shake off the ash and arrange the remaining charcoal alongside fresh charcoal in your grill for your next barbecue.

Can I Add More Charcoal After The Initial Fire Has Been Started?

Yes, you can add more charcoal to the grill after the initial fire has been started. This can help maintain a consistent temperature and extend the cooking time for longer BBQ sessions

Can I Use Wood Chips Along With Charcoal And Firelighters For Added Flavour?

es, you can enhance the flavour of your BBQ by adding wood chips to the charcoal along with firelighters. Soak the wood chips in water for about 30 minutes before placing them on the charcoal to create aromatic smoke during the grilling process


Mastering how to start a BBQ fire with charcoal and firelighters is an essential skill for any grilling enthusiast. By following the proper techniques as described above and using high-quality charcoal and firelighters, you can ensure a successful and enjoyable BBQ experience.

Whether you prefer the traditional method or opt for newer, innovative approaches, the key lies in understanding the fundamentals and adapting them to your specific grilling needs. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can elevate your outdoor cooking game and create memorable moments with family and friends around the BBQ.