How to Start Up a Charcoal Grill

When it comes to grilling with charcoal, the beginning is often the hardest part. Most people who grill with charcoal have struggled to light it at least a few times, and it can be a real bummer when those crackling flames just won’t stay.

Here’s a key secret of BBQ pros: If you’re not using lump charcoal, you’re making things harder for yourself! In this guide, we’ll look at why you should be using lump charcoal and how to start a charcoal grill with it. 

a close up of glowing coal pieces burning

Source: Dario Lo Presti/Shutterstock

Breaking Up with Briquettes

Briquettes themselves are often the biggest obstacle to getting your charcoal lit. That’s because they have several unfavorable qualities, such as: 

  • Briquettes often take their sweet time to light. Some people use lighter fluid to speed up the process, but this can leave your food with a nasty chemical taste. (Plus, if you’re lighting a kamado grill, you should never use lighter fluid…period.) 
  • Commercial briquettes are often full of additives and fillers that can taste almost as bad as lighter fluid.
  • When you’re done grilling, briquettes leave behind a mess of ash to clean up. 

All in all, even if you have fond memories of grilling with briquettes, they’re best left in the past. There’s a better way forward with a higher quality type of charcoal. 

Why Use Lump Charcoal?

Lump charcoal is the secret to a great charcoal fire. It’s a minimally processed form of charcoal that comes in big chunks. While lump charcoal does cost more than briquettes, it’s worth every penny. 

What’s so great about lump charcoal? 

  • If you’re using a ceramic grill like the Grilla Grills Kong, natural lump charcoal is highly preferred over briquettes. It’s free of any artificial additives that might leave a bad taste in your ceramic lining.
  • Lump charcoal lights much more quickly than briquettes. Usually, all you’ll need is some newspaper, paraffin cubes or other natural fire starters. Leave that lighter fluid behind! 
  • Lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes. If you’re having trouble getting briquettes up to the temperature you need, try switching to lump charcoal. 
  • You’ll get better flavor from lump charcoal, thanks to the fact that it’s made from whole pieces of hardwood. 
  • Lump charcoal leaves behind much less ash, which means less grill cleaning for you!

Smoke, Grill, Bake and More with a Kong Kamado Grill

a line of several kebabs cooking on a grill

How to Start Up a Charcoal Grill with Lump Charcoal

Before we begin, an important note: If this is the first time you’re lighting up your kamado grill, make sure you’ve seasoned the grill first. Use the technique in our guide on how to season a grill

1. Place your lump charcoal in the grill.

The best way to arrange your lump charcoal in the grill depends on your desired temperature: 

  • Need a low-and-slow temperature perfect for smoking? Arrange your lump charcoal in a single-layer “donut” shape around the edge of the firebox. 
  • For a high temperature that’s good for cooking hot and fast, stack two to three layers of charcoal throughout the firebox. 

Other methods, such as the snake method, can be useful if you’re headed into a particularly long cook session. The above methods, however, are the best ways to get started for newbies..

2. Use natural fire starters to get your fire going.

With quality lump charcoal, not only can you skip the lighter fluid, but you also won’t need tricks like using a chimney starter. Instead, just add some natural fire starters like newspaper pieces, paraffin cubes or tumbleweeds.

Arrange the fire starters between pieces of charcoal and then light them with safety matches or a grill lighter. Lump charcoal should catch shortly after the starters are lit. 

3. Keep your lid and bottom damper fully open during lighting.

You want plenty of oxygen flowing to your coals as you’re lighting them. That means it’s critical to keep your grill’s lid and bottom damper open so that air flows freely. Soon, you’ll adjust the vents to get your ideal temperature, but leave them open for now. 

4. Allow your charcoal to burn for a few minutes and then adjust the temperature.

Let your lump charcoal burn for a few minutes after you’ve lit it. Watch to see when your charcoal is covered in a layer of gray ash and has started building up an ember bed. At that point, close the lid and shut the bottom damper most of the way. This will provide enough air to keep the fire going while regulating the temperature.

Look at the temperature gauge on your grill to determine when you’ve hit the sweet spot. Now you’re ready to get your favorite BBQ recipes on the grill!

Find Out Why Pitmasters Love Our Ceramic Grill

a couple of steaks being flame grilled

Learning to light your kamado grill? Watch our video on how to light a kamado grill to see our pitmasters’ tricks for doing it like a pro! We’ve also got a handy guide for choosing, using and storing lump charcoal. Finally, don’t forget to get acquainted with the Kong kamado grill itself. It’s a charcoal-grilling beast unlike any other! 

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