How to Create and Maintain a Charcoal Fire

brown sausage on charcoal fire grill
Photo by Patrick Selin

Often when you have bought a new grill and want to start grilling on it, the only thing that might be standing between you and the juicy burger you want to eat might be the charcoal fire you have to start before you can grill anything on your new grill. Beginners often find starting a charcoal fire and then maintaining its intensity. However, by following a few tricks of the trade, any beginner can soon begin to feel like a professional when it concerns charcoal fires.

Using a Chimney Starter:

A chimney starter or charcoal chimney is one of the easiest ways anyone can start a charcoal fire. It is a cylindrical shaped metal container with no top or bottom, and there are vents made in the form of holes all around the cylinder for air to pass through. One of the main advantages of a chimney starter is the absence of starter fluid while lighting the fire.

The few steps to follow for starting a fire in a charcoal chimney include putting a layer of dry scrunched newspaper or any form or paper at the bottom. However, if you find yourself missing this element and are unable to find any kind of paper where you are, all that needs to be done is gathering a handful of dry twigs to use as the starter. The aim of using paper or twigs is to provide the charcoal with a giant-sized matchstick, which can stay lit long enough for the coal to be able to catch the flames.

Using Lighter Fluid: 

Another easy way to start a charcoal fire is to use lighter fluid. The steps for this are as simple as putting your charcoal in a pile in the grill and pouring lighter fluid on top of them. However, it is crucial to be extremely careful when working with lighter fluid as it is highly flammable and can cause a tremendous amount of damage if precautions are not taken.

It is essential to use a long match or a grill lighter when lighting a fire using lighter fluid. It is also crucial to keep in mind not to pour the fluid onto already burning flames and to keep the fluid container away from the fire and hot grill. Often individuals can get excited about the first fire they have made and forget these simple precautionary tips causing harm to themselves or others near the grill.

Maintaining the charcoal fire: 

Often, starting the fire is the easier part, and keeping the flame alive and maintaining the heat in the charcoals once they have caught fire is the more challenging aspect of the whole grilling experience. Following these simple tricks will ensure you have a hassle-free barbecue session:


  • Keep the charcoal well ventilated: keeping the air running through the charcoal provides two different functions. On the one hand, it gives the fire the oxygen it requires to keep burning, and, on the other, it keeps the ash off of the charcoal, making sure they don’t get smothered by it. Many grills come with a built-in manual fan with can be run by rotating a crank. However, if you do not have that option, a small handheld fan should do the trick just fine.
  • Keep the charcoal in a pile: keeping the charcoal in a tight pile ensures a direct and robust heat. While you are cooking, it is a good idea to use long metal tongs to maintain a tight structure of the charcoals. Since a single piece of coal will not provide enough heat to cook anything significant and will burn much faster.


Following these few tricks will leave you feeling like a professional at barbecues, and your skills will impress friends and family attending said barbecue. With these tricks up your sleeves, making a juicy burger or grilling a hot dog on the patio grill will be the most rewarding experience for you.