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Learn how to light a BBQ with ease thanks to our guide

Flames rise from a glowing charcoal pile as a perfect example of how to light a BBQ

As the optimism of spring pulsates through your body, the mind switches into full BBQ mode. Sun, sear and sizzle front of mind, you pull the cover off the barbecue and grab your bag of Big K. But do you really know how to light a BBQ?

Sure we’re not calculating the mass of black hole, but there’s technique, knowledge and insight at play. Basically you want the most efficient and powerful performance from your charcoal right? This requires a clearly defined method and approach. So to fire up correctly, you need to fire up your brain first. Good thing we’re here to share our charcoal experience and expertise with you. Here’s how you can get your charcoal blazing perfectly.


How to light a charcoal bbq? Safety should be the top priority.

Not to go all Larry David on you and curb your enthusiasm, but before you do anything keep safety front and centre. This isn’t easy at times. We get so caught up in the carnivorous carnival, that we just want to get grilling as quick as possible. Gusto is great. But not if you end up burning yourself or torching your lawn. What we’re trying to say is take a step back, clear your mind and set up your barbecue safely. Check out these 5 quick steps to help you light your barbecue the safe way.

  • Seek out a flat surface for your barbecue set up. The terror of a topple is real, so you want your charcoal grill to be stable and secure on even terrain.
  • Keep your grill a safe distance from trees, fences and anything combustible.
  • Ensure that you have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher next to your grill. This will allow you to take swift action if necessary to kill any raging flames.
  • Create a literal or metaphorical safety zone around the grill. Basically keep your pets and kids at a safe distance from the heat at all times.
  • Get all your safety kit on point. Use long handled tongs and proper barbecue tools with insulated handles to avoid any burnt digits.


Steaks sizzle on a grill surrounded by flames from hot charcoal. This is how you light a BBQ


How to light a coal BBQ? You need quality charcoal.

Lighting a barbecue is like building a house. You need a solid foundation to ensure success. This is where quality charcoal comes into the equation. You see charcoal affects everything from the heat and duration of your cook, to the taste, texture and look of your food on the plate. In other words charcoal is the most important ingredient in any BBQ. So you need charcoal of the highest quality. Ahem Big K Charcoal meets this criteria. Ok shameless plus aside, you should try to buy superior quality and sustainably produced charcoal made from coppiced wood or forestry commission approved wood where possible. We’ve been at this for over 50 years, so you could say we’re kind of the charcoal experts out here. Check out our Pro Charcoal Range and see for yourself.


How to get a BBQ going? Start with a stack.

Some people believe lighting your grill as easy as bunging a load of charcoal on your grill base and reaching for the lighter fluid. This is one way of doing things.But it isn’t necessarily the right way to get the best results. Remember we want an efficient and optimised burn here people, so we need to arrange our charcoal in the correct way to hit this goal. Bring on the stack. It’s kind of like Jenga in reverse. Basically you want to take your charcoal pieces and stack them into a pyramid or mound shape. While doing this, ensure that you leave gaps between your pieces where possible. This allows air to circulate through the stack which improves the combustion process due to the increased oxygen available for the burn. Your stack also creates coal-to-coal contact which in turn, helps your fire to catch and spread with ease.


It’s time to get the fire started

Your magnificent stack stands proud like some carbon based feat of the Egyptians, but what’s next. It’s time to get the fire started. If you want to know how to light a barbecue without firelighters then read on. Just grab some newspaper and scrunch it up into little balls. You can even dip the balls in cooking oil if you want – just for a little extra zing to help them catch. Next simply insert the balls into the gaps within your charcoal stack. Or you can place the balls inside the stack as you are building it. Of course you can follow the steps above using our natural firelighters too.


Best way to light a BBQ? Be patient.

Take it easy guys and gals! You want to rush ahead to the sizzle fest – we get it. However patience is definitely a virtue. Let the flames catch and spread in their own time. Although it’s tempting to turbo boost the process by stuffing all your receipts form the previous financial year into your stack: please don’t. Once a few charcoal pieces are lit, the rest will catch in no time at all.


A lump of beef cooks on a grill with hot charcoal and flame. Another example of how to light a BBQ.


How do you light a BBQ grill? You can use a chimney starter too.

Maybe the thought of charcoal Tetris isn’t so appealing to you? So now how to light your BBQ? No worries here’s another way you can get your charcoal burning before you can say ‘Chim Chim Cheree’. Meet the chimney starter.

A chimney starter is a metallic cylinder of chamber with handle. Essentially you place all your charcoal and firelighters into the chamber and light everything in there. Then simply empty the starter onto your grill base and spread out your charcoal. Sounds almost too easy doesn’t it?


Here’s four steps to lighting charcoal in a chimney starter

  • Back to basics – fill your chimney starter with charcoal. We’d say about 80% of the volume of the starter should do it.
  • Place a few balls of scrunched up newspaper, or natural firelighters, into your chimney starter.
  • Light your newspaper balls or firelighters through the vents in the chimney starter. The flames will light the edges of the surrounding charcoal, that in turn lit the edges of the other charcoal pieces.
  • After about 10-15 minutes, you should observe lovely glowing charcoal with smaller flames licking over the top layer of charcoal in the starter. This means you are set and good to go. Finally pour out your hot coals onto your barbecue base. Job soooo done.


A group of meat chops cook on a glowing hot grill. This is the perfect illustration of how to light a BBQ.


How can I tell if my charcoal is ready for cooking?

This is a perfectly valid question. It’s one thing to light your charcoal, it’s quite another to know when it has entered into the optimal heat and performance zone. Here’s a super easy guide for you. Spoiler alert – your charcoal colour holds the key.


Black or grey with big flames

Slow down there cowboy! Your charcoal isn’t ready yet. Probably need another 5 – 8 minutes.


White hot glow with a red centre

That’s the money! You’re ready for for some direct heat cooking.


Ashy white with extreme heat

This is when you coals are perfect for some low n’ slow indirect cooking.


How to arrange charcoal for cooking?

We’re not going to get bogged down in the minutia here. What you should know is that the arrangement of your charcoal creates different types or heat environments suited to different kinds of food and cooking techniques. Feast your eyes on this recap.


Charcoal arrangement for direct heat 

All you need to do is spread out your charcoal in one uniform and even layer. This basically creates a high temperature ‘stove top’ effect, meaning the heat created is direct and evenly distributed. Think of it like having everything on high heat in a hot skillet. Direct heat is ideal for thin cuts of meat and steaks, plus anything that cooks through quickly – like burgers.


Charcoal arrangement for indirect heat

If you’re after more control and customisation for you cook, then you should be looking at arranging your charcoal for indirect heat. This is easy to do. Simply push your coals to one side of your barbecue. This creates two heat areas: direct heat from the side with your charcoal pile, indirect heat from the empty space. Now you have more possibilities. Firstly, you can cook larger joints and thicker cuts at lower temperatures by using the indirect heat section. Alternatively you can cook using direct heat from the charcoal side and keep your food warm on the empty side of the grill base.

Well that about wraps everything up in a nice BBQ bow! If you want more information on how to light a BBQ check out this blog. We also have a firefighter deep dive blog here For you too. What more could you possibly need? Now you are beyond ready to light up your charcoal grill like an absolute pro for sure.