Whether you love the taste of roasted vegetables or the seared flavor of steak, there’s no denying that grilling is one of the best ways to prepare summer staples. Knowing how to use a charcoal grill is an essential summer skill. Charcoal grills are arguably the perfect way to get that classic “grilled” flavor, but if you’ve never used one before, you’re probably wondering how to start a charcoal grill.
Thankfully, it’s not that hard—starting a charcoal grill definitely takes getting used to, but once you’ve mastered the process, you’ll be one step closer to that perfect hamburger. And even better, you’ll be able to show off at the next backyard barbecue.
A Few Tips Before You Get Started
If you’re working with a charcoal grill for the first time, there are a few things to keep in mind. They’re not quite as intuitive as gas or electric grills, but that doesn’t mean they’re less effective (or fun).
Know how to prepare a grill for lighting
Before you start adding—or even buying—charcoal, you’ll want to properly clean your grill for the most effective barbecue. If you’re working with a brand-new grill, you can skip this step. But if you’re using a hand-me-down or previously used charcoal grill, it needs to be relatively spotless before you light it back up. Get rid of that grime and debris before you get to work.
Choose the right charcoal
There are a few different types of charcoal to choose from. We prefer brands like Royal Oak Lump Charcoal ($13). It burns hot and clean, with a lightly smoky scent. Another great alternative is Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal ($40), which uses a blend of oak, hickory, maple and pecan wood. Don’t skimp on this step—a subpar charcoal brand will be harder to light, which will lead to more frustration and fewer delicious burgers.
Learn how to arrange the charcoal
Though it would be much easier, you can’t just dump your charcoal onto your grill and hope for the best. You need to arrange your pieces of charcoal for the best results. Again, this will differ depending on your preferred method—if you use a chimney, you’ll be arranging differently than if you use lighter fluid.
How to Light a Charcoal Grill with Lighter Fluid
Brandy Mcknight / EyeEm/Getty Images
Lighter fluid is a method well-loved by dads and granddads around the world, but it’s not one that members of our Test Kitchen are too crazy about. Josh Rink, our food stylist and test cook, warns that the use of lighter fluid could be potentially dangerous if you don’t do it properly. Often people light inconsistently, or overcompensate and add more fluid than is necessary. If you’re opting for lighter fluid, we recommend following these steps.
Step 1: Arrange the coals
Arrange your charcoal into a pyramid shape. Make sure you have a large base, then stack the coals into smaller and smaller layers.
Step 2: Carefully pour lighter fluid evenly over coals
You’ll want to use your lighter fluid according to the directions on the package, but generally, evenly coat your coals with the liquid.
Step 3: Wait 30 seconds
Allow the coals to absorb the lighter fluid for 30 seconds before lighting.
Step 4: Light coals
Using a grill lighter or match with a long nose, evenly light the coals in several places. Do not add more lighter fluid once your coals are lit.
Step 5: Top with grate when coals turn white
The coals will catch fire, then turn white once they are ready to be used. Spread them evenly, then top with your grate and start grilling.
How to Light a Charcoal Grill with a Chimney
Members of our Test Kitchen agree when it comes to charcoal chimneys like this ($23). The cooks love ’em! It’s our recommended method for lighting a charcoal grill. Josh explains, “A charcoal chimney is my preferred method for lighting coals. A chimney allows for proper ventilation around the coals as they heat, and also allows for easy mobility.”
To use a charcoal chimney, start with these steps:
Step 1: Add charcoal to the chimney
Fill your chimney with the amount of charcoal specified by your product. You want your charcoal to reach the top, but not overflow.
Step 2: Place starters under the chimney
Starters will be lit on fire, so you can use any items that catch easily. Many people use newspaper or old paper, but Josh recommends using things you may have around the house that burn more slowly than paper, like paper cups, wood chips, dryer lint or even wax.
Step 3: Light the chimney
Light the starters on fire under the chimney. Keep an eye on the coals for the next 10 or so minutes.
Step 4: Pour coals onto the grill when you see flames
Once you see flames poking through the coals, it’s time to flip the chimney over. Gently grab the handle and pour the coals out.
Step 5: Top with grate when coals turn white
After a few more minutes, once the coals have turned white, spread them and cover with a grate and get to grilling.
How to Start a Charcoal Grill with an Electric Starter
Electric firestarters are another option for starting your charcoal grill. We like the Looflighter Electric Firestarter ($80), but there are lots of electric firestarters you can pick up and use for your grill.
Step 1: Arrange your coals
Spread your coals on the grill and arrange into a pyramid shape.
Step 2: Place the nose of the starter in the middle of your coals
Plug your electric firestarter in, then place the nose directly in your coals. It will begin heating immediately.
Step 3: When you see sparks, pull the lighter slightly away
Once the sparks begin, pull the lighter a few inches away from the pyramid.
Step 4: Keep lighting until the fire starts
Keeping the firestarter a few inches away from the stack, move it around and heat the coals until the fire starts. Remove the starter.
Step 5: Top with grate when coals turn white
Once the coals are entirely white, spread the coals and add the grate.
Whether you prefer a chimney, lighter fluid or an electric starter, once you master a method, you’ll be whipping up grilling recipes like it’s no one’s business!
1 / 75Taste of Home
Grilled Scrum-Delicious Burgers
I’m not sure where this recipe originated, but it’s one of my family’s summertime favorites. I usually serve these juicy mushroom burgers when we have company. The guests rave about the flavorful cheesy topping. It’s fun to serve a burger that’s a little more special. —Wendy Sommers, West Chicago, IllinoisGo to Recipe
Big John’s Chili-Rubbed Grilled Ribs
When my family thinks of summer grilling, it’s ribs all the way. Our Asian-inspired recipe is a welcome change from the usual barbecue-sauce versions. —Ginger Sullivan, Cutler Bay, FloridaGo to Recipe Don’t make these grilling safety mistakes.Taste of Home
Grilled Glazed Spatchcocked Chicken
A few pantry items inspired this recipe, which I’ve since made for small weeknight meals or for big parties. —James Schend, Pleasant Prairie, WisconsinGo to Recipe
Grilled Key West Flank Steak
My husband, Jason, is the cook in our family. This is his recipe, inspired by his Colombian roots and our visits to Key West. Sometimes we grill extra lime and onion slices alongside. Serve with sides of rice and fried plantains. —Gretchen Ospina, Columbia Heights, MinnesotaGo to Recipe
Grilled Brats with Sriracha Mayo
I am a Sriracha fanatic, so that’s what inspired this dish. You can boil the brats in your favorite beer to reduce the fat and give them flavor before grilling, or spread garlic butter on lightly toasted buns. —Quincie Ball, Olympia, WashingtonGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Grilled Mahi Mahi
Instead of grilling out the usual hamburgers or chicken breasts, prepare this grilled mahi mahi and reel in raves! —Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, WisconsinGo to Recipe
Grilled Steak Tacos
Spicy aioli brings a zesty kick to steak tacos, and the ribeye is a nice upgrade from typical ground beef. Grab one and enjoy the burst of flavor in each bite! —Michael Compean, Los Angeles, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Grilled Feta-Dill Chicken Burgers
I found fresh ground chicken at the butcher and gave it a whirl on our new grill. The result is these saucy burgers. Everybody went nuts—including my sister-in-law, an amazing cook! —Wendy Boughton, Victoria, British ColumbiaGo to Recipe
Smoked Honey-Peppercorn Salmon
I found this recipe in an Alaska fishing guide. Now it’s the only way we do salmon. The brine gives it a sweet caramelized coating, and the hickory wood chips give it a distinct smoky flavor. —Judy Ashby, Jamestown, TennesseeGo to Recipe
Grilled Flank Steak Pinwheels
The secret to these pretty flank steak pinwheels lies in their butterfly treatment. Because the steaks are flattened, marinade isn’t need. Instead, they’re filled with a colorful stuffing of red pepper and spinach and draped with a flavorful, homemade blue cheese sauce. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
Grilled Ginger Shrimp with Plums
Sweet, simple and sensational, these shrimp skewers boast loads of flavor with just four ingredients. Throw them on the grill for a quick dinner or tasty potluck dish. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
Spiced Grilled Chicken with Cilantro Lime Butter
This grilled chicken gets a lovely pop of color and flavor from the lime butter—don’t skip it! —Diane Halferty, Corpus Christi, TexasGo to Recipe
Grilled Foil-Packet Potatoes and Sausage
My family enjoys camping and cooking over a fire. These hearty foil-packet potatoes turn out beautifully over a campfire, on the grill or in the oven at home. —Julie Koets, Elkhart, IndianaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Grilled Green Onion Burgers
Change up this super tasty burger with your favorite toppings. Whip some mayo with hoisin sauce to add extra tang! —Darla Andrews, Schertz, TexasGo to Recipe
Grilled Huli Huli Turkey Drumsticks
I’m never one to do things traditionally, so when it came time to hosting Thanksgiving, I went in a completely tropical direction. Borrowing my favorite Hawaiian chicken recipe, I substituted turkey legs and have never looked back. —Jacyn Siebert, San Francisco, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Lime and Dill Chimichurri Shrimp
Chimichurri is a very popular condiment in Argentina and Uruguay and is most often used as a dipping sauce or a marinade for meats. My chimichurri shrimp version incorporates dill and lime, which give it a brighter flavor, making it ideal for spring and summer entertaining. —Bonnie Landy, Castro Valley, CaliforniaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Chicken with Peach-Avocado Salsa
This super fresh dinner is pure summer—juicy peaches, creamy avocado, grilled chicken and a kick of hot sauce and lime. To get it on the table even quicker, make the salsa ahead. —Shannon Roum, Cudahy, WisconsinGo to RecipeTaste of Home
I love hamburgers and tropical fruit, so it just seemed natural for me to combine them. My family frequently requests this unique Hawaiian pineapple burger recipe. It’s a nice change of pace! —Joi McKim-Jones, Waikoloa, HawaiiGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Grilled Lobster Tails
I had never tried grilling lobster tails at home until I tried this convenient and deliciously different recipe. It turned out amazing, and has left me with little reason to ever order grilled lobster tail at a restaurant again. Here’s how to cook lobster tails on the grill. —Katie Rush, Kansas City, MissouriGo to Recipe
Zesty salsa and tender strips of steak make these traditional fajitas extra special. —Rebecca Baird, Salt Lake City, UtahGo to Recipe
Grilled Shrimp & Tomatoes with Linguine
This pasta came about one night when I started making up dinner as I went along, using what I had on hand. We knew it turned out amazing with the very first bite. —Lisa Bynum, Brandon, MississippiGo to Recipe
Grilled Pineapple Chicken
A trip to Hawaii is easy with this juicy grilled pineapple chicken. Simply give it a quick marinade, fire up the grill and let it sizzle. We love this low-carb recipe! —Charlotte Rogers, Virginia Beach, VirginiaGo to Recipe
Teriyaki Shish Kabobs
When I was a teenager, my father worked for an airline, and my family lived on the island of Guam in the South Pacific. A friend of my mother gave her this tangy-sweet recipe, and we enjoyed it often. Now I make it for my family, and they’re big fans as well. —Suzanne Pelegrin, Ocala, FloridaGo to Recipe
Gourmet Burgers with Sun-Dried Tomato
This recipe brings together many of the flavors my family enjoys, complete with a surprise in the center of each burger. You can use almost any cheese—Gorgonzola, feta, smoked Gouda, blue or another family favorite. —Aaron Shields, Hamburg, New YorkGo to Recipe
Balsamic Steak Salad
My husband loves blue cheese and I like a hearty salad that eats like a meal, so I put the two things together to make this steak salad recipe. The sweet-tartness of dried cranberries pairs deliciously with the cheese, creamy avocado and balsamic vinegar. It’s irresistible! —Marla Clark, Albuquerque, New MexicoGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Grilled Garden Veggie Pizza
Pile on the veggies—the crisp, grilled crust can take it! This colorful, healthy pizza looks as fresh as it tastes. —Diane Halferty, Corpus Christi, TexasGo to Recipe
Sesame Ginger Beef Skewers
My family loves the flavors of these zippy kabobs. They’re perfect for a laid-back cookout in the backyard. —Jasey McBurnett, Rock Springs, WyomingGo to Recipe
When whipping up something for Father’s Day or the Fourth of July, I go big and tall with this fully loaded, juicy yumburger. —Chase Bailey, Costa Mesa, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Firecracker Grilled Salmon
Let this sensational salmon perk up dinner tonight. With a super flavorful glaze that kicks you right in the taste buds, this weeknight dish is anything but boring. —Melissa Rogers, Tuscaloosa, ALGo to Recipe
Grilled Apple-Brined Turkey
Producing a juicy, amber-colored turkey infused with flavor is possible with this apple juice turkey brine. You won’t regret planning for the long marinating time. This tasty turkey is worth every minute. —Trudy Williams, Shannonville, OntarioGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Steak & New Potato Toss
I usually use leftover barbecued steak to make this fabulous main dish salad. It’s pretty, too, with the red pepper, green broccoli and white potatoes. —Deyanne Davies, Rossland, British ColumbiaGo to Recipe
Grilled Pork Noodle Salad
The only complex thing about this easy salad is the flavor! With smoky barbecued pork and a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables, this is a comforting and tasty home-cooked meal. —Rosalyn Nguyen, Astoria, New YorkGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Bacon Cheeseburgers with Fry Sauce
In Utah, fry sauce is the beloved condiment. We use it not just as a dip for fries, but also as a spread for hamburgers. Utah is known as the Beehive State, so I wanted to add honey as a special touch to my fry sauce. —Elisabeth Larsen, Pleasant Grove, UtahGo to Recipe
Chicken with Peach-Cucumber Salsa
To keep our kitchen cool, we grill chicken outdoors and serve it with a minty peach salsa that can easily be made ahead. —Janie Colle, Hutchinson, KansasGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Summer Garden Fish Tacos
I like to serve fish tacos with quinoa and black beans for a complete and satisfying meal. If you’ve got them, add colorful summer toppings like bright peppers, green onions or purple carrots. —Camille Parker, Chicago, IllinoisGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Cajun Boil on the Grill
I came up with these everything-in-one seafood packets for a family reunion, since the recipe can be increased to feed a bunch. The foil steams up inside, so open carefully. —Allison Brooks, Fort Collins, ColoradoGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Steak with Chipotle-Lime Chimichurri
Steak gets a flavor kick from chimichurri. This piquant, all-purpose herb sauce is so versatile, it complements most any grilled meat, poultry or fish. —Laureen Pittman, Riverside, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Rosemary-Lemon Grilled Chicken
Here’s a simple dish with big bold lemon and rosemary flavors that’s made with very few ingredients. It’s great by itself but can also be used on top of salad greens as another creative dinner option. —Debbie Carter, Kingsburg, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Beef and Blue Cheese Penne with Pesto
Unique and simple to prepare, this delicious pasta dish is filled with fresh flavors, and it’s as healthy as it is hearty. Best of all, it takes just 30 minutes to set this meal on the table. —Frances Pietsch, Flower Mound, TexasGo to RecipeTaste of Home
My family loves the taste of tacos, but I dislike the mess! So I developed these burgers as a tasty but tidy alternative.—Linda Logan, Warren, OhioGo to Recipe
Chicken Alfredo with Grilled Apples
If you’ve never grilled apples before, here’s your excuse to start. I created this Alfredo-style chicken for a party. By the number of recipe requests, I knew it was a hit. —Richard Robinson, Park Forest, IllinoisGo to Recipe
Grilled Steak Salad with Tomatoes & Avocado
My family loves a good steak dinner, but with busy schedules, I’m often thinking about ways to put new and simple twists on things. This salad is flavored with the freshness of lemon and cilantro and is one of my husband’s favorite weeknight dishes. —Lyndsay Wells, Ladysmith, British ColumbiaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Barbecued Shrimp & Peach Kabobs
Shrimp grilled with peaches and green onions really sets off fireworks! The spicy seasonings even helped me win a ribbon at a county fair. —Jen Smallwood, Portsmouth, VirginiaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Southwest Steak & Potatoes
Bold seasonings give meat and potatoes a Southwest twist. Feel free to adjust the heat factor by using more or less chili powder. —Kenny Fisher, Lancaster, OhioGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Salmon Salad with Glazed Walnuts
This main-dish salad was inspired by something I ate while on a trip. The glazed walnuts give it something special. I’ve also topped it with grilled chicken or portobello mushrooms with amazing results. —Joanna Kobernik, Berkley, MichiganGo to Recipe
I serve portobello fajitas family-style so guests can build their own. Just pass the tortillas and garnishes like salsa, cheese, guacamole and sour cream. —Carolyn Butterfield, Lake Stevens, WashingtonGo to Recipe
I can’t take all the credit for these winning burgers. My husband’s uncle passed down the special barbecue sauce recipe. We love it on everything…it was only natural to try it on, and in, burgers. Add cheese and bacon to take them over the top. —Rhoda Troyer, Glenford, OhioGo to Recipe
Ginger Halibut with Brussels Sprouts
I moved to the United States from Russia and love cooking Russian food for family and friends. Halibut with soy sauce, ginger and pepper is a favorite. —Margarita Parker, New Bern, North CarolinaGo to Recipe
Grilled Huli Huli Chicken
I got this grilled chicken recipe from a friend while living in Hawaii. It sizzles with the flavors of brown sugar, ginger and soy sauce. Huli means “turn” in Hawaiian. This sweet and savory glaze is fantastic on pork chops, too. —Sharon Boling, San Diego, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Honey-Glazed Chicken Kabobs
This is one of my husband’s favorite meals. I serve it with rice pilaf, salad and grilled garlic bread. —Tracey Miller, Aiken, South CarolinaGo to Recipe
Grilled Tilapia Piccata
We aren’t big fish eaters, but a friend made this for us, and we couldn’t believe how wonderful it was! Now we eat it regularly. I love making it for guests because it’s simple, looks lovely and tastes restaurant-worthy. —Beth Cooper, Columbus, OhioGo to Recipe
Honey Chipotle Ribs
Nothing is better than having a sauce with the perfect slather consistency. Here’s one that will ensure a lip-smacking feast. Go ahead and make the sauce up to a week ahead for an easier grilling experience. —Caitlin Hawes, Westwood, MassachusettsGo to Recipe
Lemon Chicken Skewers
This easy-to-assemble recipe, with tender chunks of chicken and garden-fresh veggies, is always a hit at parties. —Margaret Allen, Abingdon, VirginiaGo to Recipe
A friend who’s an excellent cook shared this hamburger recipe with me, and it has since become a family favorite. The unusual combination of cola and French salad dressing added to the ground beef gives it fabulous flavor. The mixture is also used as a basting sauce on the moist burgers.
-Melva Baumer, Millmont, PennsylvaniaGo to Recipe
Lime-Glazed Pork Chops
These tangy grilled chops are all the talk at barbecues and tailgates. You gotta have them with the sweet and sour glaze. —Jacqueline Correa, Landing, New JerseyGo to Recipe
Summer Steak Kabobs
These steak kabobs not only satisfy my love of outdoor cooking, they feature a mouthwatering marinade, too. It’s terrific with chicken and pork, but I prefer it with beef because it tenderizes remarkably well. —Christi Ross, Guthrie, TexasGo to Recipe
Buttery Grilled Shrimp
This is easy and delicious! These shrimp are great with steak, but for a special occasion, brush the sauce on lobster tails and grill. —Sheryl Shenberger, Albuquerque, New MexicoGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Ricotta-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
These mushrooms are rich and creamy and bright at the same time because of the fresh herbs and tomato. I especially like to serve them with grilled asparagus. —Tre Balchowsky, Sausalito, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Grilled Tilapia with Pineapple Salsa
Years ago I found a grilled tilapia recipe in a seafood cookbook. The pineapple salsa with cilantro has a touch of spice and goes so well with the flaky, tender fish. —Beth Fleming, Downers Grove, IllinoisGo to Recipe
Spicy Barbecued Chicken
This spicy, saucy chicken is great served with basil-buttered grilled corn on the cob and fresh coleslaw. —Rita Wintrode, Corryton, TennesseeGo to Recipe
Grilled Steak Pinwheels
I’ve been serving this recipe to family and friends for 20 years and very seldom do I have any leftovers. We try to keep the house cool, so we grill out often. —Mary Hills, Scottsdale, ArizonaGo to Recipe
Lemon-Basil Grilled Shrimp & Couscous
The basil and lemon in this dish complement each other so nicely. Using fresh ingredients really makes a big difference. —Trisha Kruse, Eagle, IdahoGo to Recipe
Flank Steak with Cilantro & Blue Cheese Butter
I love the combination of the sweet citrus marinade and the strong tang of the blue cheese butter. And my kids just love flank steak. —Gwen Wedel, Augusta, MichiganGo to Recipe
Baby Back Ribs
Slow-cook the ribs during the day and they will be ready to finish on the grill when you get home. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
This juicy, zesty chicken stars in many of my family’s summer meals. While there are a million ways to dress up poultry, you’ll find yourself turning to this recipe again and again. It’s that quick and easy! —Deborah Gretzinger, Green Bay, WisconsinGo to Recipe
Grilled Garden Pizza
Dazzle your family and friends with pizzas fresh off the grill. We top them with Asiago, Parmesan, veggies and fresh basil. Pile on the toppings you love. —Teri Rasey, Cadillac, MichiganGo to Recipe
Spicy Lemon Chicken Kabobs
When I see Meyer lemons in the store, it must be spring. I like using them for these easy chicken kabobs, but regular grilled lemons still add the signature smoky tang. —Terri Crandall, Gardnerville, NevadaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Grilled Sausages with Summer Vegetables
After 30 years of camping, we’ve come up with an arsenal of surefire recipes. Our grilled sausage with veggies would be a superstar at a potluck. —Nancy Daugherty, Cortland, OhioGo to Recipe
Dad’s Lemony Grilled Chicken
Lemon juice, onions and garlic add tangy flavor to chicken when firing up the grill. —Mike Schulz, Tawas City, MichiganGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Grilled Steaks with Greek Relish
My ribeye steak showcases the flavors of Greece my husband and I were introduced to while on a cruise. We like it with pita bread and hummus. —Mary Lou Cook, Welches, OregonGo to Recipe
Grilled Salmon with Nectarines
My family liked this recipe so much one evening that I made it for a potluck the very next day. Everyone raved about it there, too—even people who aren’t particularly fond of fish. —Kerin Benjamin, Citrus Heights, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Jalapeno-Swiss Turkey Burgers
These easy turkey burgers are extra juicy and loaded with flavor. I think the spicy jalapenos give it just the right level of heat, but feel free to adjust the amount to amp it up or tone it down. —Wanda Allende, Orlando, FloridaGo to Recipe
Grilled Lemon-Dill Shrimp
This grilled shrimp is one of my go-to recipes when I stare at the freezer and draw a blank. Add veggies if desired, but grill them separately. —Jane Whittaker, Pensacola, FloridaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Grilled Eggplant Pita Pizzas
We grow eggplants and love to use them for our special pizza. Grilling adds robust flavor to the crust, veggies and garlic. Waiting for the eggplants to grow is the hardest part! —Judy Barrett, Chelsea, AlabamaGo to Recipe
Grilled Flank Steak with Summer Relish
My garden produces a nice harvest of tomatoes, scallions, corn, garlic and poblanos, so that’s what I use to make relish for this tasty steak. —Brenda Washnock, Negaunee, MichiganGo to Recipe ⓘ