Are there any life hacks for starting a fire in a pack of charcoal for grilling without using gas? I do have access to matches, lighters, etc.
I really like to use the "chimney starter" that came with my Weber Kettle for this. I really don't want to advertise for Weber but those things are good! You may find something comparable or can build one yourself.
Instead of just placing the charcoals in your grill, place your chimney starter in the grill and fill that with charcoals. Then just stuff some ring shaped newspaper underneath it, make sure air supply is ensured and light it.
Your charcoal is ready whey you see orange color deep inside the chimney starter. Make sure to wear heat-resistant gloves and pour the charcoals into your grill.
The below image uses paraffin cubes instead of newspaper. You can basically use any kind of firelighters, but you'll usually already have some newspaper laying around.
Text- & image-source:
Toilet paper and cooking oil:
- Make 4-5 cones of toilet paper by wrapping it round 3 fingers about 6 times.
- Drizzle cooking oil into each cone, about a teaspoon in each (it can get messy, do this over the charcoal)
- Spread the cones evenly through the charcoal and sort of bury them in so the top of the cones are at the same level as the top of the bed, standing vertically.
- Place a few pieces of charcoal around the top edges of the cones, but not covering them completely.
- Carefully light each cone and watch it all take place
Make sure the cones are big enough and saturated enough that they don't burn out too quickly. You may need to shuffle the charcoal around a bit to make sure they are getting enough flames on them.
This method is as effective as using firelighters (and cheaper, and probably cleaner!).
Paper and cooking oil. You can make a bed of scrunched up paper (newspaper is probably about the best) under the charcoal. Paper burns up quickly so you need a lot of it. You can drizzle cooking oil on the charcoal. Cooking oil won't set light easily but the burning paper will get it hot enough and give the flames enough intesity and longevity to get the coals smouldering. I'm assuming this is for a barbecue. When getting it started, you want it sheltered from the wind (but not smothered with a lid). Once the flames have died down, you want to get airflow to the coals, by moving it if safe.
I've used different techniques with more or less success :
- simple plain Zip barbecue starters (or similar) : not very efficient used alone
- zip + paper : slightly more efficient, not much, paper won't last long
- paper + kindling : like this method, but can be a bit slow and do a lot of smoke, you also need kindling...
- zip + kindling : a bit less smoke and ashes than previous method
basically, I love using kindling, but there are also other solutions like the one proposed by Alex. I've already seen it in action and indeed it was quite impressive. You don't need to go Weber for this, other brands have this kind of tool, the idea being to avoid charcoal to spread and concentrate it right above the fire. Air circulation is also very good. Some barbecue actually include this "chimney" under the barbecue self. But that's a tool more that you need...
I used an electric coil BBQ starter. It's a heating element like you would find at the bottom of your dishwasher, but small with a handle and a cord. You stack the charcol briquetes in a pyrimid on top of it and plug it in. In a few minutes the coal will start with a small flame. Take the coil out so not to damage it and wha-la a fire with out gas, starter or oil.