Homemade Charcoal Starter

Written by kim wiseman
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Homemade Charcoal Starter
Start charcoal without lighter fluid. (barbecue image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com)

There's nothing like the smell of a barbecue to bring to mind summertime or tailgate parties before the big game. Why destroy that smoky essence and the taste of your food with the diesel-fuel smell of charcoal lighter fluid? Barbecues lit with lighter fuel particularly affect the flavour of fish, chicken and vegetables. Ditch the fuel and build your own low-cost, foolproof charcoal starter that uses just a match, newspaper and airflow to get your coals glowing.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Empty 1106gr. coffee can
  • Electric or hand-cranked can opener
  • Church-key can opener
  • Newspaper
  • Charcoal
  • Long matches
  • Tongs

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  1. 1

    Remove the bottom of an empty coffee can with a can opener to form a tube.

  2. 2

    Cut six evenly spaced triangular holes around one edge of the can with a church-key can opener.

  3. 3

    Set the can on a charcoal grill, hole-end down, and half-fill the can with crumpled newspaper.

  4. 4

    Load the top half of the can with charcoal on top of the newspaper.

  5. 5

    Insert a lit match into a couple of the holes to light the newspaper.

  6. 6

    Wait about 20 minutes for the charcoal to catch fire, then use tongs to lift the can straight up, dumping the hot coals onto the grill.

Tips and warnings

  • Usually, you will need more charcoal than this small starter can hold. Once you dump the hot coals, add more charcoal to the lit pile.
  • If you don't have a church-key opener, you can still use the coffee can. Before loading the can, set it on top of four unlit charcoal briquettes, and then load the can as described above. The opening created by the briquettes should leave enough airflow to light the charcoal.
  • The can gets very hot and when set down on flammable material such as duff on the forest floor, it could start a fire. For safety, set the hot can in water after you release the coals.
  • If you want to use other material to create your starter, such as duct tubing, do not use material with a galvanised (shiny) finish. The finish gives off hazardous fumes when heated.

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