The Helpful Trick To Use If Your Charcoal Grill Won't Stay Lit

Charcoal grills are easier to maintain than a gas grill and impart a uniquely smoky flavor all of its own to food. But charcoal can be a stubborn material that does what it wants. Getting it lit is hard enough, but keeping it going may be an even bigger problem.

You can use lighter fluid to solve this problem, but it's not generally recommended, since lighter fluid is a potentially dangerous substance that can scorch you or, worse, cause lighter fluid poisoning if you're not careful. You could try using newspaper as an accelerant, but while it's safe, it tends to go out quickly. 

But thankfully, there's another solution, and it's an easy one that involves stuff you already have lying around your house: a paper towel soaked in oil. Often the solution to recalcitrant charcoal really is as simple as putting oil-infused paper towels in the grill and letting them burn. It makes sense if you think about it, given that this is a big part of what cooking oil is already supposed to do.

Cooking oil can work like lighter fluid but without the dangers

Cooking oil is already intended to burn, but in a safe, mellow way that doesn't give off caustic fumes like lighter fluid can. It also burns more slowly, which is exactly what you want with charcoal, where fast heat doesn't keep those briquettes lit, but slow, steady heat does. The paper towel ensures you won't use too much oil by dumping it in all at once. If the towel is spread out, it heats the charcoal more evenly. 

There are a couple tricks to be aware of here. Don't use olive oil, as it has a lower smoke point and you're working with high heat (not to mention olive oil is pricier anyway). Instead, canola or vegetable oil is the way to go. 

For particularly stubborn charcoal, you might have to use multiple towels. Fortunately, it's easy to add to already-lit charcoal, since a paper towel soaked in cooking oil isn't caustic or likely to cause a massive burst of flame (though using tongs is still a smart move). Though you can put the paper towels with the oil anywhere within the charcoal, you'll get the best results if you put them in the middle of the pile. Because heat rises, that will help ensure the briquettes are exposed to as much of those sweet flames as possible.

There are other tricks to use to deal with stubborn charcoal, too

The paper towel in oil trick is the easiest way to deal with stubborn charcoal, but there are other methods for solving the problem. You can use a propane torch on the briquettes themselves, firestarters, or even an egg carton in a pinch.

The easiest and most efficient method in the long term is to buy a chimney starter, essentially a metal cylinder with a grate on the bottom that you fill with charcoal. All you need to do is remove the grate from the grill, then put either newspaper or lighter cubes on top. After lighting this, put the filled chimney starter on top. Putting the charcoal in a vertical alignment means it's much more likely to light and stay lit from residual heat continually rising through the chimney. Once they're going, simply dump the charcoal into the grill.