The Best Charcoal Starters for Your Grill

Love to grill but hate the taste of lighter fluid? You need a charcoal starter that'll get the grill going fast (and without the chemicals). Here are our Test Kitchen's favorites.

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No doubt about it: Grilling is one of our favorite ways to get cooking in the warmer months—and for some die-hards, even on cold days. There’s nothing that can replace that char-grilled flavor of a great burger, barbecued ribs or even some veggies done up right. But let’s be real: If you’re grilling with charcoal, starting the grill can be tedious and using lighter fluid can leave your go-to recipes tasting less than their best. That’s where a good charcoal starter comes in.

But what starter is best? Hardware stores and online shops are full of options. It can be hard to choose! That’s why our Test Kitchen and team of expert grillers put six common grill starter options to the test. We had to find which were worthy of your next cookout.

What We Looked for in a Charcoal Starter

When you’re grilling, you want a gadget you can count on, one that will last for cookouts to come and one that’s easy to use—especially when there are lawn games and a cooler of beer to distract you. Here’s what our Test Kitchen kept in mind as they fired up grill after grill:

  • Ease of use: Was the gadget easy to use? Do you need any additional gear or power to use the charcoal starter? Is it suitable for even amateur grillers?
  • Speed: How long did it take to get the grill going?
  • Durability: Is this product durable? Can it be used year after year?
  • Price: How much was the charcoal starter? Was it worth the investment?

Our Test Kitchen-Preferred Grill Starters

With those criteria in mind, our Test Kitchen pulled out their grills for many nights of barbecue. Find out which starters will be making an appearance at grill-outs going forward.

Best for Serious Grillmasters: Looftlighter Original Electric Fire Starter

Looft Lighter Original Electric Fire Starter - 60 Second Charcoal LighterVia amazon.com

If you’d rather fire up the grill than switch on the oven, this is the gadget for you. The Looftlighter Original Electric Fire Starter is quick, versatile and a cinch to use.

Not familiar with the Looftlighter? To use it, you just touch this supercharged gadget to your charcoal. Within a minute, this super hot (we mean it—1,000ºF or more!) gadget lights the fire. But don’t fret—the safety casing cools down in just seconds. Yep, you read that right: In two minutes you can fill your grill with charcoal, light it and have your Looftlighter cooled and stashed away. That’s why this gadget is a favorite in the Test Kitchen.

And if you need any more reasons to check out this fancy gadget, know that it does more than start up your grill: You can also use it to start your smoker, outdoor pizza oven and even a bonfire.

  • Time to start coals: 1 minute
  • Power source: Standard outlet
  • Price: $80

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Best Cord-Free Charcoal Starter: Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter

Rapidfire Chimney Charcoal StarterVia homedepot.com

Electric grill starters are darn handy, but you don’t need to be near an outlet to light your coals. With the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter, you can start your grill out on the patio, at the campsite or down by the lake with ease.

To use this chimney-style starter, you stuff the bottom of the cylinder with a sheet or two of newspaper and fill the rest with charcoal. Light the paper in 20 minutes, our Test Kitchen found that the coals were ready for grilling. Just pour them out into your grill kettle and start cooking!

This gadget was affordable, easy to use, requires no electricity, cords or charging. Plus, the aluminized steel will last for years to come (just stash it in the garage or shed when not in use).

  • Time to start coals: About 20 minutes
  • Power source: None needed
  • Price: $20

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Best for Beginner Barbecuers: Grill Mark Electric Charcoal Fire Starter

Grill Mark Electric Charcoal Fire Starter 500 wattsVia acehardware.com

If you’re new to the grilling game but still want to ditch the flavor and scent of lighter fluid, invest in a Grill Mark Electric Charcoal Fire Starter. This foolproof gadget can light your fire without any fuss.

To use this tool, plug in the charcoal fire starter for eight minutes, unplug and set it among the coals and let it sit for 20 to 25 minutes. In that time, our Test Kitchen found that the charcoal was white-hot and ready for grilling. No lighter fluid, no matches, no double-checking the coals. In a half-hour, you’re ready to grill with this gadget. Oh, and the biggest bonus: It fits perfectly in our Test Kitchen’s favorite Weber grill—a great option for beginner grillmasters.

  • Time to start coals: About 25 minutes
  • Power source: Standard outlet
  • Price: $15

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Best for Grilling On-the-Go: Diamond Strike-A-Fire

Strike A Fire (48-Count)Via homedepot.com

Headed to the campsite? Off to tailgate? Chances are you don’t want to be lugging around any more equipment than you have to. That’s where Diamond Strike-A-Fire Fire Starters come in.

One fire starter is perfect for getting the coals in your portable grill going. Just build a pile of charcoal, make a well in the center, strike a fire starter on the side of the box and pop it into the center of the well. In about 20 minutes your grill is ready to go. And unlike a traditional lighter fluid, these fire-starters don’t give off any tastes to taint your signature burger recipe.

When the day is done and you’re ready to go, you don’t have any extras to pack up. The fire starter burns up with the coal and can be disposed of along with any ashes.

  • Time to start coals: About 20 minutes
  • Power source: None needed; strike on the box
  • Price: $11 for a box of 48 starters

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A Good Charcoal Starter Means More Reasons to Grill

Each of these charcoal starters makes grilling easier. If it’s easier to grill, you’ll be more likely to roll your grill out of the garage for night after night of delicious recipes. Whether you’re an experienced barbecuer or just getting started with your kettle grill, give our grilling guide a look for must-have recipes and techniques. Pretty soon, you’ll be grilling up anything and everything—even dessert.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.