The Best Way to Start BBQ Coals

Picture of The Best Way to Start BBQ Coals
Whenever I have trouble starting coals for my BBQ I grab a hair dryer, point it at my grill and pull the trigger. One minute later I have red hot coals and I never have to use any lighter fluid to get them started.

I have a couple of other tips for starting coals as well that I will add in here since I don't think they warrant their own instructables.

There's plenty more info in the steps, but the take home message is shown in the video below.

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Step 1: Use a Chimney

Picture of Use a Chimney
Using a chimney to start your coals going will really help get your fire going faster and with fewer problems.

Weber charges way too much for their chimney so I decided to make my own for free using some found hardware cloth and some metal wire I had lying around.

To make the chimney, I cut up a piece of hardware cloth and rolled it into a cylinder. I then used some metal wire to sew it shut. I only had to loop through every 5 holes or so in the hardware cloth.

The hardware cloth works pretty well as a chimney for two reasons. 1) It is full of holes so it allows air to flow freely through it, and 2) it doesn't require you to pick up the whole chimney of hot coals and flip them over onto your grill risking a possible burn or fire from a wayward hot coal. Instead, when it's time to dump the coals, you simply pick up the wire tube and the coals fall down onto the grill below.

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phyzome7 years ago
Just so you know, the purple glow is infrared light that your camera can pick up but your eyes can't. (Try pointing a TV remote at your camera and pressing buttons -- you'll see the same purple-ish light there as well.)
ssaigol phyzome8 months ago

Actually that's a good way to check if your remote's batteries are working.

anasdad1 year ago
As a volunteer fireman and EMT, I have to say that the hair dryer is a dangerous way to do it. But, as a semi-responsible charcoal BBQ loving guy, I have to admit that I'm going to try it.
Good job with the photos!
Mutantflame3 years ago
Forget hair dryers, use a leaf blower! Much quicker (and smokier)!

Thats what we used to do anyways...
dmlong3 years ago
When it's hot outside, some people would ues a hand held paper fan to cool off. I have used one to give the fire some oxygen.
armourkris6 years ago
i just built a blower into my BBQ. now i can cook steaks or forge weld steel.
Forging a steak would be interesting...
Take care when doing both simultaneously though.
BillBiker4 years ago
Now I like the air mattress pump idea VERY much! Battery operated, many people are in the open outdoors and have no electric so that is really cool. Another Idea is to use one of those air storage tanks fitted with a air blower nozzle for a more controlled blast of air. The food is like grrrr now you made me want to cookout today, lol. Thanks for the instructable was just what I was looking for.
ejk007 years ago
A couple of thoughts about the store-bought chimney: (1) the solid sides and holes at the bottom allow convection to be created, which typically accelerates the ignition of the charcoal, and (2) the size, shape, and handle of the chimney allows you to start coals off-line to be added to an existing fire - this is the method I use when I slow-cook barbecue and have to add coals every hour or so (I start them in the chimney on some rocks and dump the hot coals into the fire). Otherwise, your ideas are great. I'll be digging out an old hair dryer soon!
noahw (author)  ejk007 years ago
You are right about the store bought chimney - the probably do increase convection and they certainly are useful for starting coals on the side for those slow-cook bbq operations. Thanks for the feedback! I think that you will be pleasantly surprised when you see how well the hair dryer works.
I know this comment is old, but you could turn your tower into a chimney with the addition of aluminum foil to the sides.
Rectifier noahw7 years ago
Looks like a great way to get the grill going at home! BTW, I own a store-bought chimney. $10 from Canadian Tire. I mainly bbq at the beach, where there is no power to run a blower - and for this, the convection of the chimney does the job of creating a draft to start the coals. It also contains the sparks to going upwards and not starting fires :P Takes about 15min to get them all going, though, so the hairdryer method definitely wins on speed! Maybe I can make up a hand-cranked blower to get them going faster at the beach, that would look super-sweet.
dldeskins ejk005 years ago
These were my thoughts exactly. A "chimney" without the airflow coming from the bottom isn't a "chimney".
for getting fires going, i prefer an 8" circulation fan, those things get the coals white hot in seconds, they are like 10 or 15 bucks at walmart
better yet, get a leaf blower, its like an oversized hair dryer
forget the hair dryer, use an air compressor lol!
My dad's girlfriends kids think it's a good idea to just blow one fast but small burst of air, and they wonder why i get the fire started faster.
Boost6 years ago
Hot air gun let me start the BBQ without any paper or fluids. With a tight enough airstream it just takes a minute or two and the first coal starts to glow and then another minute or two I have a perfect ash-grey coal bed.
craig3 Boost6 years ago
how do you make a tight enough air stream with a hot air gun?
Boost craig36 years ago
There are usually some nozzles with the hot air guns to focus the air flow. The smaller the stream the more concentrated heat on the coals. After you get sparks from the first one you remove the nozzle and just heat everything up smoothly.
craig3 Boost6 years ago
ah, of course. I could only think of plastic nozzles and that they would melt, sorry i really wanna try this out but i don't know anyone that uses coals for a BBQ,the only ones i know just use gas
Boost craig36 years ago
Well that is another issue altogether. I prefer charcoal but I mostly use briquettes because it's more convenient. Regular charcoal gives of more heat but burn out in varying time. Gas grills is even more convenient, just turn the dial and it's on.
craig3 Boost6 years ago
don't correct me on this but in Australia i just don't see many charcoal Webber's all together, the only ones ive ever really seen at the gas ones
lukeyj15 craig36 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
craig3 lukeyj156 years ago
Thank you for that but if you dont have anything productive to say, why say it?
llamafur6 years ago
Oxy-acetylene For The Win.
nibbler1256 years ago
i rember doin that with a leafblower :D
Mekasia6 years ago
What is leaving your lungs is only like 16% oxygen, compared to, if I remember right, about 23% O2 in air. So, more oxygen from the external source than from your body.
If it works, it works. And it works.
jongscx Mekasia6 years ago
yeah, but if you're saying that atmospheric "air" is 23%, and exhaled air is 16%, then we're only taking what, 7% of the available? I think that the 16% in the exhaled air is still more than whatever is in the air that's immediately around the coals as they're combusting and the rapid introduction by blowing more than makes up for that difference.
jongscx7 years ago
I use a leaf-blower to get the coals to the point where they're all ashy on the outside and perfect to grill on and don't flare up. Usually, people use this time to down a few beers, but I don't drink, so it's idle time to me...
thoraxe jongscx6 years ago
leaf blowers are just hella powerful, i'm amazed you dont have hot charcoal flying around and setting things on fire and making a huge mess.
jongscx thoraxe6 years ago
it's an Art / learned skill. the angle that you blow air into the fire has a lot to do with this...
thoraxe jongscx6 years ago
do you blow it from the side or straight down on it?
jongscx thoraxe6 years ago
It's more of an across the top kind of direction, so you get the kind of motion as you would when you blow on a jug and it makes a noise. What ends up happening is that you have most of the exhaust air of the leaf blower not actually going into the coals, but creating a vortex inside the grill that pulls air in. Since there's a lot of air moving over it, there's a lot of air being sucked in... but it's not a focused stream coming from the blower.
Nyanman thoraxe6 years ago
sorta like starting a pulsejet engine...
Hmm... cooking on a pulsejet. I'd like to try that
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