Charcoal Won’t Light? Here’s What to Do (7 Solutions)

There’s nothing quite like the smoky flavor of food cooked on a charcoal grill. But have you ever found yourself frustrated because your charcoal won’t light or stay lit? It’s a common problem experienced by many grillers, both experienced and new. Fortunately, simple solutions exist to get it lit and keep it burning.

This article will explore why charcoal won’t light or stay lit on a grill, such as wet charcoal and improper ventilation. It’ll also provide troubleshooting tips for starting your charcoal and explain each method in detail.

So, let’s dive in and get your charcoal grill fired up for a delicious meal!

Reasons Why Your Charcoal Grill Isn’t Lighting

Before you can enjoy juicy burgers and perfectly cooked steaks, knowing why your charcoal grill won’t light is essential. Here are the top 7 possible causes and their solutions:

1. Wet Charcoal

If your charcoal grill isn’t lighting, the culprit may be the charcoal itself. Wet charcoal can be a problem because it stifles the ignition process. The causes of moisture in the charcoal could be rainwater or humidity.

To check if your charcoal is wet, feel its weight. It should be heavier than when dry, and observe its color – a dark hue as opposed to a lighter, grayish one.

To dry out wet charcoal, spread it in a single layer on a clean, dry surface and leave it in the sun for a few hours. If you don’t have the time to wait, you can use a charcoal chimney and light it up.

To prevent wet charcoal in the future, store it in a dry area, like a garage or shed. An airtight container, a garbage bag, or a metal bucket can also be used for storage.

Additionally, try not to leave your charcoal grill uncovered during rainy or humid weather, as moisture can seep in and cause your charcoal to become wet. Before adding wood or wood chips to create smoke, you should also check if they are damp.


2. Improper Ventilation

Are you having trouble getting your grill to stay lit? Improper ventilation could be the reason. Without enough oxygen, your charcoal won’t burn efficiently, and you’ll struggle to keep the grill hot. Conversely, if there’s too much air, you might find it hard to control the temperature.

One issue is when the grill lid is closed. If the dampers are also closed, there won’t be enough oxygen for the charcoal, and it won’t stay lit. To prevent this, make sure the ventilation is managed properly.

For example, in Weber charcoal grills, open the bottom dampers and use the top lid damper to regulate the heat. If you need more heat, adjust the top vent slightly. If you need to cool down, close it a bit.

In addition, ensure no obstructions in the grill’s air vents and keep the lid open while lighting the charcoal. Once it’s lit, you can close the lid and adjust the dampers as needed to maintain the desired temperature.

3. Improper Charcoal Arrangement

Your charcoal grill won’t stay lit commonly because of improper charcoal arrangement. If the coals aren’t set up to let enough air and heat move through, it can be hard to keep the fire going. Here are some possible scenarios and solutions:

If you have spread the coals too flat or too tightly on the bottom of the grill, you may be preventing the fire from growing to a high temperature. Instead, stack them in a pyramid or mound-like shape, leaving some gaps between each coal for air to circulate. This will help the heat to move around more evenly and rapidly.

If you’ve added too much coal, thick ash layers may block the oxygen and reduce the heat. You should just use enough to cover the bottom of the grill with one or two layers – no more! Shaking off some of the ash during cooking can also help to increase airflow.

When you need to cook for a more extended period of time or at different temperatures, you can arrange the coals differently.

For example, the snake method involves placing the coals in a ring or spiral shape around the edge of the grill, leaving a gap in the center. You can light one end of the snake, then it will burn through the ring slowly, creating a constant and low heat.

The two-zone method is another good option. Simply put the coals on one side of the grill, and leave the other side empty. This will let you create a hot zone and cool zone, and you can move your food between them as needed.

4. Old Charcoal

Old charcoal can be a real headache when lighting up your grill. If you’ve had a bag of charcoal sitting around for months or even years, it may not light as easily as fresh charcoal. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re excited to start grilling.

It can be problematic when you have leftover charcoal from a previous grilling session. If you’ve stored it improperly, it can become stale and difficult to light.

Furthermore, if you reuse charcoal that has been partially burned or covered with ash, it may not have enough fuel or oxygen to light and burn again.

You should remove any ash or grease from the charcoal before reusing it. An effective way to do this is to sift out the ash and grease with a metal container or a kick ash basket.

Once you’ve done this, mix the old charcoal with some new charcoal to get the fire going quickly and keep the temperature consistent.

Even so, using fresh charcoal is best if you’re having trouble lighting old charcoal. Fresh charcoal is usually more effective and will light up more quickly.

5. Low-Quality Charcoal

Low-quality charcoal can be the culprit behind a grill that won’t light. This type of charcoal is usually made with poor ingredients or processed poorly, which can drastically affect how long it burns and its temperature.

Using charcoal with additives or fillers, such as coal, limestone, or starch, can be tricky. These fillers decrease the heat and flavor of the charcoal and create more ash and smoke, clogging the airflow and preventing oxygen from getting to the briquettes. This makes it difficult to keep the charcoal lit, and even if it does, it may burn out quickly or give off a foul odor.

Also, charcoal made from low-grade wood or sawdust can be problematic as it may not have enough natural oils or carbon to ignite and burn. For that reason, look for natural hardwood charcoal made from higher-quality wood, such as oak, hickory, or mesquite. These varieties of charcoal provide more flavor and burn longer and hotter.

Furthermore, poorly stored or transported charcoal can be damaged or broken into small pieces, causing it to lose shape and structure. This, in turn, can affect its airflow and heat distribution. Therefore, look for charcoal packed correctly without dust or crumbs at the bottom to avoid these issues.

If you’re unsure about the quality of the charcoal, check the label on the bag, which should indicate its type and quality.

6. Harsh Weather

Grilling can be a challenge on days when the weather isn’t cooperating. If it’s windy, the wind can cause uneven heating, blowing out the flame or creating flare-ups. To protect your grill from the wind, use a windbreak.

On rainy days, the rain can dampen the charcoal, put out the fire, and make it harder to reach a high heat. Avoid grilling in the rain, or cover your grill with a lid or canopy tent to keep it dry. Additionally, make sure to store your charcoal in a dry place.

Cold days can also lower the temperature and make it difficult to light or maintain the fire, making your food cook slower and unevenly. To combat this, preheat your grill for longer and use more charcoal to create a hotter fire. You should also keep the lid closed as much as possible to trap the heat and prevent heat loss.

Humidity can also influence how quickly your charcoal lights up. One way to light your charcoal quickly and easily in bad weather is to use a charcoal chimney starter. When they are hot, place them on the grill, and you’re ready to cook.

Starting your grill with a charcoal chimney starter is a good method; however, there are better ways mentioned later.

7. Dirty Grill

If your grill grates and vents are clogged with grease, food particles, or other debris, it can prevent oxygen from getting to the charcoal and cause it to struggle to ignite.

This can happen if you’ve been using your grill often and haven’t cleaned it in a while. Grease and food residue can build up over time and stop the charcoal from lighting.

It could also result from leaving your grill outside and being exposed to the elements for a long time. Rain, dust, and other outdoor elements can settle on the grates and block the airflow.

To make sure your grill works properly, you need to clean the grates after each use. A wire brush or grill scraper will help remove any debris, and then you can wipe them down with a damp cloth.

If there are many buildups, you may need to use a grill cleaner or degreaser to get them sparkling clean. Lastly, don’t forget to cover your grill or store it indoors when you’re not using it.

What to Do When Your Charcoal Won’t Light

Lighting charcoal can be a frustrating experience, especially when it refuses to cooperate. Whether it’s an old bag of charcoal or a dirty grill, many factors can make it difficult to get your grill going.

However, there are several effective methods to light your charcoal, and choosing the right one depends on your preferences and situation.

1. Using a Chimney Starter with Wood Wool (Slow Method)

Wood wool is a great choice for anyone looking for a natural fire starter that is both convenient and environmentally friendly. Its quick ignition and long burn time make it ideal for outdoor cooking and campfires. With its clean burning quality and lack of chemical additives, you can be sure your food will taste the way it should.

Here’re the steps to start your charcoal grill a chimney starter with wood wool:

  1. Fill the chimney starter with charcoal up to the top or the desired amount.
  2. Place one or two pieces of wood wool under the wire rack of the chimney starter.
  3. Light the wood wool with a match or a lighter and let it burn.
  4. Wait for the coals to turn gray and hot, which may take 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the amount and quality of the charcoal.
  5. Carefully lift the chimney starter by the handle and pour the coals into the grill.
Wood Wool
Wood Wool

2. Using an Electric Starter (Fast Method)

An electric starter is a device that can produce a hot air stream to ignite your charcoal without using any fire or flame. On windy days, you can start your grill faster by using an electric starter like the Looft Lighter.

The Looft Lighter is a popular electric starter that can light your charcoal in 60 seconds with superheated air (1200°F). Here’re the steps to use this device:

  1. Arrange your charcoal in a pyramid or mound shape on the grill, leaving some space between the coals for airflow.
  2. Plug in the electric starter and hold it close to the coals, touching one of them with the tip of the device.
  3. Press the button and wait for sparks or smoke, which may take a few seconds.
  4. Pull back the electric starter slightly and move it around the coals to spread the fire, which may take up to a minute.
  5. Unplug the electric starter and let the coals burn until they turn gray and hot, which may take 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the amount and quality of the charcoal.

3. Using a Propane Grill Torch (Fastest method)

If you love grilling, you know how frustrating it can be when your charcoal won’t light. This can happen especially on rainy days, when the air is damp, and the charcoal is wet.

But don’t let the weather ruin your barbecue. There’s a way to light your charcoal faster and easier than the classic chimney starter using a propane grill torch like the GrillGun.

The GrillGun is a powerful tool that shoots a flame reaching up to 400,000 BTUs. It can light your charcoal or wood extremely fast, giving your food a delicious smoky flavor. It’s like having a mini flamethrower in your hand. Here’s how to use it:

  1. First, you need to connect your GrillGun to a propane source. You can use a small 1-pound propane bottle or a large 20-pound propane tank with a hose. Make sure the connection is tight, and the valve is off.
  2. Next, stack your charcoal or wood in a pile. Leave some gaps between the pieces for airflow.
  3. Then, you need to turn on the valve and press the trigger on the GrillGun. You should see a bright blue flame coming out of the tip.
  4. Hold the flame about 4-6 inches away from the charcoal and move it slowly over the top. You don’t need to use any lighter fluid or blow air. Just let the flame do its magic.
  5. After about 15 to 30 seconds, you should see the charcoal glowing red and starting to smoke. Turn off the valve and put the GrillGun away safely.
  6. Wait 5 to 10 minutes until the charcoal or wood is evenly lit and hot.
Grill Torch vs Loof Lighter
Grill Torch vs Electric Starter

4. Using Match Light Charcoal

Match light charcoal is a popular option for those who want a quick and hassle-free grilling experience. These charcoal briquettes are pre-treated with just the right amount of lighter fluid, so you can light them up with a single matchstick.

They are also made with high-quality ingredients and natural wood, imparting that classic smoky flavor to your food.

However, even with the minimal amount of lighter fluid added, match light charcoal can still leave a chemical taste on your food if not used correctly. Here’s how to use it:

  1. To get the best results, store the charcoal bag in a cool, dry place and close it tightly after use.
  2. When you’re ready to cook, arrange the briquettes evenly on your charcoal grill or smoker. Be sure not to overfill the grill and leave some space between the briquettes for proper air circulation.
  3. Using a match, light up the briquettes and wait for the charcoal to become ashy and white, which usually takes about 10 minutes.
  4. After the charcoal turns ashy and white, wait another 5 minutes until it gets hot and the lighter fluid’s chemistry is gone. This means the charcoal is ready to cook on, and you can spread it evenly over the grill.


A successful barbecue experience largely depends on how well you light and keep your charcoal lit. It can affect the taste, quality, and time of your meal. It can also help you avoid wasting resources and causing trouble.

There are different methods for lighting your charcoal, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. Using a chimney starter with wood wool is slow but effective, while an electric starter works well on windy days. A propane grill torch can be used on rainy days, and Match Light charcoal is an effortless option.

Always store your charcoal in a cool, dry place, do not overfill your grill, and maintain proper ventilation. With these tips, you can enjoy a delicious and smoky barbecue with your family and friends.

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