Charcoal BBQ FAQs: Lighting, Health, Uses & Where to Buy

Here is our second installment on your burning questions about BBQ charcoal.

What Is The Best Method To Light Charcoal?

We assume without chemicals, right? And by "best" it really depends on your definition. Cheapest method, how fast to ignite, the best value, etc.

Here are some time-proven ways to light BBQ charcoal.

  1. Paper (newspaper, paper towel, etc.) soaked in cooking oil. This pretty much tells you everything. Place the oil-soaked paper on top of the charcoal, light it, then, when fully ignited, place some large chunks on top of it.
  2. Natural Fire Starter: We say 'natural' as we try to avoid harmful chemicals. You can make your own with food-grade wax and wood chips, buy commercially available online, or through your We Love Fire expert.
  3. Blow Torch: Any Blow torch will do, but some are specifically designed for this purpose. An example is : JJGeorge Grill Torch Charcoal Starter : Patio, Lawn & Garden.
  4. Electric Starter: These are a bare electric coil or element you place under some charcoal for a few minutes. While inexpensive, they tend to have a short life span depending on how long you leave them to heat up the charcoal. : Char-Broil Electric Charcoal Starter : Patio, Lawn & Garden
  5. Chimney starter: This is a time-proven and inexpensive method. You can make your own, but they are affordable and available everywhere. As its name implies, it is a 6-inch single-wall tube with holes at the bottom to let air circulate. Add some charcoal on the top and crumpled newspaper at the bottom, and voila! Your charcoal is ready in a few minutes.
  6. Looftlighter: This is a relatively new innovation in the BBQ world. It works exceptionally well and lights up your charcoal in a couple of minutes or less. It is a series of encased electric elements with a blowing fan built into the handle. It superheats the air to 1200F, so the device does not have to come in contact with the charcoal. It comes corded or battery-operated. While somewhat expensive, they tend to last a long time. LOOFT LIGHTER I

How Long Will The BBQ Coals Be Ready?

Typically, it takes 10 to 30 minutes, depending on various factors. But a quick way to determine if your coals are ready is by covering them with fine white ash. If most of the coals are still black, it may release 'coal dust' on your food. While not necessarily dangerous, it may taint your food taste.


Is Charcoal BBQ Good Or Bad For You?

Wanting to open a can of worm, are you? The question is, is charcoal grilling/smoking hazardous to your health?

The short answer is yes… but then again, most things are done in excess harm to our health, including drinking too much water. BBQ food should not have long-lasting effects if done occasionally as a treat. Just like eating dessert, done in moderation, your body should be able to deal with it.

What are the dangers of eating BBQ food?

  • High temperatures of meat cooking have been linked to cancer in some cases (not just charcoal cooking).
  • Overeating meat (red meat in particular) has been linked to cancer and other diseases.
  • Smoke from charcoal can be carcinogenic if overeaten.
  • Eating processed meat in particular (hot dogs, sausages) is linked to cancer.

Do you see a pattern here?

  1. Too much of anything is not good for you.
  2. If you are worried about cancer or have cancer, you should limit your intake of meat and charcoal grilling.

How can you reduce the health risks associated with grilling?

  • Cut back on grilling red meat and processed meat.
  • Grill more vegetables.
  • Grill at lower temperatures and don't char meat.
  • Marinate meat for at least 30 minutes (it reduces the formation of hydrocarbons).
  • Cut the fat off your meat.

If you think of grilling and smoking a bit like a dessert, it will typically be a treat you enjoy occasionally. But not necessarily with every meal.



Is BBQ Charcoal Good For Orchids And Other Plants?

Orchids seem to thrive in a porous material. In Asia, most orchids are sold in coconut husks filled with charcoal. Orchid growers swear by it and list the following reasons:

  1. To keep the "mix" sweet.
  2. To filter impurities.

Laboratory tests show that charcoal possesses a remarkable ability to:

  • Keep nutrients in the soil, increasing soil fertility.
  • Prevent decay and can endure in soil for thousands of years.
  • It is inert.
  • Allow the flow of air through the potting mix.
  • Retain moisture and help in good drainage.
  • Retains (adsorbs) excess nutrients (fertilizer) and releases them later when needed.
  • Helps to increase the soil pH.

Source: Charcoal and Orchids. Myth, Magic I know I would never grow an Orchid – Australian Orchid Nursery (

Your Burning Questions About Charcoal part 2 - orchid

Can I Use BBQ Charcoal Ashes In The Garden?

What to do with your leftover BBQ ashes? Why not use it in your garden?

Ashes are leftover 'un-burnable' minerals such as potassium. It will help your garden, especially if your soil is too acidic.

On the other hand, you should not add wood ash to your soil/garden under the following conditions:

  • If the ashes came from briquettes rather than charcoal lumps (some unknown additives may have been introduced in the manufacturing process).
  • If you have lots of meat and fat drippings in the ashes (attracts pests and is not good for the soil).
  • Your soil is already alkaline.
  • If your plants love acidic soil (berries).

The best advice is to buy a soil pH meter, understand what type of plants you want to grow, and measure periodically.

Your Burning Questions About Charcoal part 2 - garden

Buying Advice

Where Can I Buy BBQ Charcoal?

BBQ charcoal can be bought just about anywhere. It is typically available at gas stations, online, hardware stores, gardening centers, and, of course, your local We Love Fire BBQ Expert.


Below is a list of fireplace and grill stores that service Virginia (VA)

Manassas, VA

Winston's Chimney Service
11301 Industrial Road
Manassas, VA 20109

Winston's Chimney Service LogoVisit Store Page

Mechanicsville, VA

Hearth & Home Shoppe
8151 Mechanicsville Tpk
Mechanicsville, VA 23111

Hearth & Home Shoppe LogoVisit Store Page

Roanoke, VA

Dixie Building Products Inc.
3342 Melrose Ave NW
Roanoke, VA 24017

Warrenton, VA

Costello's Warrenton Fireplace & Hot Tub
251 West Lee Hwy
Warrenton, VA 20186

For more information, contact your local fireplace and grill store..

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