How to Use an Electric Charcoal Starter

What is an Electric Charcoal Starter?

This article was updated June 2023.

Want to have a completely lit pan of charcoal that’s ready for grilling in no time? Tired of the awful smell or flavor of barbecue lighter fluid in your food? An electric charcoal starter is the solution. A wonderful alternative to lighter fluid or charcoal chimneys, these simple heating irons will have you cooking in minutes without matches or chemical laden firelighters. Getting your outdoor cooking started has never been easier.

An electric charcoal starter provides an alternative to matches or gas lighters. It’s a simple device with a handle on one end and a loop of metal, which is the heating element, on the other. Electric charcoal starters light up coals a little more slowly than if you use a flame (allow about 60 seconds to get your charcoal alight), but you can get heat of over 1000°F within a few minutes. You also won’t have to deal with flammable lighter fluids or chemical firelighters that can leave an unpleasant smell and the accompanying taste they can impart on to your food. These devices are popular for those who enjoy cooking with their smoker as well.

Where can you get an Electric Charcoal Starter?

You can buy an electric charcoal starter from large hardware stores or camping outlets. I recommend checking out Amazon’s range of products so you can read customer reviews and decide if this is the right product for your outdoor cooking needs.

electric charcoal starter

Pros and Cons of using an Electric Charcoal Starter

First, let’s talk about its advantages…

  • It can let your charcoal fully burn in about under 10 minutes.
  • Cheap and reusable. You can easily get a charcoal in a hardware shop and most grill accessories aren’t expensive and they usually can last a long time.
  • Nothing else will be needed. For example, when you use the charcoal chimney, you need use matches or newspapers to get your charcoal started with an electric starter. But when you have an Electric Charcoal Starter, it’ll be easier to get it started with an available power outlet.
  • No chemicals. An Electric Charcoal Starter is healthy and environmentally friendly. It’s perfectly safe to use for cooking food and won’t make too much smoke. I’m always keen to avoid any chemicals getting into food and making sure it smells and tastes good.

Nothing is perfect, however, and the real disadvantage of an electric charcoal starter is that it requires a power supply to get it to work. If you’re cooking in the backyard, electricity shouldn’t be an issue so it makes it ideal for using in your home smoker or firepit, but maybe not for camping. If you’re camp savvy enough to have a solar powered power source, you might just want to add this to your campfire cooking kit.

How to use an Electric Charcoal Starter:

  • Make a small pile of your charcoal pieces in the barbecue.
  • Place your electric starter so that it lays flat cross the layer of charcoal.
  • Now layer more charcoal pieces or briquettes around and on top of the heating element of the charcoal starter.
  • Plug your starter in to a power outlet, using an extension cord if necessary.
  • Keep the power going and heat according to the manufacturers recommendations that come with your specific starter.  (Usually between 8-15 minutes). You will see the heating iron glow red and the coals will appear ash grey in daylight and glow red in the dark when they are getting suitably hot.
  • Cut the power off and unplug your electric charcoal starter before carefully removing it from your charcoal pile. Remember, all the metal parts are super hot and will cause burns with the smallest of skin contact, so take care to only use the handle when removing the starter from the pile.
  • Have an appropriate (safe) place to rest the heating iron. Consider any children or pets around and make sure it can’t be easily stepped on, bumped or that it isn’t close to flammable materials. Allow the device to cool completely, remembering it’s an electrical item, so using water to cool it down is not recommended.
  • Your charcoal will be hot enough to start cooking on in around 10 minutes. You can speed the process up by adding a little extra air flow with a handheld blower.
how to use an electric charcoal starter

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