Ignite Coals without Lighter Fluid
Save yourself an emergency trip to the store when you run out of charcoal lighter fluid: Ignite your coals with salad oil. Any vegetable oil will burn well enough to light charcoal (although none is as good as lighter fluid), so use the cheapest type of vegetable oil you have on hand.
The Chimney-Starter Lighting Method
For a quick, hot charcoal fire, use a chimney starter. This low-tech tool looks like an overgrown coffee can with a handle on the outside and a grillwork platform inside. To use a chimney starter, place a few pieces of crumpled newspaper under the starter, fill the top portion with charcoal, light the newspaper, and wait 10 to 15 minutes. The chimney generates a strong updraft that quickly turns briquettes into hot coals. Using tongs or an oven mitt, grab the handle and dump the coals into the grill. You’re ready to cook.
You can make your own chimney starter from a 10-to-12-inch length of stovepipe. Use a hammer and a sharp spike (a large nail) to punch vent holes in the bottom 2 to 3 inches of the pipe. (You may need to brace the inside of the pipe with a chunk of wood as you punch these holes.) Using a smaller nail, punch holes at 1-inch intervals all the way around the pipe, just above the vent holes. Weave galvanized wire (available at any hardware store) through these holes to form a grid to hold the charcoal. (Caution: Since it has no handle, you’ll need tongs or pliers to move the hot stovepipe.)
Reuse Old Charcoal
Don’t throw out those partially burned charcoal briquettes. Grillmeister Michael Scherer of Louisville, Colorado, says, “Half-used charcoal lights easily and burns well.” When you clean the ashes out of your grill, shake it aggressively to knock the loose bits and ash off the old briquettes. Then, using a pair of tongs, place them on top of the new briquettes before lighting. You’ll save money, and the fire will heat up more quickly.