8+ Reasons Why Your Charcoal Won’t Stay Lit

Discover the Top Culprits Behind Your Fizzling Fire and Expert Tips to Keep Those Coals Glowing Strong.

Why Won't My Charcoal Stay Lit

You’re looking for that savory flavor that only charcoal provides, but sometimes it refuses to light. You can’t very well grill meat and veggies without fire.

Let’s smoke through why charcoal doesn’t always stay lit, and you can avoid fire frustrations.

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Why won’t my charcoal stay lit?

The charcoal lighting process is when the fire magic happens. 

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While it may get a little annoying, you will eventually get the charcoal to catch flame as long as you make a few adjustments.

8 Reasons Why Charcoal Isn’t Staying Lit

Charcoal is a super finicky fire-starting material.

Charcoal Absorbs Water

Weird, right? But you will most definitely have to store charcoal in a dry and cool place and ensure it’s in a sealed container.

Damp charcoal is nearly impossible to light because it naturally absorbs moisture and water.

How do I dry out damp charcoal?

  1. If the charcoal is drenched, trash it. You’ve lost a few bucks. The black porous solid material’s pores soak up all the fluid, rendering it useless.
  2. Slightly damp charcoal is salvageable, but you’ll need a little patience.
  3. On a super sunny day, lay out the lumps or briquettes on a towel. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight.
  4. It will take around 3 to 8 hours to dehydrate the wet charcoal. 
  5. Try it out the next time you grill. And, if that doesn’t work, toss it out.

How You Stack Matters

The way you stack the charcoal in your grill matters. The arrangement directly influences the temp and the duration of the burn.

You want the fire and smoke to go upward so that the heat is evenly distributed in the grill. Otherwise, the cook is not going to be consistent.

You’ll want to construct a charcoal pyramid so that the stack doesn’t fall and suffocate the fire.

Charcoal Chimney Starter 

charcoal 1904552 702x769 1 8+ Reasons Why Your Charcoal Won't Stay Lit

A charcoal chimney starter can cure your fire-starting woes if you’re a regular griller. It is a cylindrical piece of metal that auto-piles the charcoal inside of the grill or fire. 

The Ventilation Isn’t Right

Take a few seconds and check the vents. If they’re closed, the charcoal doesn’t get the oxygen it needs.

Once you’ve got a healthy start on the fire, you can adjust or close the vents, so you get the cook you want.

Why does my charcoal not stay hot?

The lack of proper ventilation is the most common reason that the charcoal doesn’t stay hot. 

Let Charcoal Breathe

When you’re piling on the wood for that extra flavor boom, take care that you’re not snuffing out an already existing fire.

  1. Double-check and make sure that the charcoal is dry and usable.
  2. Let the charcoal burn for 15 or so minutes.
  3. Once you see that ashy white coating on the charcoal, you can start adding wood chips and cooking.
  4. Don’t pour lighter fluid on already lit charcoal.

Size Matters

You don’t want to mix and mix your charcoal because the contrast in sizes will make lighting the fire frustratingly hard. It means you’ll have to decide if you are going to go with charcoal briquettes or lumps.

Briquettes vs Lumps

As with all things on the Internet, there is a debate as to which fire-building material is superior. And, it really depends on personal taste.

  • Charcoal lumps. The lighting process is a tad more difficult using lump charcoal, but it is the most natural option. Lumps burn faster and hotter and leave little ash.
  • Charcoal briquettes. While more compact, they don’t burn as hot as one lit with charcoal. Briquettes burn more consistently, though.

The Grill Isn’t Maintained

Ash builds up and does a lot of nasty things if you don’t clean it out regularly. The remnants of charcoal will also absorb moisture and transfer it, making your material damp and fire-resistant.

If you don’t scrub it down, the grease will start clogging up the grates and vents.

Oh, and old ash can make food taste really nasty.

Wait for the Right Weather

You plan a BBQ, and the morning of, it decides to start raining relentlessly. You’ve got to decide on a rain check or relocation.

Just be prepared to fight lighting a fire when it’s cold, wet, or the wind is blowing.

Humidity can make it difficult, too. But, if you live in the South, you’ve likely already learned how to make do on 100% humid days.

Low-Quality Charcoal

Cheap charcoal isn’t better charcoal and can leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

You’ll want to stick to higher-quality charcoal to avoid fighting a stubborn fire.

Royal Oak Lump Charcoal

Royal Oak 195228021 15.4# NAT Lump Charcoal, 15.4 lb

  • A nice assortment of coal lumps.
  • It has a sweet and smokey scent.

Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes

Kingsford 183268 Original Charcoal Briquettes, BBQ Charcoal for Grilling - 7.7lb Pounds

  • Available pretty well everywhere.
  • It smells like a pleasant campfire.

How do you start a charcoal grill and keep it lit?

You’ve got a few options when lighting a fire with charcoal.

Charcoal Grill with Lighter Fluid

  1. Pile the charcoal into a pyramid or snake structure.
  2. Handle lighter fluid carefully. You will squirt the recommended amount on the top and sides of your coal pyramid. 
  3. Light as soon as you’ve applied the starter fluid.
  4. Do Not put lighter fluid on an already lit fire.
  5. Once the lighter fluid has burned off, the coal will turn grey along its edges. It’s when you know you’ve accomplished what you’re doing.
  6. The entire process will take about 15 minutes.

Charcoal Grill with a Chimney Starter

  • Completely fill your chimney with the charcoal of choice. Your chimney likely holds about four pounds of charcoal.
  • Add your kindling to the grill grate and light it up (newspaper, paper bag). 
  • Light the newspaper in several spots.
  • The flame it creates will light the charcoal structure from multiple sides. 
  • The coals will start to glow in about 20 minutes.
  • Evenly spread the glowing coals out.

What happens if you put too much lighter fluid on charcoal?

The lighter fluid does a lot of bad crap when you squirt it on an existing fire. Of course, it can make a fire uncontrollable.

But it can also make your food taste disgusting, snuff out a fire, and render the charcoal useless.

FAQs about Lighting Charcoal

Why does my charcoal burn out so fast? 

An outside grill tends to burn faster because of the wind. The more exposure, the faster the flame will die because it’s being fed oxygen.

Do you keep the grill open when lighting charcoal?

Those first minutes of fire building are the most important. You will want to keep the lid open to allow oxygen flow to feed the fire.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eIf the lid gets closed before they’re lit, you will likely have to start over.

How do you know when charcoal is ready?

White edges on charcoal are the tell-tell sign that it’s ready for you to do your thing.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eYou want to wait until about two-thirds of the black material has turned white and has stopped smoking before throwing your meat on the grate.

How long do coals burn for?

Charcoal lumps have a burn time of around 4 to 6 hours. The briquette variety will last about 8 to ten hours.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eFire management and air flow are the two main factors when it comes to extending charcoal’s life.

More FAQs

How do I get my charcoal grill to stay lit?

To get your charcoal grill to stay lit, you can ensure a successful outcome by following these steps: First, stack your charcoal properly. Next, make sure to use the appropriate type of charcoal and ensure it is dry. It is also important to know the right amount of charcoal to use. Additionally, using high-quality dry wood can be beneficial. Mastering your grill’s vents is crucial in maintaining a consistent flame. Staying ahead of the weather conditions can also contribute to a well-lit grill. Lastly, keeping your grill clean is essential for optimal performance.

What to do when your charcoal keeps going out?

When your charcoal keeps going out, it is likely due to insufficient ventilation. Similar to extinguishing a candle with a small cup, the lack of air causes the charcoal to go out. The solution is to ensure proper ventilation and try again.

Do you close the lid when lighting charcoal?

The lid should be kept off when lighting charcoal as it allows for better air flow. Closing the lid during this process will extinguish the fire, requiring you to restart.

Why won’t my charcoal catch fire?

The reason why your charcoal won’t catch fire is because fire requires oxygen. If there is a significant accumulation of ash inside the grill, it can become extremely difficult to ignite the coals effectively or maintain their combustion. It is crucial to regularly clean out residual ashes not only to enhance the burning efficiency of the coals but also to preserve the overall condition of the grill.

Can you relight charcoal briquettes?

The answer to whether charcoal briquettes can be relit is yes, but there is one important consideration. Attempting to light a chimney starter that is completely filled with used coals is not effective. This is because the smaller coals are tightly packed together, limiting airflow and causing delays or even preventing the coals from igniting.

Why does my charcoal burn out so fast?

My charcoal burns out quickly because it is important to evenly distribute the charcoal across the bottom of the grill before adding food. If the charcoal is stacked in a mound, it will burn fast and have a shorter burn time. However, if it is spread out, it will burn more slowly, resulting in a longer burn time.

How do you make a long lasting charcoal fire?

To make a long lasting charcoal fire, you can achieve this by filling the firebox with unlit coals and alternating them with unsoaked wood chips or chunks. Create a hollow space in the briquettes and place a few (around four to six) lit embers on the surface. By following this technique, you can expect the fire to burn for approximately 8 to 12 hours.

Why is my charcoal not catching on fire?

Your charcoal may not be catching on fire due to dampness. To ensure it stays dry, make sure to store it carefully. Additionally, if you are grilling at an altitude above 5,000 feet, there is less oxygen in the air, resulting in charcoal burning at a lower temperature compared to lower altitudes.

How long should charcoal burn for?

Charcoal should burn for different durations depending on the type of BBQ application and the quality of fuel being used. For instance, in direct grilling, rotisseries, skewers, or churrasco, most lump charcoal products typically provide a burn time of 2-3 hours, while briquettes can last for 4-5 hours.

How do you increase charcoal heat?

To increase charcoal heat, the key lies in adjusting the air dampers. Contrary to popular belief that it depends on the amount of charcoal used, the temperature can be controlled by regulating the air flow. By opening the air dampers, more air will enter the grill, resulting in a hotter temperature. Conversely, closing the air dampers will reduce the amount of air entering the grill, thus cooling it down.

Can I add more charcoal while cooking?

You can add more charcoal while cooking. However, if you add them directly over the burning coals, it may cause a decrease in temperature. If you are simply extending the snake method, there should be no issue. In the event that you do need to add charcoal and your only option is to place them on top of the burning coals, I would recommend lighting them first.

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