8+ Reasons Why Your Charcoal Won’t Stay Lit

Common issues like damp charcoal, improper stacking, lack of ventilation, and low-quality charcoal can prevent your charcoal from staying lit, affecting your grilling experience.

Why Won't My Charcoal Stay Lit

You’re craving that savory charcoal flavor, but sometimes, your charcoal just won’t light up. Grilling meat and veggies without fire isn’t an option. Let’s explore why charcoal doesn’t always stay lit and how to overcome these challenges.

The process of lighting charcoal is where the magic happens. While it can be frustrating, with a few adjustments, you can get your charcoal to catch flame. Charcoal is a super finicky fire-starting material.

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1. Charcoal Absorbs Water

High angle view of coal texture, background with copy space

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.

2. How You Stack Matters

How you stack your charcoal in the grill significantly impacts temperature and burn duration, ensuring an even distribution of heat and smoke for consistent cooking. Constructing a charcoal pyramid promotes upward airflow, preventing the stack from collapsing and suffocating the fire.

3. Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter, Standard, Silver

Simplify the lighting process with a charcoal chimney starter, a cylindrical metal tool that quickly and evenly ignites charcoal without the need for lighter fluid. Its efficient design promotes consistent ignition in about 15-20 minutes, making it ideal for regular grillers seeking convenience, speed, and safety in their grilling process.

4. The Ventilation Isn’t Right

Take a few seconds and check the vents on your grill— if they’re closed, the charcoal won’t get enough oxygen to sustain a strong fire. After you’ve established a healthy fire, you can adjust or partially close the vents to control the cooking temperature to your liking.

5. Let Charcoal Breathe

A top down view of a hand holding a single charcoal briquette over a bucket full of several briquettes.

Charcoal may struggle to stay hot if it’s smothered, hindering airflow and combustion. To prevent this, allow the charcoal to burn undisturbed for at least 15 minutes after ignition before adding wood chips or other materials. This brief period allows the fire to establish itself, ensuring adequate airflow and optimal ignition temperatures. By allowing the charcoal to breathe initially, you facilitate a robust and sustained heat output, ensuring consistent grilling or smoking temperatures throughout your cooking session.

6. Consider Charcoal Type

When selecting charcoal, consider both charcoal briquettes and lumps, each offering unique characteristics. Charcoal briquettes generally burn longer and more consistently, making them suitable for extended cooking sessions, while lump charcoal burns hotter and faster, ideal for high-heat grilling. Additionally, factor in flavor preferences, as some prefer the natural wood flavor imparted by lump charcoal, while others may prefer the more neutral taste of briquettes.

7. The Grill Isn’t Maintained

Charcoal in black round metal bbq grill with lid resting on the side and wooden fence in the background

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.

8. Quality Matters

Invest in higher-quality charcoal to avoid frustrating fire-starting experiences. Quality charcoal tends to ignite more easily, burn longer, and produce less ash, contributing to a smoother grilling process.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

To start and maintain a charcoal grill, you can use either lighter fluid or a chimney starter. With lighter fluid, pile the charcoal into a pyramid, apply the fluid, and ignite. Avoid adding fluid to a lit fire. For a chimney starter, fill it with charcoal, ignite kindling underneath, and let the coals glow for about 20 minutes before spreading them evenly.

Why is my charcoal not staying lit?

If your charcoal grill won’t stay lit, it could be due to several factors such as damp charcoal, improper stacking, ventilation issues, or low-quality charcoal. Check out our tips below for troubleshooting common issues.

How do I keep charcoal lit?

Keeping charcoal lit requires proper preparation and attention to detail. Ensure your charcoal is dry, stack it properly for optimal airflow, and maintain adequate ventilation throughout the grilling process. Investing in high-quality charcoal can also make a significant difference. Additionally, consider using a charcoal chimney starter for easy and consistent ignition.

How to keep charcoal lit on the grill?

To keep charcoal lit on the grill, make sure to stack it properly to promote airflow, use a charcoal chimney starter for efficient ignition, and maintain adequate ventilation throughout the grilling process.

My grill won’t stay lit, what could be the problem?

If your grill won’t stay lit, it may be due to issues such as insufficient airflow, damp charcoal, or poor-quality charcoal. Troubleshoot these issues by ensuring proper ventilation, using dry charcoal, and investing in high-quality charcoal.

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