How to Grill Without the Taste of Lighter Fluid

Taste the food, not the fire starter. Here’s how.

Published Categorized as Questions
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Who would enjoy taking a bite out of a juicy, freshly-grilled burger only to have it taste like lighter fluid?

Unless, of course, you are so used to that taste, that you have grown accustomed to it from years of grilling. Maybe you’re even disappointed it isn’t there.

Joking aside, the taste of lighter fluid in thick-cut steaks, pork chops, chicken filets, or even veg, can be least to say off-putting. It may be enough to chase a capricious family member away from grilled food for a long time—especially if a lot of lighter fluid was used to get those coals going.

And that’s not something that the mom or dad on grill duty wants to achieve now, do they? The question is, then, can you grill without the taste if lighter fluid?

As a matter of fact, you can. To grill without the taste of lighter fluid, wait for the coals to ashen over before you start cooking. Alternatively, you can use paper soaked in cooking oil or invest in a fire starter for your grill, be it sawdust starers, an electric starter, or a chimney starter.

Now, let us take a look at each of these options so that, by the time you are done reading this article, you can determine which one is the most suitable for you.

Why Does Lighter Fluid Leave that Taste?

Why the lingering taste in your food after using lighter fluid?

Well, the simple answer is the majority of lighter fluids are petroleum products. In other words, they’re derived from a type of petroleum fuel. As for lighter fluid, that’s a light form of kerosene, the same product they fuel airplanes with.

Yes, that taste and smell when you ignite it is a milder form of jet fuel. It’s not as flammable or dangerous, that’s for sure. But still, it’s a fuel.

Another issue is that people will douse their coals with lighter fluid, ignite them, let the flame die down, and then put the food on. The issue here is that the lighter fluid has not had any time to burn off.

You are basically cooking your food while the fluid cooks off—letting your food get imparted with all of that aroma and flavor from the smoke.

If you’re going to use petroleum-based lighter fluid, but you want to avoid that kerosine taste, wait until the coals are ashen before putting your food on the grill. That will go a long way in eliminating that lighter fluid taste.

Lately, though, there have been advances in non-petroleum lighter fluids (they are usually marketed as “all natural”) that are made up of alcohol and vegetable fatty acids.

They are more eco-friendly, and they are made with the intent to help you taste the food, not the fire starter.

First Things, First

Before worrying about how to get rid of the lighter fluid and that lighter fluid taste, there is one important step to take. If you have been using lighter fluid on your grill for a while or for as long as you can remember, you really need to clean your grill.

Yes, all those flames don’t necessarily burn the scent—or the residue—of lighter fluid away forever. Get yourself some grill degreaser, some dish soap, a wire brush, a scrub brush, and a bottle or two of warm water.

Wire-brush your grill grates and then scrub them down with some water and dish soap. Rinse them, pat them down, and let them air-dry.

Next, clean out all the ash from the drum. Apply the degreaser, let it set for a bit of time, and then scrub it off. Repeat the process with dish soap and warm water, and then rinse.

Once again, be sure to pat the unit down with a dish cloth and to let it dry thoroughly. You want to avoid starting to grill right away and have drippings and ash turn into a sticky residue on the bottom after just cleaning it.

We are certain that some folks will go for the garden hose as soon as they hear the words “rinse” and “barbecue” together in the same sentence. But the fact of the matter is that you don’t need to go all-in when rinsing your grill. All you need is a warm rag to wipe the grates and internal surfaces clean, as simple as that.

The main goal is to get the degreaser and soap off and the grill dry before the next use.

Use Paper Soaked in Cooking Oil

This is one method of lighting where you can completely avoid that lighter fluid taste. With that being said, it does require a lot of newspapers or paper towels, and a formidable amount of patience and time.

Ball up or crunch up a bunch of paper and place it on the bottom of the grill. Stack your coals and drizzle the oil over them. From there, light the paper.  As the paper burns, the oil will catch fire, and the oils will slowly but surely get hot.

This is a useful alternative if you want to avoid the lighter fluid taste, but you don’t consider yourself a frequent griller, and you’re unwilling to invest into one of the better options below.

Invest in a Fire Starter

A fire starter is any material or device that makes it more convenient for you, the charcoal griller, to start a fire and get those coals glowing orange. We will take a look at the three most common types of fire starters on the market today: sawdust starters, electric starters, and chimney starters.

Which type to go for is a matter of personal preference. And yet, the members of our editorial team are unanimous in stating that, as far as grilling over coals is concerned, there is no fire starter like the chimney starter. Do keep that in mind as we go through all the options below.

Sawdust Starters

Sawdust starters are smaller versions of the pressed logs you might use in your fireplace or fire pit.

The same principle applies here: You place the pressed particle logs under the coals, and you light the fire. The rest takes care of itself.

Electric Starters

Another alternative to lighter fluid is an electric starter. This is basically a rod you stick in your pile of coals. Electricity heats the rod, which in turn transfers the heat to the coals, making them hot. It’s simple enough, although you may need an extension cord, in which case you’ll want a heavier duty style cord.

It should take 5-10 minutes to ignite the coals. Once done with the starter, set it somewhere, like on bricks or a concrete block, giving it time to cool down. And be extra careful not to let the kids touch or play with it while it’s cooling; they can really hurt themselves while this thing’s still hot.

Chimney Starters

Now, if you’re a serious griller who tends to be around your grill more than your kitchen stove, then look no further than a chimney starter. Buy one, and you will never have to worry about lighter fluid and its lingering taste on your food again.

Using a chimney starter is by far the most preferred—and very often the easiest—way to light charcoal without using lighter fluid. Or even lighting the charcoal in the grill itself.

A chimney starter is a simple stainless steel cylinder with a heat-protected handle and vents on the bottom. The vents and the compactness of the chimney allow for greater and faster airflow across the coals, making them hotter quicker compared to lighting them with fluid.

Take your chimney starter and fill it with coals. How many coals will depend on the temperature you’re going for, but, nine times out of ten, it is safe to assume you will need to fill it all the way up.

From here, you have a couple of choices.

Place the chimney on a brick or concrete surface:

Before lighting, you can place the chimney on some extra bricks or a paver rather than directly on your concrete porch or driveway.

Remember, you are playing with fire and heat. If something gets scorched or burned, it better be something you’re willing to sacrifice or replace.

Place the chimney directly on the coal grates of your grill:

The other option is to place the chimney directly on the coal grates directly on the grill. They’re used to hot coals and fire. No harm, no foul.

Next, place crunched-up newspaper or starter cubes under the chimney where the vents are. Light the fire—the rest will take care of itself.

Even though you’ll see smoke almost right away, let the coals go a solid 15-20 minutes or until most look ashen and glowing. Once that happens, dump your coals on the coal grate, install the grill grate, and grab your food.

The real work, as they say, is about to begin.

In Summary

No one enjoys the taste of lighter fluid when they eat. In all reality, it can be downright unhealthy, if not dangerous, if consumed in high doses. Remember, lighter fluid is a petroleum product, after all.

That being said, there are plenty of alternatives to avoiding that lighter fluid taste. Choices are always good. Now you just have to pick the one that is best for you.

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, a pen name, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

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