How to Light A Grill: Step-by-Step Guides for Lighting Gas & Charcoal Grills

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Overcoming the fear & uncertainty of how to light a grill is one of the most intimidating parts of grilling for new grillers. Want to learn how to start a propane grill but worried about handling the propane tank? Completely understandable. Want to master how to light a charcoal grill, but can’t ever seem to get it to stay lit? Been there! We’re sharing all of the best tips & tricks for mastering how to start a grill (both gas & charcoal!) for easy grilling all season long. It’s easier than it seems – promise!

Can’t wait to hit the grill? Be sure to check out Let’s Grill, Girls!, a grilling series here on PWWB created to help you grill more confidently & deliciously all summer long!

Jess of Plays Well with Butter grilling outside with grill tongs in hand while getting a hug from her husband Chris.

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When I asked the PWWB community over on Instagram what you needed help with most when it comes to grilling, by far the most popular answer was…

“I don’t even know how to light a grill!”

& seriously… I’ve SO been there.

If I can be real with you for a second, the main reason it took me so long to get behind the grill is that I was afraid of lighting it.

The thoughts that would run through my head literally went something like this:

  • Am I going to burn my face off?!
  • What if I break it?!
  • What if it blows up?!
  • Will our insurance cover a grill fire?!
  • OMG…

All the fear & overwhelm totally got the best of me. I legit used to wait to make dinner until Chris got home, just so he could light the grill. (& I will say, relying on your partner/husband/spouse/whoever to grill for you may seem like a great idea…until it’s 8:30 pm & they’re just leaving the golf course to come home – #HANGRY!)

Once I learned how easy it is to light the grill – gas, AND charcoal – I couldn’t believe I was ever so nervous about it. I’m super excited to help you overcome the fear too!

First things first: What kind of grill do you have?

How you light your grill will depend on what type of grill you have: gas or charcoal.

Once you get the hang of it, both types are pretty straightforward to light, but the processes are very different. Read on to learn how to start a propane grill & how to light a charcoal grill (click to jump to a specific section!).

Not quite sure what type of grill to get? Check out this post on finding the perfect grill for you. We even walk you through our favorite gas & charcoal grills!

How to Start a Propane Grill:

First things first: be sure to reference your grill’s user manual when you go to light it for the first time. The below steps serve as a great general guide, though your grill model & manufacturer may have other steps or precautions to keep in mind as you start your gas grill.

I LOVE grilling on a gas (propane) grill. They heat up quickly, which is great for weeknight grilling. & a major bonus, it’s really easy to learn how to start a propane grill.

To start a gas grill, you simply have to allow the propane (gas) to flow to the burners & light it up (through an electric starter). Once it’s hot, & you’re ready to grill!

Jess of Plays Well with Butter takes a finished grilled kebab off of her gas grill.

A Couple Things to Double-Check…

  1. Make sure the propane tank is securely hooked up to your grill’s gas line. The hose is usually a simple screw-on valve.
  2. Locate the electric starter, usually found on the front of the grill. Open the lid of the grill. If you push the electric starter, it should make a hollow “pung” noise or sound like the gas burners on your range clicking on. (Note: if your grill’s starter button is broken, it’s no problem at all. Simply use a long-handled lighter to start your grill instead – easy!)

Step-by-Step: How to Start a Propane Grill (with and without a lighter)

  1. Open the propane tank: Ensuring all of the burner knobs of the front of the grill are closed (or turned “off”), open the valve on the propane tank by turning it all the way counter-clockwise (remember – lefty-loosey!).
  2. Open a burner valve: Turn either the leftmost or rightmost burner knob on the front of the grill to high. Your grill may have a “light” or “ignite” setting – that works too. You may hear gas begin to flow out of the burner – that’s totally fine! (Note – if you are using a long-handled lighter instead of the grill’s electric start, you will want to turn on the burner nearest to the side of the grill with a small hole in the side of the bucket.)
  3. Press the electric start: A few seconds after you open up a burner, press the igniter/electric start button. The burner should flare on with a “whoosh” sound. If it doesn’t let the gas run for a few more seconds & try again. If you continue to have trouble starting your grill, DO NOT let the gas continue to run if you continue to have trouble lighting. Simply turn the burner off, close the propane tank, & try again. If you are using a lighter instead of your electric start: insert the flame end through the hole in the side of the grill, placing it next to the burner you turned on. You just lit your grill, GF, congrats!!!
  4. Light the remaining burners: with one burner successfully lit, light the remaining burners, repeating steps 2-3 on the remaining burners. You can light the remaining burners all at once.
  5. Let the grill run on high for 10-15 minutes, charring up any residual food from the grates for easy removal. (Learn how to clean your grill in this post, here.) Once your grill is clean, dial the temperature back to your desired cooking temperature & grill your heart out!
  6. How to shut off a gas grill: Shutting down a gas grill is as easy as turning the burner knobs off, then closing the valve on the propane tank by turning it clockwise until it is tight (remember – righty-tighty!).

How to Light a Charcoal Grill

There are a couple of different methods for lighting a charcoal grill. We’ve provided instructions for how to light a charcoal grill with and without a chimney below. My preferred method is using a charcoal chimney because it makes lighting the charcoal much easier. (Find our other must-have grilling equipment in this post!)

A 22-inch original weber grill lit using a charcoal chimney and preheating.

Step-By-Step Video Showing How to Light a Charcoal Grill:

Method #1: How to Light a Charcoal Grill using a Charcoal Chimney

  1. Set up your grill: Remove the top grate of your grill. Open the bottom air vent on the grill all the way, which helps generate airflow to the charcoal briquettes.
  2. Fill charcoal chimney: Place the charcoal chimney on top of the charcoal grate (the second grate, still in the grill). Add your charcoal briquettes of choice to the charcoal chimney, filling the chimney just below the top. When it comes to charcoal briquettes, I’m partial to Kingsford matchlight since it catches quickly without using any lighter fluid.
  3. Light the charcoal: Place crumpled up paper or lighter cubes under the charcoal chimney. Using a long-handled lighter, light the paper or lighter cubes, which become the heat source that lights the charcoal briquettes. Let the charcoal burn in the chimney until it is gray & ashy, about 10-20 minutes depending on your charcoal. You just lit your grill, GF, congrats!!!
  4. Arrange the charcoal: Once the charcoal is hot (it will look gray & ashy), carefully pour the charcoal out of the chimney onto the grate. Use grill tongs to arrange the charcoal on the grate as desired. (Note: depending on your chimney, the handles may be very hot. Be sure to use heat-resistant gloves if you need to!)
  5. Heat the grill grate: Place the top grill grate back on the grill, & put the lid of your grill on to heat to your desired grilling temperature. Once hot, grill as desired, carefully using the bottom damper on the grill to adjust airflow as needed (more air = hotter grill, less air = colder grill).
  6. How to shut a charcoal grill off: When you’re done with your charcoal grill carefully close the top & bottom dampers (they may be hot!) & let the charcoal burn itself out.

Method #2: How to Light a Charcoal Grill without a Charcoal Chimney

  1. Set up your grill: Remove the top grate of your grill. Open the bottom air vent on the grill all the way – this will help generate airflow to the charcoal briquettes.
  2. Add the charcoal: Arrange the charcoal briquettes into a pyramid on the charcoal grate, using enough briquettes so that when spread out they make a consistent, even layer. If the weather is cold or damp, you’ll need to use more charcoal than if it’s dry & warm.
  3. Prepare the charcoal: Nestle lighter cubes into the bottom of your charcoal pyramid. If you do not have lighter cubes, soak the charcoal with lighter fluid for 3-5 minutes. Note: lighter fluid is highly flammable. If you get any on yourself or your clothing, be sure to wash it off or change clothing before lighting the grill – we don’t want to BBQ you, too!
  4. Light the charcoal: if you’re using lighter fluid, add a little more fluid to moisten the outside of the charcoal briquettes just before lighting. Use a long-handled lighter to carefully light a few sides at the base of the pyramid, or ignite the lighter cubes. Allow charcoal to burn until it is gray and ashy (10-20 minutes). You just lit your grill, GF, congrats!!!
  5. Arrange the charcoal: Once the charcoal is hot (it will look gray & ashy), carefully use a pair of grill tongs to arrange the charcoal as desired.
  6. Heat the grill grate: Place the top grill grate back on the grill, & put the lid of your grill on to heat to your desired grilling temperature. Once hot, grill as desired, carefully using the bottom damper on the grill to adjust airflow as needed (more air = hotter grill, less air = colder grill). 
  7. How to shut a charcoal grill off: When you’re done with your charcoal grill carefully close the top & bottom dampers (they may be hot!) & let the charcoal burn itself out.

Wrapping Up!

Not too bad, right? Once you know how to light your grill, you’ll be ready to grill all summer long!

Jess of Plays Well with Butter handing a platter of food just grilled on her gas grill to her husband Chris.

If this all still feels new to you, I encourage you to head over to this Grilling 101 post, where we dive into all the grilling basics – everything from how to light your grill to how to clean your grill.

All this talk about grilling have you feelin’ ready to hit the grill? Me too! Be sure to check out this post for my 13 go-to marinades you need this grilling season. At our house, a good marinade is at the heart of grilling season. I’m positive these marinades will be on repeat at your house this summer! For even more grilled goodness, be sure to check out all of our Grilling & Smoking recipes.

& lastly! Be sure to give @playswellwithbutter a follow on Instagram – I’ll be teaching you how to grill up some goodness all summer long, & we have so much fun on Instagram!

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Thank you so much for reading & supporting Plays Well With Butter. This post includes affiliate links for products I truly love & use on the reg in my own home. All opinions are always my own! Should you make a purchase using one of these links, PWWB will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps me continue to bring you great original & free content.

Don’t forget to pin this post for later!!!

Step-by-step how to light a grill graphic with text overlay for Pinterest.

Your turn!: Do you grill on charcoal or gas? What other tips & tricks do you have when it comes to lighting your grill? Do you have any other questions about grilling equipment that I can help answer? Drop a comment below – I’d love to chat!!!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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