Burn Baby Burn: How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit

Jim Bob – A long-time contributor to GrillBabyGrill. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.

A charcoal grill has become a popular choice for backyard barbecues. It’s also portable, don’t require a ton of space to use, and provide a lovely smoky flavor in your food. But the struggle of keeping your charcoal grill lit can sometimes feel more like a battle. 

Luckily, you can use a few hacks that increase the length of time your charcoal grill stays lit so you can worry less about the fuel source and more time tending to your food. Various techniques can be used individually, but it’s best to incorporate as many as you can into your grilling routine for optimal results.

How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Lit?

Ideally, you’ll want your grill to stay a hot, even temperature (roughly 225°F) for the duration of your grill session. But anyone who has frequently used a charcoal grill will tell you; sometimes, it’s a struggle. If you’re wondering how to keep a charcoal grill lit longer, there are a few tricks you can try.

Invest in High-Quality Charcoal

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you’ve opted for a generic brand of lump charcoal because it’s cheaper, chances are it will be more difficult to light and keep it lit. Choosing charcoal briquettes from reliable brands is the best place to start.

Open the Damper

Oxygen is a secondary fuel source for your charcoal grill, so opening the damper is one way to increase the airflow and affect your grill’s temperature. Start with the intake damper fully open and tweak it as necessary when your grill heats up.

Stack it Vertically

Charcoal will stay lit longer if you stack the coals vertically rather than arranging them flat on the bottom of the grill. This is because heat rises.

Mind the Lighter Fluid

Be generous when dousing the charcoal in lighter fluid. While you should give the lighter fluid a few minutes to absorb after pouring it, don’t wait too long to light it, or the fluid will have evaporatedDo not add additional lighter fluid AFTER the fire has been started because this is a safety hazard.

Clean Old Ash Between Uses

If you’re not cleaning up the ashes after you grill, the residual buildup could be the reason you’re struggling to keep your charcoal grill lit. Too many ashes in the grill restrict the airflow, preventing the flame from staying lit. 

To remedy this, wait until the ashes cool after each use. Then shovel them into a metal bucket or can for safe disposal.

Monitor the Fuel

Keeping a close eye on the charcoal grill can help prolong the time it stays lit. After an hour or two, you can add some lit or unlit briquettes to bring the temperature back up. If you notice the edges of the charcoal are gray, it’s time to stoke the fire. Move the coals around regularly to keep the flame going.

Get a Temperature Probe

To help anticipate changes in the fuel source before they happen, invest in a temperature gauge for your grill so you can track the heat level throughout the cooking process. That way, you’ll have an accurate sense of when the temperature is dropping, and you can proactively tend to the coals.

Use the 2-Zone Grilling Method

To maintain even cooking temperatures longer, adopt the 2-zone method for your charcoal grill. You need to stack the lit coals on one side of the grill and leave the other side empty. The heat from one side envelops the entire grill top and cook the food on the opposite side at a lower temperature using indirect heat

This also means you can move your food from one zone to another throughout the process if you need to get it off direct heat and stoke the coals.

Protect Your Grill from the Wind

How to grill in bad weather conditions? If the wind starts blowing while you’re grilling and threatens to put out the fire, you can lower the grill’s lid slightly to offer some protection. By leaving a gap for air to continue circulating, you’ll still block any gusting wind without cutting off the air supply to your fire.

Jim Bob

Jim Bob


The concern of charcoal fire dying out might be why homeowners prefer gas grills over charcoal, but these fuel source debate can be fixed by following the few hacks and tips mentioned. Now, you’ll be able to enjoy charcoal grilling for long grilling sessions without encountering any bumps along the way.

Keeping track of your temperature throughout the process, along with your charcoal’s arrangement from the onset, can help nurture a warm, even flame that lasts.