Let’s be real: lighting charcoal can be a pain. The slightest breeze can blow out matches. Barely damp briquets refuse to burn. Even lighter fluid and tinder don’t always do the trick.
A better way of starting a grill is to use an electric fire starter. It can help get things going faster and hotter. It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a great option when you want to make your barbecuing as trouble-free as possible.
An electric charcoal starter just needs to be plugged in and held near your coals to work. It’s simple, fast, and effective. So let’s look at the most important considerations when you want to buy one and then take a look at your best options.
Types of Electric Charcoal Starter
There are only two basic types of electric charcoal starters. And within these types, there aren’t many differences in visual design.
Hot Air Starters
The first – and more effective – type of charcoal starter consists of a tube that blows hot air across internal heated coils. The coils reach temperatures between 1100° and 1500° F. That’s about twice the temperature of the average match!
To use these, you just touch the end of the tube to the coals until they catch. You can then back it away an inch or so to be sure the flame keeps going.
It usually takes just one or two minutes to get things underway.
Hot Coil Starters
The alternative type of charcoal starter is a bit simpler but nearly as effective. It’s a simple metal elemental attached to a handle. The element itself is placed among the coals to get them lit.
This element is usually a simple rectangular shape, although some provide more surface area with multiple bends in the metal. More surface area means more contact with charcoal, which can help things get going faster.
These work quickly but are best if you’re using a charcoal chimney since the coals will be closer together.
What To Look For
These are simple tools. There aren’t any fancy techniques or moving parts to worry about. Still, keep a few factors in mind.
Heats Up Quickly
A big reason to choose an electric charcoal starter is speed. So you don’t want one that takes forever to heat up.
Fortunately, the best ones take just a minute or so to get your fire started. That’s from the time you turn it on until the moment your coals are going well!
Even a mediocre electric starter will only take two or three minutes to get going. If it’s worse than that, don’t bother with it.
Easy to Use
You can’t get much simpler to use than these barbecue implements. Plug it in, get it in position, and turn it on.
Hot air starters usually have an on/off switch. Hot coil starters don’t even have that.
Safety & Durability
Of course, safety is a primary concern with a tool like this. The extremely high temperatures can cause serious burns to a person or set something on fire in the blink of an eye.
They should be kept out of reach of children at all times. Operate them with care and only in an appropriate area.
That being said, most hot air starters cool down quickly.
Coil-type starters also cool down relatively quickly but present more safety risks. They shouldn’t be left unattended because the plastic handle may start to melt if it’s touching a hot surface. In some poorly-designed models, even the heat of the coils can damage the handle.
Be sure to look for the “UL” (Underwriter’s Laboratories”) certification on any electric tool, especially one like this.
Electric Charcoal Lighters Reviews
Let’s have a look now at some of your best options when you want to buy an electric charcoal starter.
The Looftlighter is a top-of-the-line starter that’s gained a great reputation all the way around. It’s durable, safe, and gets the job done effectively.
This hot air starter generates a temperature of 1100° in less than a minute. All you need to do is aim! The handle is comfortable and safe.
The overall length of the unit is 19 inches. That lets you stand comfortably close – but not too close – to your grill.
The simple on/off button on the handle is convenient. You just need to press it with your thumb.
Overall, it’s a great option for this type of product. Even the cord length is great – nearly 10 feet!
However, we have seen a couple of reports that the aluminum cover over the element started to melt. This could be because of misuse like leaving it in contact with burning coals, but we can’t say for sure.
Also, the price tag is a bit high, as often happens with products that develop a good name.
Overall, we give it high marks, though. We also found that the vast majority of online reviews do the same.
This HomeRight charcoal starter does the job of getting your grill ready to go in a couple of minutes. It generates up to 1500° F of heat so that your coals will quickly ignite and burn well!
It does take two to three minutes to heat up and start the fire. That’s a little slower than some others. But it consistently gets the job done and still beats most alternatives.
One of the novelties of this device is that it offers two settings: the first is the “normal” heat setting to start the fire. The second relies just on the blower to help spread the flame and keep it going. It’s a handy feature that takes the needs of the fire into account.
The power cord is 6 feet long.
One drawback is that the on/off switch doesn’t lock in place. This is a good safety feature but it’s also annoying. You have to hold the button in place for a couple of minutes while things get underway.
Skyflame offers this quality charcoal lighter. It will help you start your grilling quickly with its 1100° F temperatures!
This device also features an important safety feature and will shut itself down if it overheats. The good part is that it doesn’t rely on a fuse to do this. Instead, it shuts down and resets once it’s cool. That can help preserve its life in case of an overheating problem.
Like the model above, it takes two or three minutes to start your fire.
Overall, it measures 18 inches, a nice size for the task at hand. The cord is about 5 and a half feet long.
You do have to press the button the entire time, which is annoying but ultimately it’s a safety feature.
This coil-type starter comes from one of the best-known names in charcoal. It takes about five minutes to heat up and get your coals burning.
This is an updated model that seems to have eliminated some problems with the original. It heats up well. All you need to do is keep it in your chimney or otherwise in contact with your coals.
The biggest drawback is the short cord. You can use an extension cord, but remember that this draws a lot of power. Be sure to use at least a 16-gauge cord for it.
We’ve seen some reports of it tripping the fuse, but we suspect this might have been because it wasn’t used with a proper extension cord.
Ivation’s starter has a nice design. They do say it takes about six minutes to get your coals burning, which isn’t fantastic. But it does save you from fighting with lighter fluid, matches, and kindling.
We like this model because of the U-shaped design of the element. That means it can have contact with more coals at the same time. It’s also 6.25 inches wide, so it could probably touch 3-4 coals at a time!
It heats up to about 570° – about the same as a match. You’re not getting a hotter start, but at least it’s less messy.
The shape of the handle is also convenient – there’s 7 inches of plastic to hold onto and a nine-inch column before you get to the actual element. That makes it easy to use in a chimney or with loose coals.
The cord, though, is ridiculously short at 3.7 feet. Be sure to have a quality outdoor extension cord available!
You can save yourself some of the hassles of lighting your charcoal grill by opting for an electric charcoal lighter. They make the job cleaner and faster. They may not be perfect, but are a great option when you want to get the job done without fighting with lighters or matches!