Why You Should Skip The Lighter Fluid When Firing Up The Grill

Summer is almost here, which for many people means it's time to plan a cookout and fire up the grill. But while we all love the taste of a juicy burger or delicious barbecued ribs, there's one flavor we don't want permeating our dinners and that is lighter fluid.

A drawback to grilling with charcoal is you have to get it heated up before you can start grilling, which Today reports can take up to 30 minutes before you even dump the coals into the grill. This is why so many people have turned to lighter fluid over the years, to try and get those coals burning faster, a rush which unfortunately often leads to meat and vegetables being infused with the chemical taste of lighter fluid. While the liquid is commonly marketed alongside charcoal and grilling supplies, Serious Eats notes that it is not necessary to get your fire started and often leads to unpleasant odors and tastes in your backyard and on your food.

Weber, the manufacturer of Good Housekeeping's Best Overall Charcoal Grill, also discourages home cooks from using lighter fluid, instead recommending the use of a chimney starter — which they also sell. Chimney starters are metal cylinders that you can stack your charcoal in before grilling. They contain a compartment at the bottom to fill with newspapers or wax starter cubes that can be lit with a match or lighter and will ignite the coals quicker and more efficiently than lighter fluid or quick-light briquettes.

Safety risks posed by lighter fluid

Aside from damaging dinner with an unpleasant taste, lighter fluid poses significant health and environmental risks. According to Outdoor Motives, lighter fluid is made of hydrocarbons, which can be toxic if ingested and could cause symptoms such as stomach or throat pain, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and skin or eye irritation. While EcoCharcoal notes that people can build up tolerance to these chemicals over time and one bad burger may not hurt, they can be especially dangerous for children.

Furthermore, the smoke given off by lighter fluid soaked coals contributes to air pollution. Pima County, Arizona issued a warning about the use of lighter fluid on grills in 2016, noting, "When combined with sunshine and other pollutants, the chemicals in lighter fluid create an air pollutant called ground-level ozone that causes health problems for many Pima County residents," especially young children and those with issues like heart disease and asthma.

If you aren't inclined to go out and purchase a chimney starter for your grill but want to get away from using lighter fluid, Outdoor Motives recommends using cardboard, newspaper, natural fire starters, or even high-proof alcohol like whiskey on your coals to get them burning. Hopefully, one of these tips will help you keep your grilling experience this summer safe and enjoyable for everyone.