Instant light charcoal – helpful or harmful?

If you’re looking for a convenient, quick-lighting charcoal for your BBQ, chances are you’ve stumbled upon instant light, self-igniting or match-light charcoal that you can ignite simply with the flame from a matchstick or lighter.

This sounds like a dream for those who aren’t good at stacking up a charcoal pyramid for lighting, or those who just want to get the fire going immediately so they can get on to grilling.

But have you ever stopped to wonder how charcoal - which typically takes some time to light - is able to have sparks or flames spread effortlessly over the entire pile to light it up with just the strike of a matchstick?

This convenient trick is made possible by adding ignition accelerants or oxidizing agents

to charcoal – so that it readily ignites when exposed to flame.

What is in Instant Light Charcoal?

To make charcoal self-igniting, it is impregnated with ignition aids, oxidizing additives or accelerants such as lighter fluid, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, sawdust, petroleum, paraffin etc.

These accelerants add flammability to the charcoal, making it easy to light, with sparks or flames that spread over the charcoal quickly.

Is Instant Light Charcoal bad for you?

When burnt, accelerants added to instant light charcoal can release toxic gases into the air, which can be associated with potentially dangerous side effects and harm to health.

Needless to say, these are not substances that we wish to inhale, much less impart to the food we cook which goes into our bodies when we consume it, or serve to our loved ones.

What are some ways to know if my charcoal contains accelerants?

This is most obvious when the label claims that their charcoal is self-igniting / match-light / instant-light, or ready in 5 minutes.. etc.

Often, disposable BBQs use charcoal that contain accelerants, to make lighting up easy.

Some signs to look out for are charcoal that has flames spreading abnormally fast to the rest of the charcoal when only 1 – 2 pieces of charcoal are lit, without an external heat source.

Other times, there can be tiny sparks lining the edges of the charcoal lighting up, or an unnatural odor of fireworks or lighter fluid.

Are there natural charcoal alternatives that light up instantly using a match?

The scientific principles of combustion dictate that a necessary level of heat and oxygen is needed to successfully light charcoal up.

This means that charcoal that is 100% natural without accelerants will need more than just the heat from a matchstick to get it properly lit.

On the bright side, it also means that to get charcoal lighting faster – we simply need to supply it with the necessary level of heat and oxygen faster.

We can do this in a few simple ways.

Ways to start charcoal quicker, safely and naturally

  1. Supply more heat

By adding more fire starters or creating a stronger burning flame source, the extra heat will be able to ignite your charcoal quicker.

  1. Supply more oxygen

When charcoal is about halfway lit and glowing, direct a fan at it to increase the amount of oxygen to aid combustion.

  1. Use a charcoal chimney

Charcoal chimneys are designed to optimize oxygen and heat flow.

When you add a charcoal chimney to your setup, it will help charcoal light up quickly

and burn evenly.

It is also rather effortless, as you simply pile charcoal into the chimney, light some fire starters underneath and let it go to work.

Advantages of using a Charcoal Chimney

Charcoal chimneys and fire starters are all that’s needed to provide you with hot coals that are quickly and easily ready to start cooking with.

Compared to instant light charcoal, you’re far better off using a charcoal chimney to eliminate the possibility of producing noxious gases which find their way into the food you cook.

Instant lighting charcoal often also costs more per kg than regular charcoal, whereas a good charcoal chimney only costs between $20-$30 and they generally last for years, so it’s an excellent investment and a convenient way to get your charcoal lit easily.


There are a number of reasons to avoid instant-lighting charcoal to BBQ your food over. Instant lighting charcoal can light up with unpleasant odors or fumes, and impart those to your food.

In worse cases, they can even give off odorless fumes that are actually harmful and go undetected.

Choosing natural charcoal and lighting it up naturally will be the healthier choice, allowing you to enjoy your grilling sessions with peace of mind. Check out our charcoal supplier page today!

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