Can You Use Charcoal in a Fire Pit? (And What Are It’s Benefits)

Relaxing in front of a glowing fire, soaking up its warmth, and freeing your mind from the stresses of the day while cozying up with friends and family is an advantage of having a backyard fire pit. These fire pits vary greatly and can be anything from a hole that is dug in the ground to a piece of equipment made of metal to a permanent structure made of brick.

Many owners of firepits like to experiment with what they can and cannot burn in their firepits and often they question the effectiveness of using charcoal in their pits.

Is It Okay to Use Charcoal to Start a Fire?

The answer is, yes! You can use charcoal in a fire pit. Charcoal is a lightweight black residue gotten from strongly heating or burning wood in an oxygen-deprived area so as to remove all moisture and volatile constituents.

It is very much okay to use charcoal to start a fire. There are new methods that are very much easy and convenient to use to start a charcoal fire which is discussed later in this article.

Benefits of Having a Charcoal Fire Pit

Having a charcoal fire pit has many benefits. Besides the aesthetics value derived given to your backyard, various other practical benefits can be derived from just owning one.

Heat

Activities are not always done in the daytime. Some are exclusively reserved for nights, like story time, game nights. Sometimes you just want to relax in the great outdoors while passing along nuggets of wisdom.

On a cold winter night, staying in the backyard with family and friends could seem impossible but not if you have a fire pit. Crowding around a fire pit and staying warm all while doing your activities will make the bonding time extra fun and special.

Cooking

An easy way to cook outside is with a fire pit or on a grill with a fire pit. Even with the added bonus of playing with fire, it is very easy to adapt most stovetop and even some oven recipes for cooking with a fire pit and grill. A variety of easy foodstuffs can also be cooked over a fire pit like grilling hotdogs, steaks, and roasting marshmallows.

Charcoal is a great choice for a fire pit if you are cooking food that has been marinated or if you are learning how to cook with a fire pit. While being easy to light and burning fairly hot, it also has the added advantage of not giving off a strong smoky flavor to your food and this helps not to overpower the flavor from other seasonings.

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Another added bonus is that even if you use charcoal for cooking and you want to sit around burning wood while eating your meal, then all you have to do is throw some logs on the hot coal when done cooking the food.

A Place to Gather Around

When hosting a gathering, having a focal point for guests to gather to enables for various easy things like announcements, guest coordination, etc. a fire pit while adding ambience to the evening could serve as your focal point for guests to gather around chatting, while eating or drinking. Your guests will definitely remember the cozy time around your fire pit.

Increases Home Value

Your home is definitely one of the best investments you can ever have and increasing the value of your investment is just a no-brainer. A higher home value when you sell than when you built or bought the house gives you a cushion for when you want to get a better or bigger house for various reasons, plus its always nice to say you sold it for an amount way larger than what you bought it for.

A report by the National Association of Realtors in 2018 states that curb appeal is a very important consideration for anyone looking to purchase a house. Out of the top 13 outdoor features that appeal mostly to potential homebuyers, a fire feature ranked eight, with the likelihood that the added feature adding value to the home ranking the fire feature as eleventh.

It should be noted that the fire feature ranks higher than the pool and water features, plus in most cases it is a cheaper option, giving you more value for your money.

Also, in the report, it is stated that of all those who had completed installing a fire feature, 83% confirmed they preferred staying home, and 66% enjoyed staying home more.

How to Ignite a Charcoal Fire Pit?

Now you have a charcoal fire pit, and you are wondering how to ignite it or if igniting it is easier than you think. Igniting the charcoal in your fire pit is a lot easier these days than before. In the movies, you might see the actors rubbing two pieces of wood or striking flint to make a fire.

These methods are more stressful than modern-day methods. Lighting a match and then some kindling, then fanning or blowing it just to make sure the fire keeps on going and growing is almost just as inconvenient.

Igniting coal is very easy once you know the basics as fire is very contagious. Keeping the coals close together will help the fire spread easily and enable you to use them faster. So, let’s list a few popular methods which are less stressful ways to ignite your fire pit;

1. Lighter Fluid

This method works very well to get your charcoal started. They are easily found in grocery stores around and they are an easy, even if messy (till you get the hang of it) method of starting your charcoal fire. To use lighter fluid, follow these easy steps;

  1. Arrange the coals in a neat mound by piling them or arranging in a pyramid. This will help to increase the coal contact with each other and help your fire spread.
  2. Squirt an appropriate amount of lighter fluid on the pile of coals and light it with a long match immediately. For this you would want to squirt lighter fluid on the top and the edges of the pile following the lighter fluid directions and light immediately. Never attempt to squirt lighter fluid onto hot or flaming coals.
  3. Wait till there are glowing embers before using the coals. Once the lighter fluid burns away, the edges of the coal will turn gray as ash spreads to cover each briquette of coal. Once the pile is mostly covered, the coals are ready to be spread out and used.
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The entire process should take about 15 minutes. Only use lighter fuel that is recommended and not kerosene or gasoline.

2. Match Lighter Charcoal

Some types of charcoal already have the right amount of lighter fluid incorporated to the briquettes. And all you need to and only do is light it with a match following these simple steps;

  1. Arrange the coal into a neat mound. It is very important to not skip this step as it increases the contact of the coal with each other, helping spread the fire so you are ready to use the coal faster.
  2. Using a match light the edge of a few of the briquets in the mound and the flame will spread to others in the pile.
  3. As before it wait till there are glowing embers before using the coals. Once the lighter fluid burns away, the edges of the coal will turn gray as ash spreads to cover each briquette of coal. Once the pile is mostly covered, the coals are ready to be spread out and used.

This entire process takes about 10 minutes, however, some help may be required to get the embers to glow. Additional lighter fluid or kindling may be required.

3. Charcoal Chimney Starter

This simple device looks like a pitcher but it is made of aluminized steel and can be purchased online. It uses paper – mostly newspaper – to light the coals which are placed in the confines of the metal cylinder. It is designed to let the coals sit above the flames, so the edges light up quicker and ignite the neighboring coals. These steps should get you started;

  1. Fill the chimney with the appropriate amount of charcoal needed. A standard chimney should hold up to 100 briquets of coal, however, you may not need as much as that. If you want high heat of about 450°F to 550°F, then you will want to use a full chimney. For medium heat of about 350°F to 450°F, half to three-quarters of the chimney should serve and if you are looking for low heat of about 250°F to about 350°F, a quarter of the chimney will suffice.
  2. Add one or two sheets of the newspaper following the chimney starter directions. Light the newspaper in several places and as it burns below the flames will light the charcoal edges above. You can peek through the vents just to check if the coals have started and the edges turning to gray, if not you can burn another sheet of newspaper. You could also drizzle some cooking oil onto the newspaper before lighting it, so it burns longer.
  3. When you see flames at the top or the embers glow, pour out the coals. After about 10 minutes you should see the coal starting to glow through the vents and some flames flickering over the top layer of the mound. At this point, you pour out the coals and wait till the pile is mostly covered, the coals are then ready to be spread out and used.
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This entire process should take about 15 minutes.

4. Electric Charcoal Starter

This method requires that you have an electric outlet nearby, which can be done using extension outlets gotten from stores. The starter needs to be plugged in to start your charcoal fire. An electric charcoal starter has a metal loop which you place on top of some charcoal then completely cover with more charcoal.

This process could take approximately between 8 – 12 minutes. Once the embers start glowing, the starter can be unplugged, removed, and stored safely away.

What is The Best Thing to Burn in a Fire Pit?

The best thing to burn in your fire pit will always be the traditional wood. While having a large variety available, what wood to burn will depend on your needs at the time. Each wood has its own specific characteristics and you will need to consider these before settling on one.

Pinion wood can serve as a mosquito repellant. For a pleasant scent, apple, cherry, and pecan woods are the top contenders. For a lot of heat, oak, mesquite, and hickory are your best bets.

How to Keep a Charcoal Fire Going?

When charcoal begins to have gray edges, moving it around with a poker device allows for airflow and when the air hits the coal, they heat up again. Continually moving the coal around every few minutes will keep it burning.

Maintaining this intermittent airflow on the coals continuously causes them to heat up. However, if you leave the fire and allow the charcoal to settle, even with a fire going, they cool down and your fire will die.