Under no circumstances should you use gasoline to ignite a grill. I wanted to make sure that part was plainly clear before going any further with this article.
However, intrepid reader Carol Marcus wrote in and asked this very question.
My grandmother always said that there was no such thing as a stupid question — and I’m inclined to agree in this case. If you’ve never seen the raw, flaming power of ignited gasoline, you may not have the same type of respect for it as others.
Are you in this camp? Allow me to shed some light on how dangerous a bit of gasoline can be. Let’s take a look at some folks playing with a very small amount of it on their bonfire:
As you can see, things can get extremely hot, extremely quickly!
You don’t want that kind of flammability on a grill, something that is presumably closer to your house than that bonfire! Make no mistake: your chances for an accident skyrocket if you try to ignite a grill with gasoline (or kerosene and diesel for that matter).
Even ignoring the potential for accidents, starting charcoal briquettes with gasoline is generally as effective as pushing mud uphill. The gasoline burns too quickly to reliably ignite the charcoal. In the end, you’ll just have a gnarly smell, cold charcoal, and a delayed barbecue (if you’re lucky).
Can you eat food cooked over a gas fire?
Let’s say you’ve been to an event with a few folks like the gentlemen above. If they have started a fire with gasoline and cooked food over it, would it be safe to eat?
Most folks ask this question when thinking about the noxious smell of gasoline and imagining that odor imbued into their food. The truth is, the chemical makeup of gasoline and charcoal lighter fluid isn’t much different.
Refineries do take additional steps with lighter fluid to remove the odor, but they’re functionally similar. Take a look at Coleman fuel, a popular petroleum fuel primarily used for fueling lanterns and camp stoves. It’s simply 50 to 55 octane gasoline, with similar flammability!
However, Coleman has none of the additional additives of modern gasoline. For that reason alone, I would avoid habitually eating food cooked over a fire started with gasoline.
Of course, the easiest way to avoid eating gasoline-tainted food is to simply start your barbecue fire correctly. Let’s quickly review some of the things you should be lighting your grill with.
Things to Help Light a Grill
Luckily, you have many other options besides gasoline to help you when lighting a grill. Although I’d always recommend the charcoal briquette “snake” method (found here), that’s more of an advanced technique.
For the less confident, here are some alternatives:
- Lighter fluid is less flammable than gasoline and helps millions of families across the world kick-start their barbecue charcoal. Please note, lighter fluid can still be dangerous, so use it with caution!
- A Chimney Starter (like this one from Weber). Chimney starters are designed to get charcoal hot white and ready for cooking quickly. In 25 minutes, your coals will be ready to grill!
- A GrillGun. GrillBlazer has an amazing hot burning torch to light charcoal directly, without any additional substances or gadgets. It’s a little on the pricey side, but folks I’ve talked to are absolutely raving about it.
- Lighter cubes. This organic fire starter is all-natural and odorless and non-toxic while also being incredibly easy to use. It simplifies the act of igniting kindling as much as possible and completely removes the need for gels, paper, or any other device. Additionally, they’re affordable — check them out here.
I hope that you’ve read this far and I was able to help prevent you from making a very costly mistake. There are better things to light your barbecue grill with than gasoline!
By the way, did I miss anything? Do you have a method for lighting your grill that I didn’t cover? Share your ideas in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!