Lighting charcoal on a weeknight may not be so out of reach after all. We love our electric charcoal starters here at The Barbecue Lab, and we're going to show you our favorite units.
If you have a charcoal grill, kamado grill, Pit Barrel Cooker, or offset smoker you've no doubt spent countless hours waiting for your charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal to light and burn hot enough to begin grilling. In fact, this is the very reason why many charcoal grills only get called into action on the weekends.
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Maybe you're not trying to light a charcoal fire, but rather a wood fire pit or indoor wood-burning fireplace. These are up to those tasks and more.
How Does An Electric Firestarter Work?
Electric fire starters offer a faster and cleaner way to start your charcoal. So fast in fact, that you may even feel led to light up your charcoal grill on a weeknight! (gasp!)
Gone are the days of needing to use dangerous lighter fluid to start a charcoal fire.
There are basically two different styles of electric fire starters.
First, we have the standard hot coil fire starter that's been around for decades. Plug it into an outlet, stick the heating element down into the coals and after about 15 minutes your charcoal will have ignited.
There's not a whole lot of variety to this style of charcoal fire starter out there. There are many that are perfectly straight, and there are others where the heating coil sits at an angle, or even perpendicular to the handle, to enable it to sit under the coals rather than through.
More recently to the scene, we have the wand-style fire starter that couples a heating element with the ability to blow superheated air to fan the sparks. The easiest way to describe it is to imagine if a curling iron and a hair dryer had a baby.
There are several different designs on the market that use this type of technology, ranging significantly in size, price, and function.
We're going to take a look at 7 different electric fire starters to see how they each perform and which one might be the best fit for you.
Kitosun Electric Charcoal Starter
The Kitosun is a basic hot coil electric fire starter that can be used with outdoor charcoal grills, smokers, fire pits, or indoor wood-burning fireplaces. It comes with a 5-foot power cord.
To use it, place the heating coil on top of a layer of lump charcoal or briquettes and then bury it with more coals. Once you plug it in, the coil will heat up and within a few moments the coals that it comes in contact with, above and below the coil, will begin to ignite.
Depending on how big of a charcoal fire you desire (whether you're grilling or smoking), the Kitosun might need to stay buried in the hot coals for up to 15 minutes, but for a small fire, it could be ready in as few as 5.
The Kitosun was designed with an adjustable clip that I assume is intended to be used to rest it on the side of your grill while it cools down after use, but I can only imagine that would come in handy with a thin metal kettle grill.
Our ceramic kamado grills are all much too thick to be able to take advantage of that feature and we always struggle to know where to set or hang it until the coil has cooled down to a safe temperature.
- Super affordable
- We like the angled design that allows the heating coil to sit under the charcoal
- We never know what to do with it while it cools down
- Awkward shape for storage
- Only a 5 foot power cord
Towallmark Electric Charcoal Starter
The Towallmark is an electric fire starter that uses hot air to easily light a charcoal fire in your smoker, charcoal grill, pizza oven, fire pit, or wood-burning fireplace. It could also be used to start a fire in a charcoal chimney.
It is remarkably similar to the Looftlighter in design and function however, the Towallmark is held more like a gun with your pointer finger on a trigger rather than your thumb. It comes with a 6.5 foot power cord.
To use it, plug in the device and hold the barrel close to the same spot of charcoal, actually making contact with the fuel. Hold the trigger down to start producing hot air. Once the fuel sparks pull the barrel back a few inches and continue pointing at the same hot coals until it starts producing actual flames.
- heats up to 1200°F
- There is no cooling stand underneath the barrel, again making this a challenge to set down when still hot.
- You have to continue holding your finger on the trigger the entire time which is a necessary safety feature, but it can get tiring during 10-15 minutes of use.
BBQ Dragon Fan
The BBQ Dragon is an electric charcoal starter.... sort of. Technically it will not start a fire. You have to do that yourself. What it does do, is blow air on your fire to fan the flames and help the fire spread faster among your lit coals. So rather than call it an electric charcoal starter, you'd be better off calling it an electric bellows.
The BBQ Dragon was actually designed to go with the BBQ Dragon Chimney of Insanity, which is a charcoal chimney with a special port at the bottom for the Dragon to direct airflow into. But you will still need tumbleweeds or wax cubes to get the initial charcoal fire started.
Even though it was designed to accompany the Chimney of Insanity, it can also just as easily be used to light a pile of charcoal directly inside your grill or smoker.
The BBQ Dragon is powered by 4 AA batteries. It can be used to stoke fires both inside and outside.
- It has a great clip that can attach to the side of your grill or shelf which makes it a hands-free device.
- It does not produce heat or get hot, so safety is not a concern.
- Battery powered means you're not bound to the closest outlet.
- It does not actually start a fire on its own.
Looft Lighter 1
We've had our original Looftlighter for a couple of years now and it has gotten a lot of use starting fires in our smokeless fire pits, pizza ovens, and kamado grills. We don't have an indoor wood-burning fireplace otherwise, we would certainly have used it inside as well.
This electric charcoal starter will honestly have your charcoal lit in about a minute. (I'm not saying your charcoal will be ready to cook in one minute, but it will be lit and continue to spread without additional assistance needed).
To use it, plug the power cord into an outlet and then touch the tip of the barrel to a piece of lump charcoal, briquette, or wood kindling. Hold the button down and it will immediately begin blowing super-heated air directly onto your solid fuel source. Within seconds sparks will begin to fly and you can pull the Looftlighter back slightly, continuing to blow air toward the hot coals to spread the fire.
- Heats up to 1200°F
- It includes a cooling stand (even with a built-in bottle opener!) so I can safely set it down right after use.
- It has a nice long 9.8 ft. power cord.
- It comes with a 3 year warranty.
- None really. We haven't had any issues.
Sun Joe 24V-BBQ-LTE 24-Volt iON+ Cordless Electric Fire Starter Kit
The Sun Joe cordless electric fire starter includes a lithium-ion battery and a charger. It is very similar to the Looftlighter 2 and Looftlighter X in that it has 2 modes: heat with blower, and blower only.
- heats up to 1470°F
- battery powered means you can take it anywhere
- 2 year warranty
- [This product is still in testing]
Looft Lighter 2
The Looftlighter 2 is the newest electric charcoal starter from the Looft family and can be used to ignite solid fuel such as charcoal and wood both inside and outside.
This new model works exactly like the original with a few improvements. The Looftlighter 2 features the same automated ignition program found in the Looftlighter X. This means you no longer have to hold the button down for it to work.
Instead, you turn the power button on (found underneath) and then press the heat button once and the unit will take it from there. Just hold it in position, directly touching your fuel source, and once you start to see sparks flying you can pull it back an inch or two. After 2 minutes it will automatically switch to air mode and the blower will kick into high gear as the heat stops. Very quickly flames will take over and you can completely shut off the unit and enjoy your nice fire.
- Heats up to 1400°F
- It has a nice long 9.8 ft. power cord
- I like that this newer model was designed to be hung from a rubber loop near the power cord.
- 3 year warranty
- No complaints here. We're big fans of this electric charcoal lighter.
Looft Lighter X
We've owned the Looftlighter X for over a year now and we use it all the time to light our Alfa 4 Pizze pizza oven and our Solo Stove fire pits. In fact, our kids (9 and 13) love using the Looftlighter X to start a bonfire because they can do it all by themselves (with adult supervision, of course).
The process for using it is exactly the same as the Looftlighter 2 with the automated ignition program.
This electric charcoal starter is powered by a 36V Li-Ion Battery and comes with a charging dock. Fully charged, the Looftlighter should be able to operate for 2 hours.
- Heats up to 1400°F
- It's battery powered so you can take it and use it anywhere.
- Since it stands vertically, it's easy to set down even when it's still hot.
- 2 year warranty
- It's significantly more expensive than all the other options.
Looking for more ways to light your grill? Check out our post on 6 Ways to Light a Kamado Grill.