How To… Light the Big Green Egg

Howdy,

As with everything with the Big Green Egg there are different ways to go about doing everything… including lighting your lump charcoal.

The one thing that you should NEVER EVER do is use charcoal lighter fluid in your Egg. The chemicals will absorb into the ceramics and you will not get rid of that taste of lighter fluid.

To see the official corporate spiel on how to light your Big Green Egg, check out this link.

They suggest you use the official Big Green Egg starter cubes.

Big Green Egg Charcoal Starter Cubes

These are safe to use in your Egg as they contain no chemicals and are basically sawdust and wax. I have used these before, but I find them incredible slow to get your Egg going. I know we’re talking about barbecue and it SHOULD be slow… but sometimes on a weeknight you want to eat dinner before it’s time for your kids to go to bed. They aren’t cheap either and you need to use multiple starters depending on the size of Egg you have. They will work in the rain, once you get them lit… just close the lid and let them go.

If you choose this method, I generally break the starter cubs into 4 or 5 pieces (to make them go farther) and then light them in a star shape in the Egg so you are lighting your lump in 4 or 5 places. Now this will vary depending on the size of Egg you are lighting. If I light the Mini with these, I would just put them in the centre of the lump, if I light the XL, I am going to spread them out more.

Another option is to use the classic charcoal chimney starter.

Chimney Starter

I started out using these starters back before I got my Eggs. You stuff some newspaper in the bottom, dump some charcoal in the top and light it and wait till you coals are glowing to start cooking. Although this method works just fine, I find that with the Big Green Egg, it actually lights better with the charcoal in the Egg and not in the chimney. The Egg creates a natural airflow that works much better than this thing. The other problems I’ve had with it, sometimes the charcoal doesn’t light straight away, so you need to do more than one attempt at getting the coals to light. I find if it is really windy that this can be particular challenge as it blows the paper out the bottom. And if it’s raining, forget it! On the upside, they are cheap, less than $15 and other than newspapers (or all that irritating junk mail) you don’t need anything special to light it.

If you use this method (and I have) what I found worked best was to load the Egg with MOST of the lump but reserve some for the chimney. Then light the Chimney and when it is good and hot, dump these coals on the lump in your Egg and open your air vents wide so the hot lump lights the dry lump in the Egg. It just takes too long to do this and I think I only used this method for about a week before moving on.

My next leap went to the Electric Coil Starter. These are classic. It is basically a heating element that gets super hot and lights the coals.

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I used this cheap one for a brief while, but the starter burned out within about 4 months. Big Green Egg makes an official one:

Big Green Egg Electric Starter

But it isn’t cheap. You can get no name brand ones for $15-$20 at most hardware or home stores. These things are faster than the chimney or the starter cubes, but their durability is an issue. I figured I would go through 3-4 of these things in a year. Another thing I didn’t like was that they are electric and using them in the rain is not something I was fond of.

If you are going to use the Electric Coil, just place it in the centre of the lump and light it there, then pull it out, open the air vents and close the Egg lid and let the Egg come up to to temperature. This method worked great for me for about 4 months until the coil burned out.

It was the middle of February when my coil burned out and as I was looking for a new way to light the Egg, I came across the Looftlighter.

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Effectively it is a big hair dryer… (never point it at yourself, instant 4th degree burns!!!) there is a heating element in it and it blows super hot air. This thing worked great!!! I loved my Looftlighter. You just point it at the coals and press the button and it would light them up super fast because in addition to the heat it was blowing air and stoking the fire as it lit.

My problem with it was that again it is electric, so you are always fussing around with extension cords and then there is the pesky rain issue again (yes I do lots of Egging in the rain, that’s what umbrellas are for!!!). My other issue was the price, at $90 it wasn’t cheap and it only lasted me about 6 months. HOWEVER mine did not die by my hand, I was away on a business trip and my friends that were staying with us at the time didn’t know how to use it and when I got home it was ruined. The tip had all melted. I suspect they stuck it into the coals to light them instead of hovering above them.

If you are going to use a Looftligher, I would light in 4 or 5 spots in a star shape around the Lump for my Large and XL Eggs and right in the middle of the lump for the Mini.

So with a wrecked Looftlighter my friends bought me what I now use and have come love, a MAPP Torch. Nothing says “light my Egg” more than the brute force approach of using a torch! I use a Bernzomatic MAPP Torch that they bought me from Home Depot.

Bernzomatic MAPP Torch

The upside of this torch is that it lights the Egg very quickly (although the Looftlighter was still faster because of the combo of heat and air), you can use it in the rain, you don’t have to drag around extension cords and you can use it for other torchy things around the house other than just lighting your Barbecue. The down side is the price, it isn’t cheap, but the upside is the gas canisters last a VERY long time if all you use it for is lighting the Egg. I have been using this to light my Eggs since September 2012 and am only on my second canister. I think the first one lasted me about 15 months.

Again, like the Looftligher, light the bigger Eggs in a star pattern and the smaller Eggs in the centre.

So to summarize, I’ve made this handy dandy table…

Method Advantages Disadvantages
Wax Starters Can be used in Rain Expensive, not reusable, VERY slow!!!
Charcoal Chimney Reusable, inexpensive Slow, can’t be used in the rain
Electric Coil Reusable, inexpensive, quick light Shouldn’t use in the rain, need a power outlet, cords are a pain
Looftligher Reusable, fastest light Shouldn’t use in the rain, need a power outlet, cords are a pain, expensive!
MAPP Torch Pretty quick light, portable, no power cords, use in any weather Expensive, occasionally need gas refills

 

So there you have it. Choose whichever method works best for you and do be afraid to dry different methods.

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