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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

17 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
284 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best electric charcoal starters

Last Updated August 2019

If grilling and barbecuing are your favorite summer pastimes, chances are you’re well on your way to becoming a pitmaster. Nothing beats a savory meal cooked on a charcoal grill, so you and your guests likely count every minute until mealtime. If you’re ready to speed up your grilling, an electric charcoal starter is an essential cooking accessory.

Electric charcoal starters ignite a fire without the use of any chemicals or flames. Instead, they have a stainless steel heating element that sits in a charcoal pyramid and gets the fire going in less than ten minutes. All you need to do is plug it in and let it sit there. Once your charcoal is lit, simply use the heating element to even out the flame and you’re done. After that, unplug your electric charcoal starter and let it cool down.

With such a simple way to get the fire started, it’s an easy decision to get an electric charcoal starter. We explored the best starters and assembled this buying guide so you can get on top of your grill game in no time.

If you don’t have a cooling base for your electric charcoal starter, rest it on its lip away from your body on a grill shelf or somewhere out of the way. Avoid placing it on the patio or sidewalk so people and pets won’t accidentally touch it while it’s still hot.

Key considerations

Why choose an electric charcoal starter?

Besides serving as devices that kick-start your grilling session, electric charcoal starters come with plenty of other benefits.

Economical: An electric charcoal starter is an economical choice for the frequent griller. Lighter fluid gets expensive, and if you run out, it could put a damper on your meal plans. With a starter, it’s a one-time investment that pays for itself after a handful of uses.

Eco-friendly: Electric charcoal starters are also an environmentally friendly alternative to lighter fluid. They don’t utilize harmful chemicals or emit any into the atmosphere because the heating element comes into direct contact with the charcoal.

Better taste: You’ll also notice a lack of the aftertaste that is sometimes evident in food cooked using lighter fluid.

Safe: Electric charcoal starters also reduce fire hazards because you aren’t squirting lighter fluid all over the place, and you avoid the unpredictability of open flames.

How it works

An electric charcoal starter includes a heat-resistant handle, metal neck, and stainless steel heating element. To ignite the charcoal, plug in the starter and stack the charcoal in an even, concentrated pile. Place the heating element on top of the pile and cover it with another well-distributed stack of charcoal. Within minutes, you’ll have a flame going, at which time you can redistribute the charcoal around the grill and remove the starter. Close the grill lid and let it reach the optimal temperature for cooking.

EXPERT TIP

If you have long hair, tie it back when you’re grilling, especially while you’re using an electric charcoal starter. Even if you’re not in contact with the flame, the sparks could land on your hair and damage it or burn you.


Staff  | BestReviews

Electric charcoal starter features

Materials

An electric charcoal starter is a relatively basic device that contains an internal electrical component, stainless steel heating element, and heat-resistant handle. The stainless steel heating element holds up to frequent heating and evenly distributes heat along its loops. The heat-resistant handle is made with commercial-grade plastic and is usually at least six inches long. Most have some grooves or ridges to improve your grip for a safe and secure hold.

Heating time

One of the main considerations when choosing an electric charcoal starter is the heating time. On average, they take between eight and ten minutes to ignite the charcoal. If that’s not fast enough for your grilling needs, there are some rapid-heating models available that ignite in between two and six minutes. They’re designed with multiple coils so their heating elements maximize their contact points. The more contact points, the quicker the charcoal pyramid can heat up. 

Base or stand

After igniting your charcoal, your starter needs to cool down, which is why some premium models come equipped with a base or detachable stand. A stand holds the starter either upright or at an angle. This is an essential feature worth looking for from both practicality and safety perspectives. A base or stand keeps the heating element away from wood, plastic, or other flammable surfaces and helps avoid situations in which children, adults, and pets could accidentally come into contact with the hot metal.

Cord

Perhaps the main concern consumers have with electric charcoal starters is the short cord length. On average, the cord is only about five feet long, and while that’s a generous length for most other electrical devices, it seems inadequate in a starter. For one, you’re most likely using it outside where it can be hard to locate an outlet that’s close to your grill. As a result, most people end up purchasing an extension cord at the same time as their electric charcoal starter.

EXPERT TIP

Keep your electric charcoal starter in the garage or somewhere else that’s dry. While your grill is weatherproof, the starter is still an electric appliance and shouldn’t be left out in the rain or heat.


Staff  | BestReviews

Electric charcoal starter prices

Electric charcoal starters cost between $10 and $80, so it’s an ideal investment if grilling or barbecuing is a regular activity.

Inexpensive: At the low end, between $10 and $20, most of the starters have an oval heating element and a relatively short neck and handle.

Mid-range: Starters priced between $20 and $40 have an extended neck that adds considerable space between the heating element and the handle. Many also have a double-looped heating element that heats briquettes more efficiently.

Expensive: At the high end of the range, between $40 and $80, are electric charcoal starters that heat more quickly than other models, particularly the torch styles in this range.

EXPERT TIP

When your electric charcoal starter is cooling, keep the cord away from the heating element. It will burn right through the cord and cause permanent damage.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Keep old T-shirts and towels handy. Since you only need to wipe down the heating element, old T-shirts and towels are soft enough to not damage the surface.
  • Seek medical attention for burns. If you sustain a burn from the heating element, seek medical attention immediately. Burns are serious injuries that should be treated by a medical professional.
  • Don’t throw out the box. Electric charcoal starters have a weird shape, so storing one can be awkward. Storing it in the box is a convenient solution.
  • Add one to your registry. If you and your betrothed enjoy grilling, add an electric charcoal starter to your registry. It’s a practical and budget-friendly gift nearly every guest can afford.
  • Give as a gift. If you’re attending a barbecue party, give the host an electric charcoal starter. It will be greatly appreciated and could expedite mealtime.

Other products we considered

We like the different shape of the 600-watt Grill Dome Rapid-Lite Electric Charcoal Starter. This double-loop, U-shaped starter offers a secure fit beneath your charcoal pyramid, so you can stack with confidence to quickly achieve an even flame. Its stainless steel sheath is engineered for frequent use and extends the life of the starter. As hot as the heating element gets, your hands are protected by a convenient 12-inch stay-cool handle. It’s also equipped with a sturdy metal lip so it rests securely against your grill while it’s heating. If you want an ergonomic shape coupled with efficiency, the 500-watt Ivation Premium Electric Charcoal Starter is your best bet. The horseshoe-shaped heating element lights charcoal more quickly than most of its competition, at about six minutes or less. The length and angle of this starter serve as extra layers of protection, adding distance between you and the fire. It’s ideal for deeper grills, and the pronounced lip helps this starter stay put while it’s heating.

Avoid burns and injuries by holding the handle toward the very end of the base farthest from the heating element. Even if there is a lip that separates the two, it’s usually made of metal and heats up as well.

FAQ

Q. My electric charcoal starter takes too long to light the charcoal. What are my options?
A.
Assuming your starter isn’t defective, double-check the expected heat time to make sure your  expectations are realistic. You should also examine whether your briquettes are properly stacked on and around the starter. Sometimes suboptimal placement makes heating take much longer than necessary. If you’re just not a fan of waiting for the flame, consider purchasing a rapid-starting model to speed things up.

Q. How do I clean my electric charcoal starter?
A.
First and foremost, only attempt to clean the starter when it is completely cool. As far as cleaning goes, most starters can be wiped clean and returned to the box or stored indoors with your other electric appliances. There’s no need to use harsh chemicals or abrasive scrubbing, so for the most part, electric charcoal starters are low-mess, low-maintenance devices.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Sian
    Sian
    Writer

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