Why Does My Food Taste Like Lighter Fluid & How To Prevent It

There’s no denying it, if you can taste the lighter fluid on your freshly grilled food then something has gone wrong. The truth is you don’t need to use lighter fluid at all. However, if it’s all you’ve got to light your charcoal then it’s essential that you take extra precautions to ensure you’re using it correctly. 

Here are the most common reasons why your food tastes like lighter fluid, and how you can prevent it from happening.

Why Does My Food Taste Like Lighter Fluid

There are a few common mistakes that are made when lighting charcoal that cause that distinct chemical, lighter fluid taste on your food.

You’ve Used Too Much Lighter Fluid

If done correctly and in the right conditions you can actually just start charcoal by itself. What this means is, you don’t really need to use much lighter fluid at all to get things going.

Always be conservative, and do a gentle spray over the bottom layer of charcoal. Be sure to wait a few minutes before trying to light it. Be sure you are using the charcoal pyramid technique when stacking your charcoal too. This will help it light without needing to add lighter fluid to the top layers of charcoal.

If you have accidentally used too much lighter fluid I would cut your losses and use a fresh batch of charcoal. Otherwise, you will certainly taste the essence of lighter fluid on your food.

The Lighter Fluid Got On The Grill

It’s vital to make sure you are only squirting the lighter fluid on the charcoal itself. If you’ve squeezed too hard and it’s sprayed all around the grill then it’s going to soak in and it’s residue won’t be able to burn off easily.

Throughout the cook this fluid residue will give off fumes that attach themselves to your food leaving that unpleasant taste.

You're Using Quick-Light Charcoal

You might be using “quick-light” charcoal, which usually comes in a bag with the charcoal briquettes pre-treated ready to light. Although these are convenient, there are always reports of unwanted and unpleasant tastes associated with the charcoal.

If you’ve got other options I would always use them. The more natural you keep the cooking process, the more natural your food will end up tasting!

If you want to get your hands on some all-natural charcoal, check out our breakdown of the best charcoal briquettes to use.

You’ve Started Cooking Before The Charcoal Is Ready

One of the most common grilling mistakes made by most is to immediately start cooking after the charcoal is lit and burning. It’s always recommended to wait at least 15 minutes, and until you can visually see a thin white layer of ash covering the coals. 

This is an indication that the charcoal is properly combusting, and any lighter fluid has been effectively burned off.

Depending on the lighter fluid you are using and how much you’ve used there is still a chance you may get hints of lighter fluid tastes on your food. However, waiting adequate time will minimize any harmful chemical fumes attaching to your food.

How To Prevent The Lighter Fluid Taste

Stop Using Lighter Fluid To Start Your Charcoal

The easiest way to prevent any lighter fluid taste on your food is to completely avoid it all together. This also means stop using any other chemicals or artificial fire starters too.

What Is A Substitute For Lighter Fluid?

If you don’t have quick access to a charcoal chimney or other charcoal starter and don’t want to resort to using lighter fluid, then you’ve actually got several other household lighter fluid alternatives that you can use:

  • Whiskey: If you have some high-proof whiskey, or any other high-proof alcohol, a little can be used in place of lighter fluid to start your charcoal.
  • Newspaper: Crumple up about 10 single sheets of newspaper into loose balls and stuff them under your charcoal for a quick and natural way to light charcoal.
  • Cardboard: Roughly cut 1 inch squares out of any thin cardboard you have lying around, and place them in and around your charcoal for easy lighting assistance.
  • All Natural Fire Lighters: All natural lighters take all the hard work away, and just provide you with a simple, all natural solution for lighting fires or charcoal. Light-A-Fire 100% All Natural Fire Starters are literally just all natural American pine wood shavings & natural food grade wax. These last up to 15-20 minutes which is completely sufficient for lighting charcoal in any weather.

Use A Charcoal Chimney Starter

Charcoal Chimney Starter

A charcoal chimney starter is an inexpensive and reliable way to always start your charcoal grill. You don’t even need any lighter cubes or lighter fluid. 

A high quality chimney starter will be stainless steel design, heat proof handle, and adequate ventilation. Simply stack your desired amount of coals in the chimney and light from the bottom. I always crumple newspaper, cardboard, or even part of the thick paper bag that the charcoal comes with and put it at the bottom and have never had any issues with lighting charcoal — without any need for lighter fluid!

Use Other Ways To Start Your Charcoal

There are also several other inventions and gadgets that get the job done cleanly, all without needing lighter fluid.

One growing in popularity is an electric charcoal starter. This can be either an electric rod that you stick into your charcoal that superheats and starts the fire, or can be a hot air blower that gets the job done too. Both of these work brilliantly for both lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes.

These options are completely safe, and won’t cause any unpleasant taste like lighter fluid can when you use it for charcoal grilling.

Deep Clean Your Grill

If you’re not using lighter fluid or any other chemicals to start or fuel your grill but your food still tastes like it, then it might be time to do a deep clean of your cooker. Over time, your grill naturally collects juices, drippings, oils, and residue in all the hard to reach places. Although it’s not necessarily harmful at these levels, it will impact the cook.

If it’s been a while since you’ve given your unit a deep clean then it’s time to roll up your sleeves. You’ll need a grill degreaser, and some all natural but potent dishwashing liquid. 

After cleaning out all the residue and ash, apply a thin layer of degreaser on all the internal surfaces of your cooker and leave it for a few minutes. Come back with a scrub, or steel wool to lightly scrub. Wipe clear and give it a good clean with dishwashing liquid and warm water.

It’s very important to let your grill adequately dry, like really dry, before you start using it again. Otherwise your charcoal will be harder to light and the ash will form a paste at the bottom of the grill.

Is It Safe To Eat Food That Tastes Like Lighter Fluid?

Although in extremely small doses, you may not feel any effects of consuming lighter fluid, and often throughout the cookout any of the harmful chemicals are long gone.

There’s no hiding that it is not healthy to consume light fluid at any level. It’s certain that if you can taste lighter fluid on your food, then you are consuming a very small amount. Although you may not feel sick, and you may be able to eat it with no problems at all, it’s definitely not healthy.

There are so many alternatives nowadays to lighter fluid that are just as easy, much healthier, and will stop causing unpleasant tastes on your foods. The more natural you go, the more natural the flavor will be.

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