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Why Won't Your Portable Charcoal Fire Pit Stay Lit?

July 21, 2022 4 min read

Building a fire on your charcoal fire pit may not be that challenging for you. What is challenging, however, is keeping the coals constantly lit so that the food is cooked adequately and evenly. When some novices light a charcoal fire pit, the charcoal may initially ignite to create a flame, but then go out shortly thereafter. If your charcoal portable fire pit will not stay lit, the problem may be attributed to the following reasons.

You are using the wrong type of charcoal
Not all types of charcoal burn the same amount of time in a portable bbq fire pit. Burning hard charcoal is not easy. It can be difficult to ignite and even more difficult to maintain even heating. There are two main types of charcoal: lump or briquette. Lump charcoal is the most common type. This type of charcoal burns at very hot temperatures and reacts well with oxygen. Charcoal briquettes are made from wood and other organic by-products combined with a binder. Charcoal briquettes will burn longer, but they are more difficult to ignite when heated continuously. Lump charcoal will burn faster, but you can add them to a burning pile without worrying that they will interfere with the lit charcoal. Good quality lump charcoal produces clean heat with little to no ash.

Lump Charcoal and Charcoal Briquettes

Charcoal is not stacking
When grilling or smoking, the way you stack your charcoal directly affects the temperature and length of time it will burn. If your charcoal is placed horizontally at the bottom of a portable fire pit, it may not even ignite. Some coals may stay lit, but others may burn out before they reach the right temperature. You may need to restack the charcoal to bring the heat upward. Using a chimney starter is the easiest way to make a neat charcoal pile. This everyday grilling and smoking device is a cylindrical piece of metal with a hollow interior. Simply fill the chimney starter with charcoal, place it over the fire pit, and light the bottom with a grill lighter. After about 10 to 20 minutes, the charcoal should be hot, at which point you can carefully place it in the bottom of the fire pit.

Stack Charcoal in a Portable Fire Pit Using a Chimney Starter

The charcoal is wet
If your charcoal is not dry, it will not stay lit. Charcoal is naturally porous, so it is able to absorb and hold moisture from its surroundings. When charcoal absorbs moisture, it is almost impossible to ignite a flame. If you store charcoal in a damp place, such as your deck or even basement, it may absorb so much moisture that it will not light or stay lit. To prevent charcoal from absorbing moisture, keep it in a well-sealed container and store it in a cool, dry place. If it is only slightly damp, then it can still be salvaged. You just need to wait for a dry, sunny day. Place the lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes on a towel in the light, but not in direct sunlight. 2-8 hours later, your charcoal will be dehydrated and you can try using it for your next cooking session.

There is not enough ventilation
You may have managed to light the charcoal in the portable outdoor fire pit, but it burns out quickly. You try to light it again and still nothing happens. The problem here may be that you are smothering your charcoal. When you add too many wood chips or chunks, or add them before the charcoal is fully burned, then you are restricting the airflow of the charcoal. To avoid suffocating your charcoal, wait until the charcoal has burned for at least 15 minutes and formed an off-white coating before adding anything else, including meat on the fire pit! Once your charcoal reaches this temperature, you can continue to add your cooking wood or smoking pieces without worrying about your charcoal choking.

Allow Sufficient Ventilation of Charcoal in the Portable Fire Pit

Your fire pit is not clean
Keeping the fire pit clean is the key to building a fire. If you don't clean the ashes after you remove the charcoal grill, they will accumulate at the bottom of the fire pit and usually form a paste if they absorb too much moisture. When you add charcoal, it absorbs the moisture in the paste, making it very difficult to build a fire. Likewise, if you let grease build up on the grate of a portable bbq fire pit, the charcoal will not ignite. When the charcoal heats the grease, it melts and drips, wetting the charcoal and ruining your cookout. Be sure to remove dry grease and ashes from the fire pit each time you grill.

The environment is damp
Even high humidity can cause lit charcoal to not light up. If you are trying to grill or smoke on a particularly humid day, the moisture in the air may saturate your charcoal to the point that it won't stay lit. Unfortunately, you can't control the humidity outside. With that said, you can still grill or smoke on a humid day - you just need to take precautions beforehand. You can place the portable outdoor fire pit near a windbreak, pile up the charcoal and build a fire properly charcoal will burn more slowly. It should stay lit even when it's wet outside.

Charcoal barbecue is a traditional form of barbecue with a traditional atmosphere. From time to time, you may have some trouble lighting your charcoal portable fire pit and keeping it lit. But now that you know why your fire pit won't stay lit and how to stay it lit, hopefully you'll get some useful tips and tricks from the above.


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