While a toasty fire is a welcome addition to any chilly evening, wrestling with wet wood or crumpled-up newspapers to get the first flames going-and the wait time that follows-is not so much. You'll eventually get something more than a smoking, smoldering pile of timber, but wouldn't it be better to go right to a roaring blaze? That's where fire starters come in.
Originally marketed and sold to the specialty camping, hunting, and fishing crowd, commercial fire starters are now a must-have accessory for anyone with a fireplace, wood stove, fire pit, chiminea, hibachi, food smoker, or even a trusty old-fashioned charcoal grill. Sure, you could fashion your own homemade fire starters from used dryer lint, cardboard egg cartons and candle wax, but commercial fire starters are fairly inexpensive and much less of a hassle than making your own. And since fire starters are readily available at hardware stores, home centers, and garden shops, there's really no reason not to keep a case or two on hand throughout the year, to be ready whenever you need get the grill going or want to relax in the warm glow of the firelight.
Not all fire starters are created equal, however. Before you buy in bulk, mind these considerations-and product recommendations-to make sure you get the best burn for your buck.
Size matters. Fire starters are handy to have around, but the last thing you want is a large box that rivals your stack of firewood detracting from the attractive environment you've created around your fireplace. Fortunately, some of the best-reviewed fire starters are lightweight and compact, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length, since most were originally developed to be tucked into a hiker's backpack. Typically sold in cases of 12 or 24, these pocket-sized pouches, pods, or cubes can be stored in plain site in a basket or tucked out of sight.
Look for lengthy burn time. Highly flammable, fire starters are meant to speed through the painstaking process of starting a fire with wet wood, charcoal, or even coal alone by providing a persistent flame that can then catch on nearby kindling. To do so, the fire starter has to burn long enough to actually get the fire established. The best fire starter burns from 10 to 30 minutes, ensuring that you achieve a robust blaze.
The nose knows. A big barrier to the adoption of early, camping-oriented fire starters for home use was the smell. Older fire starters were impregnated with flame-inducing chemicals that smelled awful. Today's best fire starters are nearly odorless-a big plus for using fire starters as an alternative to lighter fluid when starting the grill or food smoker.
Pick what's best for the planet. You're not the only one who benefits from abandoning fire starters that utilize noxious chemicals. The best fire starter burns clean thanks to environmentally-friendly flammable materials, be it wood waste (sawdust or shavings), non-toxic wax, recycled paper, waste textile fibers-or, for fireplace purists, all-natural fatwood. Fortunately, you won't have to look too hard: Nearly all commercial fire starters have no byproducts or waste, because the paper packaging burns up right along with the fire starter. Plus, using fire starters typically results in faster and more complete ignition, thereby reducing emissions of particulate matter and carbon monoxide.
Brightest of the Bunch
We've done the dirty work for you and scouted the market for the handy nuggets, cubes, and packages worth stashing by the grill or fireplace. Keep reading for which options have been reviewed as the best fire starter in the business by consumers who have tried them all-as well as where you can stock up.
Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products, $17.99 for 30
Listed as Amazon's “Best All-Natural Fire Starter,” these pods received 4.9 out of 5 stars from customers who praised the compact cubes for being “remarkable,” “simple,” and “easy and safe to use.” Only one pod from the bucket supply of 30 is needed to instantly light a grill, campfire, or fireplace, and it will burn for 15 minutes to ensure your fire roars. Made from wood shavings and food-grade wax, these pods are totally odorless, non-toxic, and environmentally safe. Available on Amazon.
Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starter, $4.84 for 12
These individually-wrapped fire starters are formulated to light in even the most difficult and damp conditions, earning them praise as a “surefire way to start a fire” and 4.8 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. The cube design was formulated specifically to burn hotter for longer, up to 18 minutes of burn time. The cubes are safe, odorless, and convenient-just light the wrapper to see. Available on Amazon.
Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarter, $4.99 for 12
This multipurpose fire starter ignites firewood or charcoal fast and burns for 20 minutes, garnering 4.5 out of 5 stars from Home Depot shoppers, who rave that it's “long-lasting, so you only need one.” The small, pocket-sized logs create a clean burn-odorless and perfect for tailgating, campfires, or a quiet evening in front of the fireplace. Simply light the paper wrapper, and you're on your way to a comfy fire. Available on Amazon.
Duraflame Firestart Firelighters, $20.30 for 24
Well known for manufacturing colorful fire logs, Duraflame also secured a solid reputation for its fire starters, which are rated 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 4.7 out of 5 stars on Home Depot. The 6-ounce, individually-wrapped fire starters made from blend of wax and renewable, recycled biomass fiber ignite easily with a single match and burn up to 30 minutes, long enough to start even stubborn wood fires. Consumers even say, “they work so well, you can cut them in half.” Available on Amazon.
Lightning Nuggets, $10.99 for 35
Just one small nugget is all it takes to light a fire, earning the product 4.5 out of 5 stars from Lowes shoppers. Consumers called it “the easiest way to get charcoal started,” and even raved that there's “no more messing with newspaper or kindling.” Each Lightning Nugget burns for 15 minutes, thanks to a blend of all-natural, recycled, and non-toxic flammable materials, and this 2-pound supply provides enough to ignite the next 35 fires in your future. Available at Lowes.
QuickFire Instant Fire Starters; $9.99 for 25
These innovative compressed oil pouches are 100 percent waterproof with an infinite shelf life, and, come time to use them, the packaging material itself acts as a wick. Light and corner and a pack's 10-minute burn will effortlessly start fireplaces, grills, campfires, fire pits, wood burning stoves, and more-all without odor or toxicity. Amazon users rated these fire starters 4.3 out of 5 stars for their “speed,” “convenience,” and “easy of use.” Available from Amazon.
Fatwood; $39.95 for 25 pounds
L.L. Bean calls this found-in-nature fire starter “the most efficient kindling,” and its customers don't disagree. Fatwood-typically sticks cut from the stumps of pine trees that contain a high concentration of natural resin-garners 4.4 out of 5 stars from reviewers. It ignites quickly, burns cleanly, and smells naturally fragrant. The resin in the sticks burns extremely hot for 10 to 15 minutes, even when wet, to get the fire going in no time. Available at L.L. Bean.