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New plant-based charcoal lighter arrives just in time for the summer grilling season

Backyard burgers don't have to taste like an oil refinery

Photo (c) Anna_Om - Getty Images
Now that the Memorial Day weekend has officially launched the summer cookout season, consumers will be headed for their backyards in greater numbers to fire up the grill.

Scientists at the University of Georgia (UGA) say there is now an environmentally friendly alternative to pouring standard petroleum-based lighter fluid over charcoal briquettes. They say they have developed a plant-based lighter fluid that lights the briquettes just as well but doesn't leave that oily residue flavor on your burgers.

UGA teamed with a private company, ESCOGO, to produce EcoGreen Charcoal lighter, which is now being sold nationally through retailers like Home Depot and Target. The original formula was developed to light lump coal. It's been modified to make it effective in lighting charcoal briquettes.

“They had a product that worked great on lump charcoal but briquettes are much denser and the fluid would burn off before getting the briquette hot enough to ignite,” said Dan Geller, a research engineer in UGA’s College of Engineering. “We needed a product that burned really well and one that met the strict air quality concerns for volatile organic compounds.”

Had to be competitively priced

The product also had to be economically priced to compete with other options available on the market. Consumers who want to avoid petroleum-based lighters often use an electric coil to light the charcoal. Other options include stacking the briquettes in a metal cylinder “chimney” and lighting newspaper at the bottom of it.

Besides sometimes leaving an unpleasant taste on the grilled food, petroleum-based lighter fluid falls under lighter fluid regulations in some jurisdictions because of its potential to contribute to photochemical smog.

The researchers developed an alcohol-based alternative after performing trials on more than 100 different formulas. They say they settled on an organic, all-natural list of ingredients that were a by-product of fermentation.

“We looked at a lot of different options that would burn, that we could buy in large volume, and that were natural byproducts of other industries,” said Geller. “This really was a classic engineering design problem because we were trying to figure out a way to meet all these specific constraints.”

The Center of Innovation for Agribusiness, a Georgia state agency, provided funding for the project. Without it, ESCOGO co-founder Rick Huszagh said the company would not have had the budget to develop the new product.

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