It’s always good to learn something new. You never know when specific skills could come in handy. The new skill we bring you today is how to light coal fire. Truth is, how to light coal fire, or better still, how to make a fire with coal and wood, can be very dramatic. And especially for the first few times before you become a pro. Imagine a typical African home where the only equipment you have is firewood and a matchstick. Worse still, when you have no matchsticks/ lighter, and you only have almost dying embers. If you’re fortunate, you might have a coal pot, which is usually easier to light. Some African countries call it ‘jiko’ in Swahili, one of the continents’ most common wood charcoal uses. In an African rural home, families mainly use an outdoor wood stove for cooking during ceremonies where there is a lot of cooking.
Using an outdoor wood stove for cooking is one of the oldest methods. And it is still used widely in African countries, particularly in rural areas. Some Africans are comfortable cooking on an open flame in their houses. In some cases, they contain the fire in a coal pot. Even in more suburban areas, most people use electric stoves, not gas stoves. And when the electricity goes out, they rely on gas or the coal pot. That is why it is essential to know how to make a fire with coal and wood. Wood charcoal uses go beyond barbecues (or braais, as they say in Southern Africa). I experienced reverse culture shock from using a coal pot to light a fire, even though it is something I grew up doing.
This skill can be helpful if you go camping and forget to fill the gas tank. I don’t think the producers of Survivor will appreciate this much more straightforward method, but here it is anyway.
Differences between firewood and fire coal
Since many Africans use just wood for their fire, you may wonder why we also use coal. Although wood may be easier and cheaper to gather, it is not as efficient as coal.
Here are the differences:
- Wood- You can use it on the ground without a coal pot. It is very convenient as it burns faster in a coal pot than on the ground. And some people may not be comfortable placing fire directly on the floor.
- Coal- It is less convenient and burns best in a coal pot. This is because it also needs the air supply from the bottom, unlike wood. Coal is also dense, meaning it produces more fuel than wood if you are to burn the same amount.
This is why we prefer both of these instructions on how to light coal fire. You get the best of both worlds with wood charcoal uses.
4 Tips to make a fire with coal and wood
With time, you’ll learn that to know how to make a fire with coal and wood, you need to have a few tricks up your sleeves. Tips on how to light coal fire in a coal pot:
1. How do you arrange the firewood?
You’ll have to begin with the small thin sticks at the bottom, then the thicker ones at the top. This applies when lighting fire on the ground.
2. Does fire need oxygen?
When lighting an outdoor wood stove for cooking, you’ll also need to learn the art of blowing the embers to add oxygen, encouraging the fire to spread, especially when you don’t have a lighter (matchstick). In this case, you’ll need to blow until the sticks/wood light up. You can also use a fan or anything flat to fan the fire. Trouble is that your eyes and nose will be runny when you finally light the fire. Especially if it’s your first time 😂😂. It might not be funny at that moment.
The good thing is that there is modern equipment you can use, for instance, fire blowing tube. But when this isn’t available, use your mouth and give that fire all the blowing you can afford. Be careful not to inhale too much smoke, as this can adversely affect your health.
3. Cobs as a wood substitute?
As mentioned earlier, cooking is one of Africa’s most common wood charcoal uses. This also applies to wood fires. But, sometimes, getting firewood can be rather challenging. So, after harvesting maize (corn), most families keep the cobs after removing the corn from them. Then, they dry the cobs under the sun and use them in place of wood for cooking. You can also use cobs on a coal pot, which is more affordable than wood. The only downside is that they produce more smoke.
4. Have old papers?
When lighting a coal pot, gather as much paper as you can. For example, used cartons, newspapers, or books you don’t need anymore. These come in handy as you’ll stuff them under the coal and light them with a lighter/matchstick. Then you fan it and keep adding paper until you burn the coal. If the coal is not completely dried, this process may take longer.
Using wood charcoal
Wood and charcoal are renewable and reusable. They are not difficult to use in your coal pots. And all you need to do to reuse the charcoal is remove as much ash as possible from the bigger chunks. Using an outdoor wood stove for cooking may sound scary and limiting, but if you do it in the right environment, you’ll be fine. Some even use wood only and a metal stand to hold the pot over the fire. Now we aren’t saying try this. Cooking that way is a lifestyle for some Africans, who learned how to make a fire with coal and wood at very young ages. See the detailed video of how to light coal fire for delicious African food.
Coal pot induced reverse culture shock
My family and I moved to America 15 years ago, and my coal pot lighting days were behind me. Or so I thought until I visited Liberia this year. I remember clearly that during my childhood, I was not very successful at lighting coal fire in a coal pot; it was one of the many chores children were assigned. Children are expected to light the coals daily during breakfast and dinner time. When we lived in Liberia, I couldn’t get the coals to light fully and would end up using all the kerosene. In Monrovia, we use steel coal pots for cooking healthy African meals. When I faced the task of lighting coals on my recent trip, honestly, I didn’t expect to feel ashamed and hesitant, and such emotions surprised me. Like every skill, it proved helpful with determination and persistence.
After all, it wasn’t like I could go next door and ask someone for a piece of lit coals, which often happens in Monrovia. During my visit, I stayed in the countryside, and most families have fences around their houses, unlike central Monrovia. Because of that, I couldn’t ask around for lit coals. In the end, it was a proud moment despite experiencing reverse culture shock; I succeeded in lighting up the coals.
Curious to know how many of you have had the experience of lighting fire using wood or charcoal without kerosene? Please share in the comments.
Considering outdoor wood stove for versatility?
The fact is coal pots are adjustable. Not with a knob or button, but you can adjust the positioning of the lit wood and coal to reduce or increase the fire. Even when there isn’t an actual flame, but there is light, it can be enough to slow-cook, simmer or boil your food. For example, to simmer a pot of almost done rice, you need to remove big chunks of lit coals and only use the small ones. By the way, it may help to get a suitable pot that distributes heat better for things like stove cakes. We did say you can use an outdoor wood stove for cooking almost ANYTHING! You need a little practice to get the hang of it. Then, you’ll be using it for stews and maybe even rice. But baby steps.
We hope you’ve learned something new about how to light coal fires. You’ve also found one of the essential wood charcoal uses. You can teach this to others as well. And if you don’t get it right the first time, remember to keep your coals and keep trying.
- In a coal pot or an Outdoor wood stove for cooking, place some coal, ensuring to cover the base of the container as well as the sides.
- Place a few small pieces of dry wood on top of the coal in the centre.
- Use the lighter to ignite the fire, be sure to not set up in a windy area as this will make lighting the fire quite a challenging task.
- Use a plastic bag as well to assist as a catalyst for setting the coal and wood alight.
- Stack the dry pieces of wood so each of them can be set on fire, but be careful not to stack them too tightly as this will starve the fire of oxygen.
- Carefully stack pieces of coal around the wood pieces, be cautious not to burn yourself.
- While moving the coal pieces around, exercise both gentleness and patience.
- Make sure to use small pieces of coal near the fire.
- Fan the fire using a flat object and wait for the wood and coal to light on fire fully.
- Continue to use the flat object to fan the lit coals to make sure your fire is sustainable and strong and has fully caught alight.
- There you have it, how to make a fire with coal and wood! Your warm fire for cooking is ready.
An extremely fun skill to harness is making a fire with coal and wood. This may seem a little daunting, but it is easy and possible to create a strong fire.
With just the right amount of wood pieces, charcoal, patience and gentleness thrown together in a coal pot or outdoor wood stove, your fire will be lit in no time!
Be sure to take pictures of your mini furnace of fiery success and kindly share them with us on our social media @humveg.