There are several ways to light charcoal that are clean, and impart no off-flavors to your barbequed foods. Then there are other ways you should steer clear of.
Good charcoal burns clean and steady, giving off very little in the way
of smells that could affect the taste of your foods. At the most, you
should smell a clean burnt-wood aroma, but what's best is a clean,
Some charcoals are made to give off light smoke to flavor food as it grills. Slivers of unburned wood are mixed into the charcoal before it's pressed into briquettes.
Also available are charcoal products that require nothing but a match or lighter to start. Convenient, yes, but at the cost of possibly affecting the flavor of your barbecued foods.
Here are a couple ways of lighting charcoal that keep the grill clean and free of unpleasant odors.
Electric Charcoal Lighter - With this you get an electric heating
element attached to an insulated handle. Benefits of this type of
charcoal lighter include:
When lighting charcoal it's best if petroleum based starters are not
used. If used incorrectly there's the chance of your food being
contaminated with the taste and odor of petroleum, which would be a sad
thing to do to a nice beef tenderloin.
If you do decide to use charcoal lighting fluid, use a small amount, don't let it to soak in too long before lighting, and allow the charcoal to become completely ashed over before you begin grilling food. Be careful of overspray when squirting on the fluid. Whatever drips past the charcoal won't burn, but will create smelly fumes.
Bottom line: when you're getting ready to light charcoal, start with good quality, fresh product, and light without the use of petroleum based lighting fluid. Again, my number one pick for lighting charcoal is the charcoal chimney. Pay for it one time, and you'll be lighting charcoal for free forever...all you'll need is a bit of newspaper and a match.