Why buy a charcoal chimney? If you've gotten to this page then you probably already know that I prefer a chimney starter for igniting my briquets for my charcoal grill or barbecue. Whether using pressed charcoal briquets or hardwood lump charcoal this is one of the easiest, fastest and most non-toxic ways to get your coals fired up and ready to grill on.
What is a chimney starter? A chimney starter is basically a long metal cylinder with air vents and a large insulated handle as shown above. Inside, it has a "shelf" of metal which holds your charcoal as seen below. Your briquets go in top and some type of tinder or kindling (most commonly crumpled newspaper) is placed in the bottom and ignited. The confined space of the metal container intensifies and retains the heat and gets the lower charcoal ignited quickly. The retained heat then makes its way up, quickly igniting all the charcoal in the chimney from bottom to top.
Where can you get a charcoal chimney? A chimney charcoal starter can be found at specialty grill and barbecue shops. However, increasingly you can find them at anywhere charcoal and barbecue equipment are sold including hardware and home supply stores and even some supermarkets (up front with the charcoal and other grilling products). Alternatively, you can buy my favorite Weber-brand charcoal chimney from Amazon.com here!
Are there different types of charcoal chimneys? What should I look for in buying one? There are several brands which make this type of charcoal starter, mostly charcoal and grill producers. They all have the same basic configuration but can vary a bit in some respects. The most common difference is that some are larger than others. I particularly like the Weber charcoal chimney because it is one of the bigger models on the market (it is the larger one in the images on this page). This is handy because if you use a larger grill you can ignite all the charcoal you need with only one load. You can always under-fill it if you need less. For very large grills you may need more than one chimney so that you can start all your charcoal at once. Alternatively, you can start one chimney full and then add additional briquets on top once you've poured out the burning coals. Other than size I have not noticed a significant difference in performance of different models of charcoal chimney starter. The handles vary but I have not found one to be that much more comfortable than another. However, the Weber model does have an additional pivoting metal handle to help tip the chimney easier to dump the charcoal.
What are the pros and cons of using a chimney charcoal starter For me, the chimney starter is easier to use and faster than other types of charcoal starter. It is also theoretically safer and more healthy because it does not require flammable lighter fluid or other chemicals. It is reusable, inexpensive (about $10 to $15 for most chimneys) and lasts a long time. The only downside I can see is that very rarely your charcoal does not ignite with the first try and it requires the addition of one or two more pieces of newspaper.
How do I use it?
Fill the top portion of your chimney with charcoal briquets. Do not over-fill. Fill to just within a couple inches of the top rim.
Crumple up two or three pieces of newspaper (depending on the size of your chimney) and wedge them in the bottom part of the chimney from below. Avoid packing it too tightly or you will restrict the air that gets to your paper and it won't ignite properly. If you prefer, you can use other types of tinder or kindling to supply the fire and heat, as long as it ignites easily with a match or lighter and fits underneath the chimney.
Set the chimney on your charcoal grate in your grill.
Ignite the newspaper in multiple places until the newspaper is burning completely. This can be done either by introducing a long match through the openings on the bottom of the charcoal chimney or by tilting the chimney to ignite from the bottom. I prefer to use long fireplace matches to light it through the openings.
Sit and wait. You will see smoke start to come out the chimney and eventually you will hear crackling as your charcoal starts burning.
If you suspect the fire went out prematurely (no more smoke and no sound) then introduce and ignite another piece or two of newspaper.
After 5 to 15 minutes (depending on your charcoal and the size of your chimney) you will see small flames flickering at the top of the chimney and glowing coals beneath. Do not wait longer or a large fire will start spewing out the top of your chimney, which is just wasting your charcoal by burning it faster. As soon as you see the embers and the bit of flames flickering near the top, carefully dump the charcoal onto your charcoal grate.
If your grill requires more briquets, simply add more on top of the pile of ignited coals and wait for them to ignite as well.
Add your grill grate and you are ready to start grillin'!
Be sure to check to be sure you have enough heat in your grill before cooking. A grill thermometer comes in handy for this. If you need more heat, simply add more charcoal and wait for it to ignite from the adjacent hot coals.