How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter Like a Pro?

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Last Updated on July 16, 2021

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Charcoal Chimney Starter

Charcoal grills are a favorite among avid grillers because they get so much hotter than a typical gas grill with burners, making them perfect for searing steaks or other hefty cuts of meat. The taste of the food cooked on a charcoal grill sets it apart from other grills, making charcoal the perfect choice for achieving that coveted Southern barbecue flavor. 

The challenge with charcoal grills is getting the fire burning and keeping it going. Charcoal chimney starters are an excellent remedy to this issue. They’re an inexpensive, surefire solution to lighting charcoal and reducing the risk of spoiled food, which can be a problem when you’re using lighter fluid.

1. What is a Charcoal Chimney Starter?

Chimney Starter

There are different ways to start a grill and one of the favored method is using a chimney starter. A charcoal chimney starter is a metal tube you insert charcoal briquettes into. A grate keeps the charcoal briquettes in place, positioned toward the bottom of the device that stops the coals from falling through. 

A charcoal chimney starter heats all the coals evenly, giving you a stable starting point to begin grilling your food. They usually take about 10-15 minutes before they’re ready to use. When the coals are roughly half-burned inside the chimney, you’re ready to get started with the grill.

2. How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter?

grill starter

A charcoal chimney starter is easy to use, especially when you follow these few simple steps. We walk you through a detailed breakdown of how to use a charcoal chimney starter to make your first time less nerve-wracking.

Put Newspaper in the Shallow Side

Most charcoal chimney starters contain two sides: A deep side and a shallow side. The shallow side is where you put your kindling, often pieces of newspaper. The deep side is reserved for your charcoal pieces. 

To start, crumple up a sheet of newspaper and place it inside the shallow side of the chimney starter. Don’t pack the newspaper too tightly so it doesn’t smother out the fire.

Add Coals to the Deep Side

The next step is to put your coals into the deep side of your coal chimney starter. If you’re using lump charcoal, place the smaller pieces at the bottom of the deeper side, just above the paper.

Put the Chimney into the Grill

Place the chimney in the grill and light the paper in two or three places. You should begin to see smoke rising from the chimney as the newspaper combusts and the coals take light. The chimney forces the flames upwards, and the holes on the side of the chimney allow the smoke to escape so the device can vent properly.

Let it Burn

Once the paper and charcoal are alight, leave it to burn for between 10-15 minutes. After this period, the embers in the chimney should start to glow, and you’ll see the flames moving upward.

Remove the Charcoal Chimney

Once the charcoal pieces start to ashen, you can pick up your charcoal chimney, use a heat-resistant glove, and dump the coals into your grill.

Start Cooking

When your coals are smoldering on the grill, you can start cooking your food. If you’re going to be cooking for a while, you should stoke, change, or add more coals every 45 minutes to keep the coals hot. 

These time frames may differ depending on the type of charcoal you’re using. Pieces of lump charcoal stay hot for around an hour, while briquettes stay hot for around 40 minutes.

3. The Benefits of a Charcoal Chimney Starter

grill starter

When you’re passionate about charcoal grilling, a charcoal chimney starter is a must-have accessory. It makes starting your fire easier in rough weather conditions, and it helps you achieve a better controlled heat distribution, improving the taste of the food you grill. Full benefits of learning how to use a charcoal chimney starter include:

Your Fire is Less Likely to Burn Out

When coals come out of a charcoal chimney, they are evenly heated, making them a better source of steady heat. They are also less likely to be affected by the wind or weather and burn out because the heat has already completely penetrated all the coals.

They’re Affordable

Everyone’s favorite aspect of a new product is a low price tag, and with a charcoal chimney starter, that’s what you get. This handy tool is extremely affordable, making it accessible to anyone with a charcoal grill.

It’s Much Safer than Using Lighter Fluid

Since you won’t need lighter fluid when using the charcoal chimney starter method, you can opt for natural briquettes. Feel good about breathing in the aromas coming off your grill, knowing there’s no toxic lighter fluid wrapped in those fumes. 

This keeps your food safe from unwanted harmful residue and can help prevent potential injuries that occur annually because of lighter fluid.

You Can Make Use of Two-Zone Grilling

With an even heating source, your grill won’t be subject to inconsistent hot zones. Instead, you can take control of your grill temperatures by the location you put charcoal when it comes out of the chimney. 

If you place it on one half of the grill rather than in the middle, you’ll have a nice even heat on one side for direct grilling and residual heat on the other for indirect grilling. This will give you better control over your cooking, improving the taste and experience. 

Note that some people never dump the coals out of the chimney and choose to cook food directly over the chimney starter inside the grill. This method produces intense, concentrated heat in one area, which can also be helpful when you’re trying to control heat in a specific zone.

Jim Bob

Author: Jim Bob

Time to Try it Yourself

Now that you know how to use a charcoal chimney starter like a pro, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test. This is a valuable tool that everyone with a charcoal grill should have to start the grill safely

Make the most of this grilling season by lighting your grill more efficiently and enjoying a longer-lasting, even burn due to the coals pre-heating inside the chimney. Once you give a charcoal chimney starter a chance, you’ll never go back to lighter fluid again.

Read more: Learn reusing charcoals.