Great Backyard Barbecue and Grilling

How To Use A Chimney Starter

how to use a chimney starter

The typical chimney starter is merely a metal cylinder with a charcoal grate mounted inside and a wooden handle attached to the outside. Newspaper is stuffed into the bottom of the starter under the charcoal grate then unlit charcoal is loaded into the cylinder. When the newspaper is lit, it burns and lights the charcoal. The "chimney effect" causes the charcoal to light from the bottom all the way up to the top.

Which Starter Should I Buy?

In my humble opinion, the best chimney starter on the market today is the Weber Chimney Starter. This particular chimney holds more charcoal than most of the others out there. This one holds approximately 100 briquettes, or about 6 pounds of Kingsford Charcoal Briquets (Kingsford is the brand I use). It's sturdy and well-built, rust-resistant, and has two handles for safe handling of hot charcoal.

In this article I explain how to use the Weber Chimney Starter, or any chimney starter for that matter, safely. The process is the same regardless of how much charcoal you're using or whether you're using briquettes or lump charcoal.

Basic Chimney Starter Safety Tips

When you will be handling hot briquettes make sure that you wear heat-resistant gloves. A good example of insulated gloves are these Insulated Barbecue Pit Gloves.

Never place a hot chimney starter on or near any type of flammable material such as a wooden deck or dry grass. Doing so puts you at risk of a hot ember or the chimney itself igniting a fire.

Remember that your chimney will remain hot after the charcoal has been poured out until the metal itself cools.

NOTE: I strongly suggest that you NEVER light a chimney starter directly on a concrete surface. Because of the amount of heat generated from the chimney it may well cause the concrete to explode, damaging the concrete surface and possibly causing physical injury to you or anyone close by.

Where To Light Your Chimney Safely:

You can safely light your starter on the grate of another grill you might own, which is what I do.

You can always place your chimney on fire-safe bricks placed on your deck or patio

Another way to safely light your chimney starter is on a terra-cotta flower pot saucer. If you decide to use this method, make sure you use a saucer without a drain hole.

Lighting You Chimney With Newspaper

Lighting charcoal briquettes in a chimney is relatively simple. You will need some sheets of newspaper and your briquettes. All I do is turn the unit upside down. Next I take a sheet of newspaper and wad it up into a ball and stick it in the bottom of the starter. I do this with 2 - 3 sheets of newspaper to make sure the starter is full of paper, but not over stuffed.

Once I have the bottom of the starter full of paper, I turn it over and load it up with however much charcoal briquettes I think I will need for whatever it is that I am cooking. From there I use a lighter and touch off the paper inside the bottom of the unit. Once this is done, stand back and let the starter do it's thing. After about 10 -20 minutes, you should see a orange color deep inside the starter with flames licking at the charcoal at the top of the chimney. You should also start to see a gray ash starting to form on some of the charcoal at the top.

Note:If you wait for the charcoal at the top of the chimney to be fully ashed-over, much of the charcoal in the bottom of the chimney will be spent.

Lighting Small Amounts Of Charcoal

There might be times that you will need to light just a few briquettes. Here's a couple of ways to light small amounts of charcoal you might want to consider the next time you need just a handful of briquettes:

  • Believe it or not you can simply turn your chimney upside down and put the charcoal in the bottom.
  • Stack the few briquettes you need up against one side of the chimney and light as normal.
  • Put the charcoal inside a small bottomless coffee can that you set into the center of your starter.

A Few Tips & Tricks

Cooking Spray: After you fill the bottom of your starter with newspaper, give it a quick spray of non-stick cooking spray. This will help the newspaper to last a little longer since it won't really ignite until all of the oil burns off first.

Newspaper Alternatives:

One of the chief complaints about using newspaper in a starter is that the leftover ashes can blow around in windy conditions. If this this is a problem for you, here are several alternatives to consider:

  • SAWDUST STARTERS: These are produced from recycled sawdust and paraffin wax. All you do is cut or break them into chunks, place several pieces under the chimney and light. Popular brands include Rutland SafeLite Fire Starters, Duraflame Quickstart, and Duraflame Firestart.
  • WICK CHAFING FUEL: Something along the lines of Sterno Wick. It is designed to heat food in a chafing dish, but some backyard chefs swear by them to light a chimney. Simply light the wick and place under the chimney for about 10 minutes. These disposable units burn 2-6 hours and can be purchased wherever catering supplies are sold.
  • PARAFFIN CUBES: Weber Lighter Cubes burn at 1300°F for 10-12 minutes. Light 2 cubes under the chimney and let them do their thing.
  • DIAMOND STRIKE-A-FIRE: "The 12-Minute Match/Fire Starter In One." This consists of a thin sawdust/paraffin strip with a match head coating on one end. Strike against the lighting strip on the box and place under the chimney.
  • LIQUID GEL STARTERS: The alcohol-based starters are squirted onto the charcoal and lit. Gel starters should not be confused with charcoal lighter fluids, as they contain no foul-smelling petroleum products. Brands include Stove Bright Fire Starter and Duraflame Fresh Light.