How To Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Jun 2, 2011 10:31 am

Ditch the fluid for this handy gadget

charcoal briquettes in a chimney starter
Photo: Michael Dietsch on Flickr
Charcoal briquettes in a chimney starter
 

As fond as my memories are of my Dad at the grill, dousing his coals with butane, what stands out most in my mind is the unwelcome toxic odor permeating whatever was grilled. There begins my love of the charcoal chimney starter.

It started while I was scanning barbecue paraphernalia at a local hardware store. I was struck by the chimney starter — a metal cylinder about 8 inches in diameter and 14 inches tall with vent holes and a heatproof handle. It was so simple in design that I must admit I was skeptical, but for 10 or 15 bucks, what did I have to lose? 

With this gizmo, getting your coals to light couldn’t be easier — no lighter fluid required. Just follow these steps: 

  1. Stuff 2-3 loosely crumpled pieces of newspaper in the bottom of the cylinder, place it on the lower grate of your grill — where your coals will ultimately rest — and fill the top of the starter with charcoal. 
  2. Ignite the paper in 2 or 3 spots through the vent openings at the bottom — a gun lighter or a long fireplace match will do the trick nicely.
  3. At first you’ll see some smoke wafting from the top, but within minutes you’ll hear crackling from the bottom-most coals. Soon this will spread to the upper coals.
  4. After 5-10 minutes, flames will flicker from the top. Wearing a pair of oven mitts, pour out the coals.

Even on the windiest days it delivers. I know it might sound strange, but lighting a grill this way is deeply satisfying. Similar to building an indoor fire, you feel a great sense of accomplishment once your blaze gets going. 

I’ve come to love this nifty contraption. It’s easy, environmentally friendly and fun. So bid good riddance to those noxious chemical starters, and next time the urge to grill hits you, grab a bag of charcoal, a charcoal chimney starter, your grub, and get cooking.

For each pound of meat you are cooking, you will need one pound of charcoal. There are two main types of charcoal to choose from: briquettes, the soft dark squares that most of us are used to, and lump charcoal, which looks like lumps of coal. Briquettes burn slower and produce less smoke. Lump charcoal burns faster, hotter and cleaner but puts off more smoke. 

The charcoal is ready for grilling when it turns ashy gray and is glowing. 

When you are done grilling, let the charcoal burn out to ash and cool down completely before you dispose of it. 

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