How to Use a Chimney Starter – Easy Guide!

If you’re tired of using lighter fluid to start your grill, either for the dangers that this entails or for the chemical taste that sometimes remains in your food, there is a much safer and less cumbersome alternative: a chimney starter.

If you want to know what a chimney starter is and how it can help you improve your weekend barbecues, continue reading this guide to the end.

What is a Chimney Starter?

A chimney starter is basically a metal cylinder, usually made of a steel alloy, into which you can place lump charcoal or briquettes to light them quickly and evenly for use in your grill.

Normally, chimney starters have a grate inside the cylinder to prevent coal from coming out and at the same time, it acts as a divider between the coal and the combustible.

Chimney starters also have a handle, usually plastic, to avoid the risk of burning the user’s hands.

And What Are the Advantages of Using a Chimney Starter?

  • It’s easier to get the charcoal hot quickly. Normally you would have to light up the charcoal after you’ve chucked them in the grill and it’s more difficult to heat them up. You will in most cases also need lighter fuel.
  • You avoid having to use lighter fluid to light your grill. This is better makes the smoke less unhealthy to breathe in.
  • Distributes the flame evenly over the coals which means that all the charcoal will be hot. If you first light up the coals after you put them in the grill you’ll end up with pieces of charcoal that are hotter or colder than the other resulting in uneven cooking.
  • It helps you to accurately measure the amount of charcoal to use according to your needs.

How to Use a Chimney Starter Step by Step

As you’ve already seen, a chimney starter is a simple and easy to use device.

chimney starter

However, there are several details that you should consider when using your chimney in order to prevent the device from getting damaged — or causing damage to the environment — and to achieve the best results when cooking your food. Let’s see the process step by step.

What you will need:

  • A chimney starter
  • Combustible (paper or lighter cubes)
  • Lump or briquette charcoal
  • Long barbecue tongs
  • Heat resistant gloves (optional)
  • Shoes (to protect your feet from some jumping coal)

Step 1 – Put in the Combustible

Place the combustible you’re going to use on the shallow part — the deep part is for the coals — of the chimney starter, whether it’s paper or some other type of special combustible like lighter cubes — more on that later.

You can either place you chimney starter on the grill or on the ground. First place the combustible, lighter cubes, paper or whatever you’ve chosen and then place the chimney starter on top of it.

Step 2 – Add the Charcoal

Add the lump charcoal or briquettes to the deep part of your chimney. If you use charcoal, make sure to place the smaller pieces closer to the combustible, as these pieces will absorb heat more quickly, thus helping to ignite the rest of the charcoal.

In the case of briquettes, this is not necessary, since they usually come in a uniform size.

Step 3 – Light the Combustible

Place your chimney in a safe place, preferably on your grill grate or on some brick in an outdoor area away from your home.

Tip: Never place your chimney starter directly on concrete, asphalt, or ceramic flooring, as the intense heat will eventually damage it.

Light the combustible. You’ll immediately see how the chimney channels the fire upwards — that’s the key to its effectiveness. The holes around the cylinder work to oxygen to the combustible.

Step 4 – Place the Burning Charcoal in the Grill

After 15 to 20 minutes, the charcoal should already have turned into embers; you’ll see how the charcoal glows with a reddish hue and how the fire comes out of the upper part of the chimney.

When you get to the point where you notice the tops of the coals turning gray, put on your protective gloves, grab the chimney starter and carefully place the coals into the grill to prevent any pieces from escaping.

Tip: distribute the coals evenly in your grill for a more even distribution of the heat. This will help cook your food more evenly.

Step 5 – Start Cooking Your Food

Once you’ve placed the grate over, start cooking your food.

Remember to refresh your coals from time to time, depending on the type of food you are cooking. Bon Appetite!

Do You Prefer Lump Charcoal or Briquettes?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions among barbecue fans. Let’s see the arguments with more detail, so that you can choose the option that suits you best.

Lump Charcoal

This is natural charcoal made from wood that is burned slowly until most of the moisture and other natural substances are extracted.

Its main advantages are that it doesn’t have any type of chemical, it responds appropriately to oxygen, leaves little ash after burning and burns much faster and with greater intensity.

However, it’s more expensive than briquettes.


Briquettes are made from sawdust and wood scraps and some additives to help the pieces hold together into uniform blocks.

Briquettes are characterized by burning much longer, but with less intensity than charcoal — although they are also cheaper.

Their main disadvantage is that many times the chemical additives they contain are released into the air and onto the food, altering its smell and taste — although this will depend on the quality.

Paper or a Special fuel?

Some decades ago, most people used newspaper as fuel to light their grills, but this has changed and today many people use other alternatives, mainly lighter cubes.

These cubes are usually made from paraffin and are probably the cleanest and easiest way to light your chimney starter.

You just need to place 1 or 2 of these cubes on your grill grate or brick, place your chimney on them and light the cubes. The coals will take between 10 to 15 minutes to light.

Using Paper for Your Chimney Starter

If you prefer the traditional paper method, follow these tips for best results.

Take a couple of sheets of paper and shape them into donuts.

Spray a little oil on the paper donuts and place them one on top of the other on the shallow part of your chimney, so they fit perfectly.

The idea behind this method is to leave a hole in the center of the paper, so that the air flows smoothly and thus help it burns better.

Then follow the same steps as above with the lighter cubes to safely light the paper.

Keep in mind, however, that paper will generate a lot of ash that will fly out, so you may have a mess to clean up after you’re done.

Buy a New Chimney Starter or DIY?

As you already see at the beginning of this post, a chimney starter is a fairly simple device in its structure, so it’d be quite feasible as a DIY project.

In this case, the most important factor is to get the right materials to prevent it from getting damaged too quickly.

However, these devices are fairly inexpensive, so if you don’t have the time to make your own, there is a good range of chimney starters available online.

Most of these products are of good quality, and their prices are really affordable, usually between $20 and $40, depending on the features of each model.

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