Growing up, there was only one way we knew of to light charcoal. Make a big pile in the center of the grill, soak it in lighter fluid, and light it up. I think that’s how most charcoal grillers start out. But not only is lighter fluid pretty dangerous stuff; it can also leave a nasty flavor on food. That’s why I use a charcoal chimney starter when cooking on a charcoal grill. It’s simple to use, doesn’t take any more time than lighter fluid and it doesn’t change the flavor of the food.
The Chimney has a very simple design. It’s basically a hollow metal cylinder with holes on both ends, a small wire grate inside, and a set of handles to hold the starter and to pour the charcoal. Using one couldn’t be easier.
How to use a chimney charcoal starter
- First, take out the top cooking grate from your grill.
- Put the Chimney on the bottom charcoal grate in your grill.
- Put 2-3 pages of newspaper underneath the Chimney
- Fill your Chimney all the way to the top with charcoal (you can use a little less if you aren’t cooking as much food).
- The fire from the newspaper will begin burning the charcoal and the flames will grow upwards from there.
- Depending on wind conditions, in about 10 to 15 minutes the coals should be sufficiently lit to pour into the charcoal grill grate.
- You’ll know the coals are ready when the ones on top have started to turn a bit gray with ash.
- Pour the coals onto the charcoal grate.
- I like to have two zones on my charcoal grill, so arrange the coals based on whether you are going to cook over direct or indirect heat.
The charcoal’s ready!
- Once the burning coals have been arranged, set the cooking grate back into place.
- Put the lid on, and once the grill has heated up sufficiently, you’ll be ready to cook.
- The grill will be pre-heated (500-550°) after about 10 minutes.
- Adjust your lid and bowl dampers to achieve the desired cooking temperature.
- (Remember to put the Chimney somewhere safe once you’ve poured the coals into the grill, you don’t want anyone bumping into it while it’s still red hot.)
If you like this article, you should read about the difference between Hanger Steak and Skirt Steak. Or you can see our technique for Grilled Butterflied Chicken