How To Use A Chimney Starter?

Jeremy Bowyer
Written By Jeremy Bowyer

Jeremy Bower is a generational survivalist and expert outdoorsman.

Using a chimney starter is a brilliant alternative to using lighter fluid or gels on your grill. These are quickly becoming the must-have tool for lighting your grill quickly and easily without having to wait around for hours watching cold coals. A chimney can help you light up your BBQ and get cooking within a short space of time using only the most basic of fire-starting techniques. If you have recently invested in a chimney, here’s how to use it.

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The Chimney Starter

The chimney itself is just a metal piece of tubing that you pop your charcoal briquettes into. At the bottom of the chimney is a grate that will stop coals from falling through, plus a pair of handles so you can pick it up easily. Overall, chimney starter is safe and straightforward to use, and they come in many different sizes to suit your menu items and what you are using them for.

Piling Up Coals

Now that you have your chimney starter, it’s time to learn how to use it properly. The first thing you need to do is pile up the charcoal inside the starter. The grate at the bottom will stop the briquettes from falling through. This grate should also have a slight bend to it as well so that the coals form a sort of tent-like shape when the starter is full. There isn’t any need to fill the chimney to the top. You only need to fill it with how much charcoal you would usually use for your grill. Double-check the grate at the bottom so that you know it is secured in place.

When your chimney is full, a standard-size stack can fit between 80 and 100 briquettes of charcoal at a time. In total, this should give you anywhere between 1 and 1 1/2 hours of cooking time before adding more coal onto the grill.

Chimney Starter and charcoil

Time To Light

There are several combustibles you can use in your chimney starter, so feel free to search for the one that works the best for you. Light fluid or cubes are both easy options, and once you have made your choice, place them in the middle of the grill. A candle won’t work in this case. You need something with a higher burn rate.

Another option to light the chimney is to use newspaper. Roll it into a ball and place it at the bottom of the grate, then light the edges of the newspaper. It’s a much cheaper method of lighting the grill, but it does take more time and won’t be as easy as using lighter fluid. Using a newspaper requires practice, as you have to be careful not to overstuff the chimney or block any airflow.

Let The Coals Warm Up

Now that you have filled your chimney, it’s time to place it into the middle of the grill with your chosen combustible lit and the fire growing. For the first few minutes, you need to observe the light in case it goes out. It should be pretty easy to spot when the charcoal is on fire and is beginning to heat up. If it’s raining, you will need to close or cover the chimney, still remembering to provide a way for the smoke to escape from the top.

It all depends on the size of your chimney and how much you need to wait around at this point. Usually, 15 minutes should do the trick, but for bigger chimneys, you should probably stick around for a bit longer.

Put The Charcoal On Your Grill

You’ve got the fire to light, and the charcoal is burning nicely, so now you can add this to your grill and cook everything you have on the menu. Pick the chimney up by its handle, and pour the charcoal onto the grill very slowly. If you do this part too fast, you will create sparks, and there’s more chance of spilling hot charcoal everywhere.

Now you can close the grill. There’s a bit more waiting to be done as you wait for the heat inside to build up properly, but this part should only take around 10 minutes. Using a chimney makes the process much faster, and the charcoal will continue to cook inside the grill and provide heat so you can start cooking.

chimney starter


How Long Does A Chimney Starter Take?

Depending on the weather conditions, it should only take between 10 to 15 minutes for your chimney starter to work. After this, the coals will be sufficiently hot enough to pour onto the grill, ready for cooking.

How Do You Start A Charcoal Grill Without A Chimney?

First of all, you should layer the bottom of the grill with charcoal. Get some newspaper and scrunch it up into balls, then place these on the pile. Add some more charcoal on top to cover some, but not all, of the newspaper. Grab some lighter fluid or gel and pour that onto the coals. Use some long matches or a lighter to light the paper in various places. Now leave the grill for around 20 to 30 minutes until the coals turn white. Once the flames have died down and the charcoal has gone pale, you can place your grill back on top and start cooking all the food on your bbq menu.

When Should I Remove The Charcoal From The Chimney?

Warm coals can generally be removed from the chimney when they are 50% charred. Usually, this takes 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your chimney and how much charcoal you have used.

smokin bbq

Is Lighter Fluid Needed With A Chimney Starter?

Lighter fluid isn’t the only option when it comes to combustibles. There are plenty of different options, like cubes and gels, that you can put on top of your charcoal. Whichever one you choose, you have to place it in the middle of the chimney with enough charcoal layers around it to light effectively. If you haven’t built up your combustibles properly, the fire will go out, and you won’t be able to add the warmed-up charcoal onto your grill.

Can I Cook On The Chimney Instead Of The BBQ?

You must know the chimney is only there for lighting the BBQ and shouldn’t be used for cooking any food items on your menu. The stack is only for warming up the coals enough to get a nice hot BBQ without wasting a lot of time. These haven’t been designed to cook on, and they should only be used for lighting your charcoal, getting it warm, and then adding the hot coals onto your BBQ.

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Final Words

Once you’ve learned to use a chimney starter to get the grill going, you will never return to using any other method. It doesn’t take long to light, and it’s so effective every time. Let me know if you have other tips for using a chimney starter.