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BBQ Basics : How to use a charcoal chimney starter

charcol Math Dumont
Every great BBQ starts with fire, and every fire starts with a flame. If you own a charcoal BBQ, you will know that one of the main questions we get from “gas people” and commoners is : “How long does it really take to light your charcoal?” If you are one of these people who have been growing an interest towards charcoal grilling but have yet to make the move, I am here to answer your questions. Fret not my friends, lighting your charcoal can be done quick and easy with the use of many different techniques and accessories. Long gone are the days of lighter fluids and electric starters and yet, one of the oldest ways still holds up to today as being one of the fastest and safest way to get the job done.


As simple as can be

One of the most reliable and conventional way to light up your charcoal is using a classic charcoal chimney starter.

Lighting charcoal works the same way as lighting any other fires. All you need to do is optimize the air flow. Charcoal chimney starters are designed to do just that.

Chimneys are all based off the same design. An elongated tube separated with wire mesh in 2 sections: ⅔ charcoal, ⅓ paper.

Fill up ⅔ of your chimney with good quality charcoal. Depending on your wire mesh, crushed charcoal may fall through so whenever possible, bank on big lumps to get better results. 

Afterwards, loosely ball up some newspaper and fill up the lower third. Adding too much paper will play against you as it will obstruct the air flow and make your paper “choke”, making way for lots of smoke, but very little fire.

Put down your chimney on your BBQ grills, and simply light the paper to light your chimney with matches or a lighter through the vents on all sides.

In under 5 minutes, you should have a raging fire coming out of your chimney, and you should be all set!

A good charcoal chimney starter should have an insulated handle, a guard protecting you from sparks and a second handle to better control as you dump out the embers.

Before you dump your coals, make sure to give the chimney a little shake. This will make sure you free off any paper residue and charcoal dust before you set yourself up for your cookout.

Never mix wood chunks with your charcoal when starting a chimney. The chunks will smoke out your fire and make it harder to light. Save your chunks for once you’ve dumped out your burning coals to get the most of that smoky flavor.


Different ways to start a fire

Working with a chimney allows you to have control over how you start and manage your fire.

There are a few different ways to start and arrange your charcoal.

You can go direct/indirect by emptying your chimney on only one side of your grill, making way for 2 separate zones, direct and indirect heat, throughout your cooking process.

You can do just about the same by emptying half of your chimney on each side while leaving the center of your BBQ free of fire. This will give you direct and indirect zones but will be optimized for roasting and rotisserie-based recipes. Working with charcoal baskets will ensure that your charcoal is always in control.

Should you like to go low and slow, go easy on your loadout and distribute your embers in a triangle-shaped pattern. This will ensure that your fire does not burn too hot too quick and the embers will gradually light the charcoal in your grill as they burn out.

Charcoal chimney starters make it easy for you to manage your charcoals on the way in to your BBQ, thus making it easier for you to manage it in the long run.