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Charcoal Chimney Starter Instructions - How to Use a Charcoal Chimney

If you’ve ever grilled with charcoal, chances are you’ve had issues lighting your coals at one point or another. Don’t worry, it has happened to most of us. While there are plenty of fancy options out there to get the job done, one of the cheapest, safest, simplest, and quickest options are using a Charcoal Chimney Starter.

How do you use a charcoal chimney?

It’s as simple as filling the chimney with charcoal, adding and lighting a full source, and then waiting for the magic to happen.

Below I will be laying out easy-to-follow charcoal chimney starter instructions that anyone can follow. At the bottom of this page, I will provide a link to some great can’t-miss charcoal chimney starter options.

Don’t forget to check them out. You can thank me later.

A Charcoal Chimney Starter in Use

Why You Need a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Two questions seem to be the bane for the outdoor cook. The first is some form of “Daddy, why does the BBQ taste funny?” The second is “What’s taking so long?”

Often, the origin of these questions lies in the same place, and it is at the bottom of the grill. It almost seems odd that such an early step like starting the charcoal can have such an impact on the end product but, in so many cases, it does.

The concern, of course, is speed. The easy solution to getting things going is the liberal use of charcoal lighter fluid. Buying the quick-light briquettes that are soaked in the fluid before bagging is another.

But with ease comes a drawback, which is the likely bad impact on flavor. Other methods, like using wood or kindling as starters, can draw out the process, and are not always reliable.

The best middle ground, for many, is a charcoal chimney fire starter. What looks like a large tin can someone poked holes in and then added a handle are really carefully engineered gadgets that should be part of any griller’s arsenal.

But, for something seemingly so simple, there are some fairly specific charcoal chimney starter instructions for getting the best results.

A Basic Charcoal Chimney Set-up

Choosing the Right Charcoal Chimney Starter for You

The initial decision involves choosing which one to use. There are several styles and sizes when it comes to charcoal chimney starters. Sometimes the differences between some styles can be hard to spot, while others look like totally different products.

But with a little research, experience, and perhaps borrowing from a friend to test, getting just the right one can reward the effort.

The most obvious difference to many is the handle. Some charcoal chimney fire starters have longer handles, some shorter. Some have handles, which are rigid, and straight, and some are angled or hinged. Add in various shields for deflecting heat and protecting fingers, and the choices can become dizzying.

All these differences are there for a reason, like a grill type and size, room for storage, and more. So take the time to consider these things before making your final decision.

But at their core, they all do the same job, so the charcoal chimney starter instructions don’t vary much between models.

Charcoal Chimney with Long Handle for Heat Protection

Charcoal Chimney Starter Instructions

Using a charcoal chimney starter only requires three items besides the chimney itself. Coal, some sort of fire starters like newspaper or lighter cubes, and a lighter or match. Leave the lighter fluid in the garage (stored safely, of course).

The decision on which coal to use is up to individual choice, and experience should be the guide on which is best. Just don’t use any form of matchlight-type charcoal. The charcoal grill starter will work with all of them, though again, avoid any of the pre-soaked varieties.

Don’t forget, these devices are for getting that initial round of coals started, so keep it simple and add those mesquite or other infused briquettes later on.

Since the cooking is being done without propane gas or flammable liquids, matches seem the first choice, but long-handle lighters do make it easier. If you are using newspaper as your fire lighting source, that can be the one tricky part of the process.

Here is a handy video showing the below steps on how to use a charcoal chimney starter.

How to Place Paper Into a Charcoal Chimney Starter

For lighting with newspaper, focus on getting a good supply of newsprint. The morning paper can become the best friend to those using this method of starting charcoal. Using paper napkins burns too quickly and heavier grades, especially glossy magazines, just don’t burn properly, if at all. Refer to the charcoal chimney starter instructions for more advice.

Notebook paper can sometimes be used in a pinch, but it isn’t the best. Expect to use 6-8 pages of a newspaper, torn in half. Roll them loosely, roughly an inch in diameter. Too tight prevents air from circulating properly, too loose and the paper burns too quickly.

Some charcoal chimney starter instructions call for the paper to be wadded. Often, this works just fine, but it can make for uneven heat or lighting.

One quick piece of advice is to let children if they are present, do this step. It lets them be involved in the process and gives them something to do. The same can be said of some adults, as well.

Once the rolls are made, wrap them into the bottom of the charcoal chimney fire starter. Again, be careful not to overstuff. The size of the starter will dictate just how many rolls are needed. The bottom is normally the shallower of the two ends and has larger vent holes around it.

Using Newspaper for Lighting a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Now It’s Time for the Charcoal

Place the device on a safe, flat spot, usually, the charcoal grate at the bottom of the grill works best. This is where the handle choice comes into play. The size of the grill and the dimensions of the starter need to work together.

If this is being done without a grill, for example during a campout or for use with a Dutch oven, prepare a safe area first. Clear out any debris, keep a supply of water at hand, and try to elevate it since the heat can damage the ground.

Add the charcoal now. Some models have lines indicating how much charcoal to use. In general, the charcoal chimney fire starter could be filled to the top, but not over it.

Using the least amount of charcoal needed for your desired cook will save you money in the end though. You can always add charcoal later if you miscalculated and need more.

When placing the fire starter, make sure nothing is obstructing the air from getting into it from all sides. Placing the charcoal fire starter too close to the edge of the main grill wall can interfere with this, so center it as much as possible.

Hot Coals in a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Lighting a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Check with the charcoal chimney starter instructions from the box for details, but in general, where the starter source is placed does not matter.

And while there is nothing explosive about this part, keeping curious eyes at a distance is always advised. Light the paper or lighter cube in one location, and let the flames work their way around the cylinder.

Resist the temptation to blow, as a second starter source will cause the whole thing to go too fast, not to mention you can end up with a face full of hot sparks.

This is where how tightly the paper is rolled will be tested. If all goes well, flames should become visible in just a few seconds inside the bottom of the starter, but not coming through the holes.

Smoke should be seen coming up through the charcoal at this point as well. If the smoke is not visible, there could be something blocking the airflow, which prevents the device from working properly.

No smoke usually means the paper is too tight or your charcoal is packed in too snuggly. Lots of visible flames indicate it is too loose. If the first try doesn’t work, let things cool down and make adjustments.

Charcoal Chimney

Now’s the Perfect Time to Finish the Remaining Prep Work

Now, step back and observe. The physics of the starter focus on funneling the heat up through the charcoal, getting it up to the needed temperature to ignite. This is not an instantaneous process but usually takes about 10-15 minutes.

Even after there is no flame or even paper visible at the bottom, as long as there is smoke there is heat. This time is a good excuse for refreshing your favorite beverage or getting other prep work done. Just make sure never to leave the chimney completely out of sight.

At some point, the flames will die down and a wonderful orange glow will appear. Once the coals have a nice white-hot ashy exterior, they are ready to go.

This is the second point where the handle comes into play. Lift the entire thing, carefully using the handle, and pour the coals out onto the grate. I suggest using a heat-resistant BBQ glove while handling the super-hot chimney starter.

Do not dump the coals, as this will send embers flying, making for a dangerous situation. Tilt the chimney and shake the coals out slowly. Again, it is advisable to use gloves or at least a pot holder to protect your fingers.

Carefully place the charcoal chimney fire starter to the side. Even though most will cool rapidly, there is still a lot of heat involved. Beware of little fingers, if any are around.

Now, enjoy the cooking!

Final Thoughts on Our Charcoal Chimney Starter Instructions Guide

No bitter taste from lighter fluid and no danger of a fireball to the face, either. Using a charcoal chimney starter can be simple, especially with experience. It also helps reuse paper that could otherwise end up in a landfill.

But as with any cooking session, the end doesn’t come until everything is cleaned and stored. Air flow is critical for the chimney to work properly, so removing all debris from it between uses will maintain efficiency. Refer to the charcoal chimney starter instructions for any more recommendations.

As promised, you can find some great can’t-miss charcoal chimney starter options by following the link below. These are all tried and true, highly-rated charcoal chimney starters. I am positive you will be able to find the best option to fit your budget and needs.

Check them out, and see which one works best for you. If you’ve found one that works well, or have any feedback, let me know! I am always happy to hear about new and improved ways to use the grill.


Pat G.

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Disclosure – At The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs.  If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission.  This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue.  Your support is truly appreciated.

Patrick Ginise

A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!

I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!

I have personally tested over 150+ Grills and Smokers and hundreds of grilling thermometers, temperature controllers, grill brushes, grilling tools, fire starters, and other BBQ products.