A charcoal chimney starter is the correct tool for lighting lump charcoal or briquettes. A chimney starter is fairly simple to use once you know the proper way to light charcoal with it. The biggest thing about using a charcoal chimney starter is to practice safe handling when using it to prevent accidentally burning yourself or starting a fire.
How Does a Charcoal Chimney Work?
The principle of a charcoal chimney is fairly simple. Essentially, it is a metal tube with a plate attached about one-third of the way from the bottom. The handle usually has a heat shield to prevent the handle from getting excessively hot. Charcoal is placed inside the tube and sits on the charcoal grate so that there is a space underneath. This is where a fire is used to ignite the charcoal.
As the charcoal begins to smolder, it will ignite the pieces above it so that when you put the charcoal in your barbecue, smoker, or grill, it is the optimum condition for cooking. With a charcoal chimney starter, you won't have to use lighter fluid so your cooking process will be cleaner.
How Do You Start a Charcoal Chimney?
There are a few ways to light the charcoal in the charcoal chimney. What we like to do is to use something fireproof to set the chimney on while lighting it. In our case, we use an old wok that we picked up at a garage sale and a stand for a propane burner. We set it up on a concrete surface near the smoker. The wide and deep steel bowl is ideal for starting charcoal and the handles make it convenient to dump the ashes out when we are finished. You can also use a kettle grill, like a Weber. That way, the coals are contained and won't create problems.
Simple Ways to Start
The simplest way to light a charcoal chimney starter is to use old newspaper waded up into a tight ball. Place the newspaper under the chimney starter, fill the chimney with charcoal, and light the newspaper. As the newspaper burns, it will ignite the bottom layer of charcoal.
Using Fire Starters
Most of the time, the newspaper doesn't burn hot enough or long enough when lighting charcoal – so we use our Bearded Butcher natural fire starter sticks to start the fire. These are environmentally safe fire starters that light quickly and burn hot.
You should never use lighter fluid with lump charcoal and a chimney starter makes it unnecessary. Lighter fluid can cause your charcoal to absorb harmful chemicals and may even alter the flavor of your food.
How Long Do You Leave Charcoal in a Charcoal Chimney?
There are a couple of things you'll learn to look for when lighting charcoal in a chimney starter. The first is that you'll want to see the top layer of charcoal ignited and ashy before loading the charcoal into the grill. Secondly, you want to make sure that the smoke coming from the charcoal is clear before adding it to your Kamado Joe or Big Green Egg.
The amount of time this process takes will depend on the size of the lump charcoal or the number of charcoal briquettes you have in the chimney and the composition of the material. Harder, more dense pieces of charcoal will take longer as well as charcoal that has gotten wet.
How Do You Use a Chimney Safely?
The charcoal chimney makes lighting a fire easy but you'll need to practice safety when using one to avoid serious injuries and property damage. This is not a good tool to use while wearing flip-flops on a wooden deck. Close-toed shoes are a must and you should choose ones that have a heavy-duty sole. Sooner or later, you'll step on a lump of hot coal and thin shoes won't protect your feet.
We also recommend using heat-resistant gloves when handling the charcoal chimney. Even though the chimney typically has a heat shield and a heat-resistant handle, the risk of accidentally burning yourself is tremendous. Gloves will ensure your fingers are safe and they are convenient for picking up coals that fall.
Before transferring the charcoal chimney to the BBQ or grill, shake it gently. This will dislodge little bits of burning charcoal and helps to prevent accidentally starting fires. When you pour the charcoal into the grill, make sure that you are not standing over the grill grates so you don't get sparks and smoke in your face.
Tips for Using a Charcoal Chimney Starter
A mixture of large and medium-sized lump charcoal chunks is best for loading the chimney starter. Small chips tend to burn up quickly and don't remain hot. Choosing a high-quality lump is the best bet for getting the best-sized pieces.
- When you are starting a smoker or grill, fill the chimney with unlit charcoal and pour it into the firebox.
- Refill the chimney starter and light it.
- Once the charcoal is covered in gray ash, pour it onto the unlit charcoal. You'll want to wait for about fifteen minutes for the unlit charcoal to light before you begin cooking, but this will give you a good base of coals to work with.
- Make sure to double-check that the charcoal is burning cleanly before you start cooking.
How Much Charcoal to Use
We always just fill the chimney starter up to the top and light it but it isn't necessary to do so. You can use as much or as little charcoal as you'd like. Sometimes when we are grilling, the coals will burn down too much before we start more and we will usually just start a small amount so that we can keep the temperature up without having to wait for the full chimney to light.
Why Using a Chimney Starter is Better
A chimney starter will allow lump charcoal to ignite faster and burn more completely than any other method. Since the charcoal is inside the chimney, you are also less likely to cause a fire, burn yourself, or make as big of a mess.
Recycling Old Charcoal
One of the things that also make a starter awesome is the ability to load your leftover charcoal from the last time you cooked and relight it. This way, you aren't wasting anything and you are getting every bit of energy from that expensive lump charcoal.
Why We Like to Use a Charcoal Chimney
A charcoal chimney starter is one of those basic tools that you'll realize you really needed once you have one and start using it. The convenience and speed certainly make smoking and grilling more enjoyable, and the ability to easily add new burning coals into your smoker makes it possible to work for many hours.
Anytime you are using a charcoal grill, it is going to be messier and more time-consuming than a gas grill. Using a charcoal starter will help contain the mess and makes it easier for you to keep your cooking area clean. They are simple, affordable tools that make grilling and smoking more fun.
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