How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Here are some tips on how to use your charcoal chimney starter.

Chimney starters safely ignite charcoal without the need for lighter fluid. These simple gadgets consist of a cylindrical body with a handle, plus two stacked chambers inside. The large top chamber is for charcoal, and the smaller bottom chamber is for newspaper. You fill the bottom chamber with newspaper (two gently crumpled sheets should do the trick), load the top chamber with the desired amount of charcoal, and then light the newspaper. Depending on the amount and type of charcoal (and the weather conditions), it can take 20 to 40 minutes for the top layer of charcoal to become covered in a fine layer of white ash—the visual cue that it's ready to use.

Once the charcoal is fully lit, it is ready to be poured out onto the bottom grate inside the grill in the desired configuration for whatever you're cooking. Place the cooking grate over the coals, let the grill preheat, and you are ready to grill.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Charcoal chimney starters light charcoal in a controlled manner and are our top choice for charcoal grillers. Our testing winner, the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter (about $15), features a roomy charcoal chamber, an insulated handle, and a helper handle to make it easier to precisely distribute the lit coals.

A Few Tips

-Light the starter on the lower grate in your grill; it's a firesafe location with plenty of airflow (with the bottom vent open).

-When pouring out hot coals, wear grill gloves to shield your hands and arms from heat and sparks.

-To dispose of spent coals after grilling, first suffocate the flow of oxygen: Cover the grill with the lid and close both the bottom grill vent and top lid vent and then let the coals and ash cool for at least 48 hours. Finally, we suggest dumping the coals and ash into a metal bin and pouring water over them to keep any dormant embers from reigniting. The completely cooled charcoal and ash mixture can then be disposed of in a noncombustible outdoor trash receptacle.

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