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How to Use a Charcoal Chimney: Starting Coals in 5 Simple Steps

lump charcoal in pile

Likely you have seen people pouring lighter fluid on a stack of charcoal, and then a big ball of fire erupts. If you pay close attention to that fire, you will see dirty black smoke and notice the chemical smell. 

Today we will look at How To Properly Use A Charcoal Chimney, as well as another method of starting charcoal using a chimney starter, and steps to get your grill ready to cook faster.

Chimney Starter Guide

Fill the chimney with charcoal briquettes and set the charcoal chimney on the grill greats for safety. The grill is an excellent area to avoid burning any furniture or nearby items during the lighting process.

The bottom of the chimney has a smaller empty chamber and is the chimney starter. Fill the bottom of the chimney with paper and light the paper using a lighter or propane torch. Many people use newspapers, but we recommend using paper without chemicals or ink.


  1. Place the chimney on your grill’s charcoal chamber grate.
    A grill charcoal grate or top grate can be a safe spot to place the chimney.
  2. Add newspaper, oiled paper towels, or simply use a torch.
    There are two chambers in a charcoal chimney; the deeper chamber will hold the charcoal, and the smaller chamber will is for whatever you use to start a fire, like newspaper or paper towels.
  3. Fill the bottom chamber with paper and the main chamber of the chimney with charcoal.
    Flip the chimney and add newspaper or paper towels to the chamber then flip it back again to add charcoal to main chamber.
  4. Light whatever materials (newspaper, paper, lighter cubes) you place at the bottom of the chimney. Avoid using paper with lots of ink and chemicals.
  5. After about 15 minutes, the top coals should be lit, at which point simply pour the coals onto the charcoal chamber grate on your grill.
  6. Enjoy!

Why Use a Charcoal Chimney

charcoal chimney lighting up

There are other methods to light charcoal and avoid using chemicals or starting big balls of fire.

Lighting briquettes or coals using chemicals can affect food taste as the chemical smell can remain as the coals burn and are absorbed by the meats.

A charcoal chimney is a metal cylinder that can hold charcoal so it can be ignited.

We recommend using a charcoal starter as these devices provide a faster and safer coal lighting process than lighter fluid.

Pouring chemicals on hot charcoal can also be dangerous and is not recommended. 

How long does A chimney take?

The chimney design forces airflow and flames upward, lighting the coals in the process. After 15 to 20 minutes, the coals are lit and can be dumped into your charcoal grill.

Remember, you are dealing with hot coals, so be careful when you pour the charcoal into your grill. Using a charcoal starter is the way to go when wanting good-tasting BBQ.

What is the best way to light lump charcoal?

A charcoal chimney is undoubtedly one of the best ways to light up lump charcoal without using lighter fluid. There are other methods to light charcoal, using different types of charcoal starters.

Electric staters, fire sticks, and hot air starters are all available on the market and are good options to light a charcoal grill without lighter fluid.

A charcoal chimney is a simple and easy way to start charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal. The device is simple, a metal cylinder that can pack charcoal together while flames and hot air rise through the briquettes.

Once the coals are lit, flip the chimney starter and dump the charcoal in your grill.

Learn More: Best Lump Charcoal

Related: How to Start Charcoal without Lighter Fluid

The chimney can be put on top of a grill grate or concrete. It is important to remember that the chimney will get hot generate a lot of heat. Please keep it away from flammable items or anything you don’t want charcoal ash on.

You can set the chimney right side upright on top of the cooking grate back or away from anything flammable or that can be damaged by heat. Keep the chimney away from charcoal bags, plastic tools, and anything you might not like toasted.

Depending on what type of grill you own, you might place the chimney starter right on the coals’ grate, making it easier to dump the hot coals.

Why try and avoid lighter fluid and use a charcoal chimney starter

Lighter fluid has long been the go-to starter to start a fire and light charcoal. Lighter fluid can seem like an easy method to start any amount of charcoal, but for those wanting the best tasting food, lighter fluid is not an option.

Chemical smell and odd flavors can penetrate meats; plus, if you own a Kamado grill, using any chemical can be dangerous.

When food comes in contact with chemical burn, food flavor changes, something that true BBQ enthusiasts dislike.

without newspaper?

If you not do have newspaper available or want to use your charcoal chimney without newspaper use a propane torch or paper towels dipped in olive oil.

Other tricks and methods to start a charcoal chimney are using Lighter (wax) Cubes, vegetable oils, and other tools, including torches. Paper towels can be soaked in a bit of olive oil to start a slow-burning fire and start the chimney.

Use a propane torch to light up the coals sitting at the bottom of the chimney, and once the coals are red, the chimney will do the rest. This is one way of starting a charcoal chimney without newspaper or chemicals.

The most common method of starting a charcoal chimney without a newspaper is using stater cubes or “firesticks.”

However, when firesticks are not available, I create a paper towel, Hershey-shaped roll, sink the bottom half in olive oil, and use the rolls to start a fire under the chimney starter.

Is a chimney starter worth it?

A well-designed chimney starter will work great with charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal. These charcoal staters do not require lighter fluid but can aid the lighting process and produce hot enough coals to cook in as little as 15 minutes.

Charcoal fire cubes can be used as a starter, and propane torches can light a few coals and get them hot enough for the process to start. The chimney starter can be placed on the grill grates until a strong flame burns and lights the coals.

A charcoal starter will save time, add a layer of safety, and get coals ignited quicker. Chimneys are simple metal cylinders, but their design makes it practical and simple to fire up coals using something as accessible as a lighter and newspaper.

The quick answer is yes, they are. These staters can help in many ways, but primarily they help light up charcoal evenly and fast.

Sometimes when lighting charcoal in a grill, much of the charcoal remains cold, and later lighting up, it creates dirty smoke. Every noticed a slight dark or charred-like color on meats with a bitter taste; yeah, that’s what dirty smoke will do.

One Last Word

Using a chimney starter is just one way to safely light charcoal and get your grill ready for cooking. According to an article released by State Farm Insurance Company, one should never add gasoline, kerosene, or lighter fluid to hot coals. Starter fluid can be dangerous if not used properly. Besides, the odd smells and flavors are not welcomed by many.

Using a charcoal chimney starter will also save you hours of fighting with your charcoal grill, trying to light up coal, and most importantly, no need to use chemicals.



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