Why You Need a Charcoal Chimney (& How to Use It)

Attention grill-masters: If you aren't using a charcoal chimney to start your coals, you're doing it wrong.
Publish date:

We're deep into grilling season, which is the perfect excuse to get yourself a charcoal chimney. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only way to grill! Let me tell you why I love it so much.

First, you can light coals quickly and evenly. Who wouldn't want that? But most importantly, if you've been soaking your coals with starter fluid, you can now serve food that doesn't taste like a gas station smells. Yuck! A charcoal chimney takes care of that problem once and for all.


Here’s my well-loved chimney. We’ve grilled together for years, in sun, rain, and snow. Yes snow. It's kinda like the Velveteen Rabbit of my grilling tools. Can you feel the love?

How to use a chimney starter

1. Remove the top grill rack, turn the chimney upside down, and set it on the bottom rack of your grill. 

upside down

2. Fill the bottom with newspaper. (I hear cardboard egg cartons or cupholders work well, too.) 


3. Then turn it right side up. Note: You can also use fire-starter cubes. If you choose to use them, start them on the lower rack and set the starter over them, right side up. Personally, I'm a newspaper gal. 

stuffed with paper

4. Next, fill it with coals. I've used briquettes here, but you can use hardwood charcoal, too. Hardwood charcoal is best when you want a really hot fire that doesn't need to last too long, like if you are grilling a couple of steaks. Halfway is good enough for a quick grilling session. Or fill it up all the way up if you're cooking more than a couple of boneless chicken thighs.

Coals loaded!

Coals loaded!

5. Light 'er up! (Side note: I just ran out of my longer matches. I highly recommend investing in matches that are 3 to 4 inches long—they're much safer than these ones I'm using here!) Just stick a match in the holes along the bottom, or hold under the grill rack to light the paper from underneath.


6. Pour yourself a lemonade, a glass of rosé, or a G&T - and sit back for 10 or 20 minutes while the coals smoke, then flame, and get ready to cook. When the coals on top are pretty much covered with ash, they're ready. These coals below are almost ready. (Yes, that is my bare foot. I got away with it this time, but this is not recommended!)


Almost ready!

7. Dump the coals into your grill. I like to pile them on one side for more control when I grill. If things get too hot and begin to burn, I can just scoot them over to the cooler side of the grill. 

Hot coals, ready for cooking! 

Hot coals, ready for cooking! 

8. Get cooking! Now you can cook the food right on top of the coals. (Yes you really can do that!) Or return the top grill rack, cover the grill, and let it get hot, about 5 minutes. Now scrape that grill rack clean and get your grill on!

Related Recipes:

Do you use a chimney starter? Tell us your best grilling tips in the comments below!