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How To Use A Charcoal Chimney

Cooking out: awesome.

Starting the grill: not so much.

We love the taste of food cooked on our grill. Heck, the experience of grilling is part of the fun, too. But it can often be a struggle and a bore to get the coals burning and hot enough to cook on. Fortunately, there are many aids to help with the process, and one of the best is the charcoal chimney.

There’s nothing complicated here; a charcoal chimney is simply a steel tube with a handle. But it takes advantage of the fact that heat rises and that fire is more likely to burn up than sideways. It’s remarkably easy to use and doesn’t require much work on your part.

Advantages of a Charcoal Chimney

Most charcoal chimneys are inexpensive, which in itself is an attractive feature. The price range is generally $16 – $22, although we have seen one as high as the $60 area.

They’re simple to use – you just add your coal, light it from the bottom, wait a bit, then empty the chimney into your charcoal grill. And yes, it’s as simple as it sounds.

You should still use some kind of tinder to help the fire start. Newspaper is also an option, but you have to be careful not to block the airflow.

You can douse your coals with charcoal lighter fluid if you want. But a chimney’s design makes it easier for your charcoal to get going.

Why A Charcoal Chimney Lighter Works

The principle behind a charcoal chimney is a simple one. It’s the reason why for years, grillmasters have been stacking their coals in a pyramid. 

Fire and heat tend to rise. So by concentrating your coals into a column, it’s easier for them to be lit rapidly. The coals on the bottom support those above them and spread the flame more quickly.

At the same time, a charcoal chimney has vents so that air can be pulled up through the stack of briquets. The oxygen in that air, as we all know, is necessary to keep the fire going.

It’s as simple as that! It simply takes the basic practice of stacking charcoal to get it started on a new level!

How To Use A Charcoal Chimney Lighter

As we mentioned, a charcoal chimney is remarkably easy to use.

Start by removing the cooking grate from your charcoal grill. If your grill has a coal grate, leave that in place.

The metal tube has a “floor” in it, usually with a little space underneath.

Place your charcoal briquets on the floor. If you have a large chimney but a small grill, you may not have to fill it all the way – go by how much you normally use in the grill.

Place your tinder or newspaper in the middle of the grill, then place the chimney on top of it.

Use a lighter or long match to light your tinder through the vents in the base of the chimney. If you’re not using tinder, you can light the charcoal briquets directly, although this can be harder to do.

You should soon begin to see the flame spreading to the charcoal and slowly working its way up the chimney, turning the coals red and then leaving them coated with gray ash. It usually takes about 15 minutes before the coals are ready.

Once you can see that the top coals are ready, it’s time to empty them into the grill. Be sure to exercise care so you don’t get burnt! We recommend that you use gloves – the handle of most chimneys will still get hot. You also run the risk of brushing your knuckles against the chimney itself.  So safety is a priority!

Some chimneys have to be turned over and the coals poured out, the way you’d pour water from a bucket. Others have a trigger in the handle that will open the “floor” and let the coals fall out the bottom.

Be sure to pour the coals into the grill slowly so that you don’t end up with sparks flying all over the place! And set your chimney aside in a safe spot until it cools off. Setting it on concrete is great as long as no one will bump into it.

And that’s it! You can now return the cooking grate to your grill and enjoy the cookout!


A charcoal chimney starter helps you get to barbecuing more quickly and with less aggravation. There’s no complicated machinery to operate or special mixes to prepare; a chimney is simple to use and efficient. You’ll spend less time struggling and more time enjoying cooking and eating!

About Us

Tom and Sarah Greenwood are the dynamic duo behind “Yards Improved,” dedicated to the joys and challenges of gardening, pool maintenance, and lawn and patio care. With Tom’s passion for landscape design and Sarah’s enthusiastic approach to gardening, they share their journey of transforming their backyard into a thriving retreat. We strive to offer practical advice aimed at helping you enhance your outdoor space.