No one wants to delay their grilling just because they can’t get the charcoal going! But it can be a struggle sometimes; coal is stubborn. When you want to get it started and burning well without a hassle, a charcoal chimney is the way to go.
Why Choose A Charcoal Chimney
Most experienced grillers learned a basic principle early on: stack your coals to start the grill. The traditional pyramid of briquets capitalizes on an essential law of thermodynamics: heat rises. You would light the lower coals and allow the heat and fire to spread upwards.
A charcoal chimney takes this principle to another level. By encasing the briquets in a tightly-arranged stack, they can begin burning even more quickly. The chimney is also designed to allow the air to circulate, which is, of course, necessary to take the fire going.
Ultimately, a charcoal chimney starter relies on the most basic ideas we know about heat and fire.
Most charcoal chimney starts are made of steel and have a plastic or rubber handle. The handle won’t heat up, so your hand will be safe when it’s time to remove the chimney.
What To Look For
A charcoal chimney is a simple device – it’s simply a metal tube with ventilation holes and a handle. But there are still a couple of things to look out for.
The size of the unit is important. The bigger it is, the more coal you can light. Of course, you don’t want it too big, or it will become difficult (and dangerous) to handle. But you don’t want it too small, either, or you won’t be able to light enough charcoal with it.
Almost all charcoal chimneys are about 8 inches to one foot high and 5 – 8 inches across. This is a perfect size to achieve the right effect.
You also want to look for an easy-to-use handle. It should be big enough for you to grab without brushing the side of the chimney section. We still recommend you wear gloves to avoid accidents, but even then, you shouldn’t make contact.
Some chimneys also have a “trigger” to open the base and release the briquets. Others have to be turned over to dump the coal. The trigger release can come in handy when you’re trying to fill the piece with your starter material and charcoal. It’s not necessary, but it can add a little convenience.
Best Charcoal Chimney Starters
Here are our favorite charcoal chimney starters. We’re sure they’ll serve you well!
This stainless steel chimney does a great job getting your coals started – although it also burns a hole in your wallet.
The material may make it worthwhile; stainless steel will hold up better than lesser grades used in other products.
It’s also very large; it can hold up to 4.5 pounds of briquets. That’s awesome for larger grills.
It’s nearly 13 inches tall and 7 ½ inches across. There are vents around the bottom, and they continue, although fewer, about halfway up the chimney. That allows great ventilation so the coals will catch fire quickly and stay lit.
There are two handles to make moving the unit easier. One is a typical “mug” style handle; the other is more like a bucket handle. Using them together makes it simpler to lift the chimney off the hot coals.
The handles do get hot, though, so be sure to protect yourself appropriately.
Other than the cost – which is substantially higher than other chimneys we’ve looked at – we don’t have anything negative to say about this. Also, this is for full-sized charcoal grills. It will be much too big if you have a small grill.
Weber, a leader in grills, makes this starter, and it lives up to their solid reputation.
At 8 inches high and a hair under 6 inches in diameter, it will work well even with smaller grills. It holds about a pound of briquets. That might be too small for a large grill but works well with average-sized grills or even hibachis.
There is plenty of room under the interior charcoal base for tinder or newspaper underneath and sit this on top. Most of the vent windows are in this section, but there are smaller vents higher on the chimney, too. The floor opens with a trigger in the handle which is pretty easy to use.
This is made of “alloy steel”, according to the product information. That, of course, doesn’t make a lot of sense, since steel is an alloy. However, it’s well-built and easy to use.
As the product description indicates, this is the compact version. There is a standard version – you can click on it at the same link!
The BBQ Dragon offers a unique approach with its “Chimney of Insanity”. We’re honestly not sure if it’s really insane, a bit of overkill, or just useful.
What makes it special? A huge hole. Yes; and you can buy a fan to connect to this hole to add to the ventilation! This could help you get your fire started slightly faster, but it’s unnecessary for almost any case; regular airflow will do the job just fine.
This chimney measures 11 inches high and 6.75 inches across. That’s a decent size for most grills. It’s enough for 2 – 3 pounds of “standard” briquets.
The ventilation ports are part of the branding – as you can see in the photo. That entire lower section is below the grate where the briquets are held. It may be a bit of a waste of space but does allow a lot of air circulation and space for your starter.
This brand has a good reputation and avid fans, although we also see more negative reviews than for other brands. The negative reviews are still a small percentage of reviews, so by far, most people are satisfied with this.
Kingsford is best known for their charcoal, so they probably know a thing or two about the best ways to get it started. And from the effectiveness of this chimney, it’s not a leap to say that’s correct.
This chimney is 10.74 inches tall and 6.8 inches across. That’s a good size for all but the largest grills. Yes, there are bigger units out there. Smaller ones, too. But with this, you can fit it into a small grill but also know it will hold enough coal for a mid-to-large one.
It’s made of zinc steel and holds up well. We’ve come across remarkably few complaints, so the issues may have resulted from user error.
The handle is well-designed; you’ll still feel some heat, and we still recommend gloves. However, it seems to get less hot than other brands’ handles.
The Char-Griller brand is last on our list, but by no means least. It’s another great product and holds a lot of charcoal – even if you have a very large grill, you’ll be happy with this!
At 12 inches tall and 7.6 inches across, it will hold several pounds of charcoal. And you don’t have to worry about turning it over; this is another model where a trigger in the handle will dump the coals out the bottom.
The ventilation on this chimney is decent although not superb. A few more well-positioned holes could help get the coals going even faster.
The trigger and “trap door” work well – most of the time. Occasionally, the unit comes apart when trying to dump coals. It’s easy to put back together (once it’s cooled off, of course!) but still a minor annoyance.
All in all, the pros outweigh the cons, though. It works well and holds up decently, and it gets things going in a reasonable amount of time.
Santa Claus might not slide down it, but a charcoal chimney is a real thing, and incredibly useful in getting your charcoal grill lit and ready to cook efficiently. Be sure to choose one that’s safe and suitable to your grill’s size. You’ll appreciate how fast you can get to the good parts – cooking and eating!