Lighting the Charcoal Chimney

How to use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Jun 2013; updated May 2023.

You don't need fire lighters or lighter fluid. A chimney gets your coals very hot without any chemical smells or taste to your food.

Here's are a few tips on how to use a charcoal chimney starter to get the BBQ coals that perfect temperature for cooking.

What is a Charcoal Chimney?

A charcoal chimney gets the charcoals hot at and at an even temperature, which is difficult to do with just using lighters or lighting fluid on its own.

When using a charcoal chimney starter, you don't need to use BBQ lighter fluid (which can lead to a bad taste in the food if not used correctly).

Lighting a BBQ this way is a little more environmentally friendly.

How to use the Charcoal Chimney Starter

Using a charcoal chimney is very simple.

  1. Roll up two sheets of newspaper and place in the bottom of the chimney - but make sure there's enough airflow.
  2. Fill the chimney with charcoal.
  3. Light the newspaper at the bottom.
  4. The heat from the burning paper pulls the hot air and flames up through the chimney. Just wait for the coals to start turning white.
  5. When ready, pour the hot coals into your BBQ.

How to use a Charcoal Chimney Starter Video

Below is a video of our first attempt using the charcoal chimney starter.  As you can see, it didn't go well as I didn't leave enough space for good airflow around the newspaper. Scrunch the paper up tighter.

Some people have also suggested a kitchen paper towel with vegetable cooking oil on works well as a natural firefighter.

YouTube Video Thumbnail

Lighting Tips

We now light the charcoal quicker than when we first used it.

  • Don't overstuff the bottom with paper. Leave some space for air to flow underneath and up inside the middle of the chimney.
  • When lighting, we found slightly tipping the chimney and placing the burning match further underneath started it quicker than using the holes provided.
  • If it's slow, blowing some air into the bottom holes can help.
  • If you wait until all your coals at the top turn white, many of the coals at the bottom will have burnt down. However, you can add extra coals as soon as you tip into the BBQ, or tip the coals in when you see most of the bottom coals are white and ash is just starting to form on the top ones.

When we first lit our chimney, it took around 45 minutes, much longer than I expected!!

It was windy, though, and I hadn't left enough space around the newspaper for air to flow.

After a bit of practice, it's a lot quicker, and you should expect it to take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.

What if you don't have any newspaper?

You can use firelighter blocks if you wish, but you want anything that will start burning easily and long enough for the first coals to get hot.

What charcoal chimney starter to buy?

There are a few chimney starters available to buy.

We bought a charcoal starter from Weber, who makes a lot of top-quality BBQ products.

Charcoal chimneys are quite large as they need to fill a BBQ with hot coals, so they must be big enough to hold a good amount of charcoal. However, big items are difficult to take camping.

Weber does a small compact version, which we bought and is easier to take camping.

This smaller charcoal chimney is ideal for cooking with Dutch Ovens, as you don't need as many coals, but we did find it does enough coals to BBQ as well.  Simply add a few fresh coals after you pour in the hot coals, and the new coals will soon warm up.

If you are after Chimney Starter for a full-size BBQ at home, get the bigger one, as the compact one would not provide enough hot coals.