Lighting a charcoal BBQ grill is easier than you might think. The smoky taste of food cooked over charcoal can’t be beat; I’ve had some of the best pizza grilled over charcoal. Lighting your charcoal can be done without the use of chemicals such as charcoal lighter fluid, a petroleum product, which may leave a bad taste on your food and also presents a fire hazard if used improperly.
Using some folded sheets of newspaper placed in the base of a chimney charcoal starter which is then filled with charcoal quickly puts your backyard BBQ well on its way to success.
There are many brands of chimney charcoal starters and all are designed and used the same way. A charcoal chimney starter is basically a hollow cylinder which has holes in the sides, a handle on the outside, and a small area dividing where you put the newspaper and where you put the charcoal.
No special charcoal is needed and you can even use the cheapest brand of charcoal and it still works fine. You can also use the eco-friendly charcoal (made from ground coconut shells) in your chimney starter, but be aware that this type of charcoal makes a hotter fire that burns longer than regular charcoal. This same technique also works just as well if you are using a smoker.
2. 3 or 4 sheets of newspaper rolled loosely into a log shape.
3. A chimney charcoal starter.
4. A safe surface to set the chimney on while your charcoal is igniting. I use the rack in my grill itself to set my chimney on. By doing this, I can easily lift the rack and dump my hot charcoal from the chimney right into my grill once it is ready.
5. For your own safety, you’ll also need a pair of long BBQ tongs (to rearrange the hot charcoal in your grill if necessary), potholders (sometimes the handle on the outside of the chimney may get too hot for you to handle) and a small container of water-just in case any flying embers go astray and ignite dry brush or leaves nearby.
Here is how to effectively use your chimney charcoal starter:
1. Set up your grill (or the safe area to set your chimney on). It really is easier (and safer) to use your grill; the grill provides a bit of shelter from wind and you can quickly dump the hot charcoal from the chimney into the grill pan.
2. Set up your chimney by placing the rolled newspaper logs in the bottom section, then filling the larger chamber with the charcoal of your choice. Some brands of lump charcoal (as opposed to briquettes) may fall through the aeration holes in the sides of your chimney. Tongs would be helpful here-just put the fallen lump back into the top of the chimney, or allow it to fall into your grill pan. Once your chimney is prepared, set it on a safe surface and you are ready to light it.
3. You are going to use your lighter or matches to light the newspaper in the bottom of the chimney ONLY. Believe it or not, the paper will burn hot enough and long enough to ignite the bottom of the pile of charcoal in your chimney. As the charcoal in your chimney ignites, you will see red hot coals in the bottom, and these hot coals will work their way to the top of your chimney.
This process can take about 15-20 minutes, at which time the charcoal is ready to be dumped into your grill. NEVER leave your chimney unattended! Sometimes the wind can cause stray embers to blow out of the holes in the sides of the chimney (this is where the water comes in-just a basic part of fire safety). I use this 15-20 minute wait time to set up my picnic table, visit with my guests or even roll out my pizza dough.
Once your hot charcoal is dumped into the grill pan, you can use tongs to move them around if needed. You can also add more charcoal on top of the pile which came from your chimney if you wish. As noted previously, this same technique is also used to ignite charcoal for a smoker.
Chimney charcoal starters are reasonably cheap and can last for years. I’ve had mine for about 8 years, and even though it’s rusty, it works just fine. If you do decide to go petroleum and chemical free for making a charcoal fire in your grill, a chimney is an invaluable tool in your backyard grilling arsenal.
Happy grilling to you!