Project Guide

How to Use a Charcoal Chimney

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Learn the Benefits of a Charcoal Chimney Starter
Person holding a charcoal chimney above a grill.

A tool designed to help you get your charcoal ready for cooking before it goes into the bottom of your grill, charcoal starters are typically ignited with newspaper or some other type of easily flammable material. The goal is to get your charcoal burning evenly so you don’t have hot-spots or dead zones once your food hits the grates.

Here are a few reasons a chimney starter should be included with your other grilling accessories:

  • Eliminates the need for lighter fluid on your charcoal, so you can buy natural briquettes that don’t pose any health risks for cooking over an open flame.
  • Ensures that you’re working with an even heat source, eliminating hot zones and dead areas on charcoal grills to cook consistently every time.
  • Makes your coals less susceptible to wind and weather changes. Charcoal briquettes that come out of a chimney will be heated thoroughly, making them less likely to extinguish in the middle of grilling.

Tip: Not quite sure how to use your grill yet? Check out our guide on how to use a charcoal grill before you get started. After you’re done grilling, take a few minutes to learn how to clean a grill properly.

Add Paper and Fill with Coals
Person filling chimney starter with charcoal.
  • Remove the grate at the bottom of your charcoal chimney. Place two sheets of wadded up newspaper in the bottom and put the grate back in place. Do not put too much paper inside or it will block the air flow needed for the paper to ignite. 
  • From the bottom, pull a few pieces of paper out of the grate for easier lighting. 
  • Fill the chimney starter to the top with charcoal. While you can use less charcoal, you’ll typically get better results if you fill the entire chimney to the top. Almost all grills can easily handle that much charcoal.
Light the Paper
Coals begin to heat up in chimney starter.
  • Ignite your newspaper with a long-handle lighter through the holes on the bottom of the charcoal chimney. Be sure to place it inside your grill or put it on a surface that is not flammable and won’t get damaged, like exterior brick or concrete.
Allow Coals to Burn
Coals turn ashy white signifying that they are hot enough to grill.
  • Let the charcoal starter chimney get your coals ready for about 15 to 20 minutes, checking regularly to make sure you see a little smoke. 
  • Your coals are ready to use when they’re about 50 percent burned with white ash around the edges. 
Remove Grill Grates and Arrange Coals
Person removes grill grates.
  • Next, remove your grill grates if you haven’t already done this and add the charcoal to the bottom of your grill. 
  • Check your coals to make sure they all look like they’re burning evenly. Move cold-looking coals closer to hot ones that are glowing red to distribute heat evenly.
  • Now, arrange your charcoal as desired for direct or indirect cooking. Put the grill grate back on and let your coals heat the grill for about 10 to 15 minutes, checking them often.
Begin Grilling Food
Food is grilled on a charcoal grill.
  • Add your food to the grill and cook as desired. If necessary, you can heat more charcoal in your chimney starter as you go. This is particularly helpful if you know you’re going to be cooking for a big group or all-day event.

Tip: Some users prefer to light their charcoal chimney with special lighter cubes. To do this, you’ll simply skip the step that involves newspaper, filling your chimney as desired with charcoal. Then, you can place the lighter cubes on top and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. In most cases, the process is very similar to the traditional method outlined above.

Perfect your grilling setup with a wide range of charcoal starters and grill accessories from The Home Depot. Whether you’ve been grilling for years or you just got your first charcoal grill, we’ve got the tools you need.