Enthusiasts agree that the most flavorful way to grill is over charcoal. The problem is, lighting a charcoal grill and getting it ready to use is a huge pain. It’s enough of an annoyance that it puts some folks off grilling, except for parties or special occasions.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Using a chimney starter for charcoal grills is the most efficient way of lighting your coals. Let me explain why using these simple devices will have you grilling like a pitmaster!
Sure, there are other ways to start your coals. You can use cubes of paraffin wax to get your briquettes going, or even the dreaded lighter fluid- if you don’t mind the risk of turning your BBQ into a bonfire. Not to mention adding the horrible flavor of burning chemicals to your hamburgers and steaks. Electric grill starters are another option, but they also have risks, and they don’t solve the problem of evenly lit coals.
The best charcoal chimney starters solve both of these problems at once, without adding chemicals to your grilled foods!
- 1 What is a Chimney Starter?
- 2 The Best Chimney Starters for Charcoal Grills
- 2.1 Weber 7416 Rapidfire Chimney Starter
- 2.2 Weber 7447 Compact Rapidfire
- 2.3 Steven Raichlen Ultimate Chimney Starter
- 2.4 BBQ Dragon Large Chimney
- 2.5 Redcamp Collapsible Starter – Collapsible Chimney Starter
- 2.6 Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter
- 2.7 Char-Broil Half-Time Charcoal Starter
- 2.8 Rösle Stainless Steel Charcoal Starter Chimney
- 3 How to use a Charcoal Starter
- 4 Why Trust Us
- 5 Charcoal Chimney Buyers Guide
- 6 Charcoal Chimney Starter Cautions
- 7 Conclusion
What is a Chimney Starter?
A chimney style charcoal starter looks a bit like a rustic coffee can with vent holes and a handle on the side. Kind of like something your grandfather would have stashed in an old barn. The first time I saw one I asked my friend if he had an outhouse handy. But that hole-punched coffee can really did the trick! So how do they work?
You take a piece of sturdy galvanized metal and bend it into a cylinder or square shape. Punch some holes in the lower and mid part of the tube for air to circulate. Place a grate a few inches from the bottom, above the lower holes, and attach a handle or two to the side. That is the design the best chimney starters are made from.
Add some charcoal briquettes (or lump charcoal wood) to the top of the cylinder, and then ignite it from below. The tube shape channels the heat upward. This creates a vacuum that draws air into those holes in the bottom and sides and circulates it up through the briquettes. The airflow feeds the coals and keeps them burning.
As the briquettes on the bottom burn, they ignite the ones above them, until you have a tube filled with perfectly lit charcoal! Carefully add the burning briquettes to your grill and you are ready to cook.
Using a charcoal BBQ starter solves the two biggest problems with grilling. They are easy to use and get your briquettes ready quickly, usually in 10 to 15 minutes. They also produce a full tube of evenly lit embers. You won’t have problems with chunks of charcoal refusing to ignite. And you won’t need paraffin or starter fluid!
The Best Chimney Starters for Charcoal Grills
So how do you decide which starter is right for your BBQ needs? Most starters share a similar design and differ mostly in the quality of their construction and extra features. I have picked the best barbeque starters in each category to feature here. Any of these starters will get the job done, so you can spend your time grilling and drinking adult beverages instead of managing charcoal.
Several of these picks are the classic cylinder shape, but I also feature two of the newer square-shaped models. There is also a pretty nifty fan-assisted unit and a collapsible chimney starter that folds up for easy storage.
Weber 7416 Rapidfire Chimney Starter
The Weber Rapidfire is a classic for a reason! It is consistently rated as one of the best BBQ starters you can buy. With a solid design and top-quality materials, the Weber Rapidfire will keep you in hot coals for years to come.
Featuring a cone-shaped inner grate that helps your coals catch fire, this Weber has plenty of ventilation to feed the burning charcoal. The body is made from aluminized steel, so it won’t rust and will take a beating. It also has a wide heat shield and an ergonomic heat-resistant plastic handle. The metal assist handle will make it easy to pour the hot charcoal into your grill or smoker box.
The Weber Rapidfire is the perfect size for any 22-inch kettle grill. It holds around up to 100 briquettes at a time and is one of the best ways to light a BBQ.
In the world of barbecue, the Weber name brings weight and respect. In addition to its highly regarded and well-liked line of grills, Weber also makes a number of top-notch grilling accessories, the RapidFire chimney starter being one of the best. This chimney starter meets all the criteria for chimney starts, and it is my preferred method for efficiently and quickly lighting charcoal for the grill.
The RapidFire is built solidly and robustly using high-quality components. Since a chimney starter is intended to regularly tolerate intense heat, quality and durability become crucial considerations. With measurements of 13 x 7.5 x 12 inches, the Weber product encourages trust in this area. It is easy to handle without being excessively weighty.
The Weber RapidFire can fit a lot of charcoal into its charcoal chamber despite its compact size. This means that even for larger cooking batches, you can start with a suitable amount of charcoal and avoid having to repeat the operation several times. If more charcoal is required, it can be ignited using the initial batch of hot charcoal.
The interior of the big, cylindrical charcoal chamber has a conical form. This is crucial because it allows for uniform, consistent heating to prepare all of your charcoal at once. The charcoal at the bottom can heat up quickly and convey heat and hot air to the top. When it comes to lighting charcoal for the grill, even heating is crucial, and the Weber delivers in this area.
It is very easy to load the large fuel chamber at the bottom with your choice of fire starter. I use old newspapers or any other type of dry material. You simply need to wait a little while for all of your charcoal to ignite after lighting your favorite starter. If you want to start your coals more quickly then use a specifically designed fire starter like the Lighter Cubes.
The Weber is, in my opinion, the best charcoal chimney starter because of a number of design elements in addition to its outstanding charcoal capacity and simplicity of operation.
When it comes to charcoal starters, the safety of users is one of the top considerations, and the Weber is strong in this area. When the charcoal is hot enough to be poured into the grill, you can handle it safely and without difficulty (although I still recommend using gloves).
For safe handling, the handle must stay cool, which the Weber accomplishes admirably. A unique material is used to make the handle, which keeps it cool even when the charcoal is heated. A substantial heat shield to which the handle is fastened also adds safety in addition to the unique material.
For simple two-handed operation, there is not only the main handle but also an additional supporting handle. This lets you may maneuver the starter with ease and retain exceptional precision and safety when transporting your coals to your barbecue.
Overall, the Weber RapidFire chimney is the best briquette and lump charcoal starter I can suggest if you’re searching for an easy, quick, and handy way to get your charcoal ignited that is affordable to use, completely safe, and has no effect whatsoever on the flavor of your meal.
Weber 7447 Compact Rapidfire
A smaller version of their classic, this Weber Compact Rapidfire has the same design and construction as the full-sized model but is suitable for portable grills. It is about two-thirds the size of the Classic Weber starter.
Designed specifically for the Weber Smokey Joe and Jumbo Joe portable grills, this compact starter has the same sturdy steel construction, wide heat shield and ergonomic handle as the full-sized version. It’s smaller, though, and so it doesn’t include an assist handle (and really doesn’t need one).
This is a great option for portable grills and for starting a charcoal grill. It holds 30-50 briquettes at a time.
The Weber 7447 Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter is ideal for those searching for a medium-sized charcoal chimney for their backyard barbecues.
This charcoal chimney can light charcoals in less than 15 minutes due to its small size. This makes it ideal for quick grilling sessions and preparing meals for your family.
You don’t have to worry about unpleasant gases that can possibly contact your meal because the Weber 7447 Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter can heat your charcoal briquettes evenly even without lighter fluid. You can just use Weber lighter cubes or crumpled newspaper to get your charcoal red hot.
This chimney is one of the simplest to use because of its smaller size. I think this is the best charcoal chimney for small grills because it fires coal more quickly.
Steven Raichlen Ultimate Chimney Starter
The first of our square models, the Steven Raichlen Ultimate is an extra-large charcoal starter that has the biggest capacity of any on the market. If you need a lot of charcoal started at once, then this is the model you want!
The Ultimate is made from heavy gauge steel and coated with a protective layer to prevent weathering. There are plenty of ventilation holes, which make this big boy easy to light off. The handle is a heat-resistant Bakelite, and it has a metal assist handle for easier transfer of hot coals. The square shape also makes it easier to control where your coals land in the grill.
This square starter can hold 7 pounds of charcoal at a time, which is enough charcoal to cook on two average kettle grills in one go!
I have used this chimney starter several times a week all summer long. About 15 to 20 minutes is all it takes to get hot coals. Nothing has gotten worse since the paint started to peel (which happened on its first use). It appears to be durable for a few years.
BBQ Dragon Large Chimney
The BBQ Dragon is a small charcoal starter for those in a hurry to grill. When used with the optional fan (purchased separately), this model can have your coals ready for cooking in 3-7 minutes! This speedy prep time is why the Dragon is one of the best charcoal fire starters around!
The Dragon is a beautiful starter and the clip-on fan makes the gadget-lover in me drool with desire. Made from heavy gauge galvanized steel, the Dragon has an elbow bend in the base where you start the fire. The fan attaches to the side of the elbow once you have the fire going.
This design makes it easier to add more paper or other material if your coals don’t catch right away. The bend channels the air (via the fan) directly into the center of the charcoal plie, forcing more air through the coals. Just like blowing on an ember to restart a campfire, using the fan cuts the wait time for coals in half or more!
The capacity of the Dragon is slightly smaller than the Weber Rapidfire. While you can use it without the additional fan (and just blow in the elbow a bit yourself), why would you want to? To get the most out of your Dragon, add the fire-breathing fan and get cooking in just a few minutes.
Redcamp Collapsible Starter – Collapsible Chimney Starter
The second of our square models, the Redcamp Collapsible is the Swiss Army knife of chimney-style starters. Perfect for camping and RV trips, this starter has a lot going for it.
Made from galvanized sheet metal, the Redcamp comes completely apart so you can store it flat. The handle is made with a heat-resistant ABS plastic, and it has a metal assist handle for additional stability. The lower charcoal grate is zinc coated for a longer lifespan. It also comes with a food-safe, chrome-plated upper rack, turning this starter into its own mini grill!
The Redcamp has the same capacity as the Weber Rapidfire, and holds around 5 pounds of charcoal at a time. It is the ideal portable starter and is perfect for any situation where you need a quick pot of fire. Start a BBQ, toast some marshmallows for S’mores, or grill up some hot dogs at a picnic- this starter wants to travel with you!
Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter
The Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter with Quick Release Trigger is another strong contender for the title of best charcoal chimney.
Zinc-coated galvanized steel, used to make this chimney starter, provides excellent heat distribution. As a result, lighting charcoal briquettes takes only a few minutes and requires little effort from you. You can simply let the chimney do its work while you wait rather than spending hours fanning it out.
The Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter with Quick Release Trigger is a high-capacity chimney that can heat charcoal briquettes for your large kettle grills. It measures 12 inches tall and 7.5 inches in diameter.
Additionally, it has an ABS handle with a heat shield that ensures you won’t damage yourselves while handling to emptying the contents.
The innovative quick-release trigger of the Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter, however, is what really sets it apart from the competition. The charcoal is readily released into the kettle grill without a mess by simply pulling the trigger. This helps you save a bit of time while lowering the chance of mishaps considerably.
Char-Broil Half-Time Charcoal Starter
The Char-Broil Half-Time Charcoal Starter cuts the time it takes to light your charcoal grill or smoker in half.
The Char-Broil Half-Time Charcoal Starter, another revolutionary design, asserts that it can heat substantial amounts of charcoal in half the time required by conventional chimney fire starters.
The Char-Broil Half-Time is aesthetically pleasing, ergonomic, and practical all at once thanks to its extra-wide diameter, ribbed handle, and numerous ventilation holes.
Considering the advantages of this chimney, it is simple to put together and compatible with a variety of charcoal and fire starters. Additionally, a lot of people appreciate how far away from the chimney itself the handle of this charcoal starter is, protecting them from getting burned.
The chimney’s bottom has the unfortunate tendency to bend quickly. There are numerous reports claiming that after a few months, the rivets keeping the bottom in intact have come loose. Fortunately, tightening or replacing these is simple.
While the chimney is generally simple to assemble, some people have noted that it can be challenging to line up the holes on the handle and heat shield with the holes on the base.
The Char-Broil Half-Time actually performs quite well, despite these drawbacks.
Overall, the Char-Broil Half-Time Charcoal Starter is one of the best charcoal chimney starts available since it lights charcoal quickly, is ideal for smaller barbecues or big cooking sessions, and has excellent ergonomics and safety features.
Rösle Stainless Steel Charcoal Starter Chimney
I believe the German-designed Rösle chimney starter is the best chimney starter available for readers who demand nothing less than the best (and are prepared to spend a premium for it accordingly).
This chimney starter is our premium, best-money-can-buy choice for a number of reasons. First off, it’s constructed from 18/10 stainless steel, the finest grade available, which guarantees that it won’t rust and will outlast most of its competitors in terms of service life.
Additionally, it is incredibly well made. Even on a windy day, you can pour hot coals onto your grill thanks to the lip on top without worrying about sparks or tiny embers flying your way. The helper handle features a plastic coating for added comfort, and the broad handle provides a secure grip on the chimney.
The two handles are further away from the chamber than on my other top picks, as you shall see. This stops the plastic from melting even after years of usage by keeping it away from the coals’ radiant heat.
Yes, not everyone should buy the Rösle Chimney. However, it’s the ideal chimney starter for grillers and meat smokers for whom build quality and user experience are more important than price.
How to use a Charcoal Starter
Starting a charcoal fire is easy when you have a BBQ grill starter. I usually prep mine right on the grill. Grab a beer to drink while you prepare your coals!
- Flip the starter upside down.
- Crumple up a few pieces of newspaper or other plain (not shiny or colored) paper and stick them in the bottom section. Don’t cram it in there; you need room for the air to circulate.
- Flip it right side up. Add your charcoal briquettes to the tube from the top; the grate inside prevents the charcoal from falling through.
- Place the starter in the bottom of your grill, or on a flat, heatproof surface nearby.
- Light the paper using a long match or BBQ lighter through those holes in the bottom. As the paper burns, it will catch the charcoal on fire.
- Watch as the tube of charcoal burns. Drink your beer. Wait until the coals on the top are ready; this can take 10-25 minutes, depending on how big your starter is and how much charcoal you are preparing.
- When the coals on the top are glowing hot and covered with ash, you are ready to add them to your grill.
There are some other tricks that the best charcoal chimney starters can pull off.
- If you leave a few burning coals in the bottom of the starter and top it off with fresh charcoal, the hot coals will ignite the rest of the tube. No need to light more newspaper to get a fresh batch of briquettes ready!
- Feel like making a stir fry along with your BBQ? You can actually cook on top of a charcoal chimney starter! Place a wok or other cooking vessel on top of a fully lit tube of charcoal, and that powerful blowtorch heat will sear your meat and veggies in no time. It also toasts a mean marshmallow!
Watch this video demo and see how easy it is to use a charcoal chimney starter! Also, I’d ask that you help us by subscribing to our YouTube channel.
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Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are compiled with a combination of expert input, years of hands-on testing of grilling products, curating the reviews of real-life buyers in a “wisdom of the crowd” system, and of course our own expertise. All the products listed are the ones we would buy if we were looking to purchase a new charcoal chimney.
Methodology Used to Pick the Best Charcoal Chimney
When picking the best charcoal chimney we looked at and then rated each chimney on the following criteria. Price, total size, durability, shape, heat shield, and handles
Charcoal Chimney Buyers Guide
In addition to getting your coals going, a quality chimney starter may accomplish a number of other tasks. It’ll get the job done fast, easy, and in one fell swoop. Oh, and it’s solid and long-lasting, so you won’t have to buy a new one every time you fire up the barbecue.
A chimney starting, in contrast to an electric charcoal starter, does not need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Plus, unlike lighter fluid, it won’t impart a kerosene flavor to your meat. To use, place the chimney starter on the grill, fill it with coals, and then light the fire by crumpling newspaper under the bottom. In 20–25 minutes, the embers will be red hot and ready to use as a cooking heat source.
Let’s check out a few of the features that will help you get your coals nice and hot and speed up the process of transporting them to the grill.
Size – Charcoal Capacity
Size matters in charcoal starters, so be sure you get a model that has enough capacity for your grill or smoker. As features go, this is probably the key one you will use to narrow down your options. Selecting the best coal lighter for your needs starts with judging its capacity.
It is tricky to compare capacity from starter to starter, because there is no standard way of measuring it. Some manufacturers go by how many briquettes will fit into their starter. Others estimate the weight of the charcoal it holds. Each manufacturer seems to pick a different way of measuring capacity.
The capacity of a starter is also going to vary depending on the type of fuel you are using. Briquettes are usually a standard size and shape, but that size will vary from brand to brand. Lump charcoal is not evenly sized, and wood chunks, of course, can be any size. See why it is hard to compare capacity? Luckily, I did the work for you!
Comparing the Capacity of Chimney Starters
A regular-sized charcoal chimney starter, like the Weber Rapidfire and the Redcamp, can hold, on average, about 60-100 briquettes. This works out to roughly 5 pounds of charcoal. That’s enough to fill a standard kettle grill with a half-inch of burning embers. The Steven Raichlen Ultimate can hold two more pounds of charcoal, making it ideal for larger grills and smokers.
The Dragon’s capacity, on the other hand, is approximately 4 pounds of charcoal. That means it can hold about 20% less than the Weber Rapidfire and Redcamp. If you are using the optional fan, however, you can still get 2 rounds of coals from your Dragon in the same time as it takes the others to prepare a single batch of coals. This evens things out in the end.
The smallest chimney starter, The Weber Compact, can hold about 30-50 briquettes, or around 3 pounds of charcoal. This is the perfect amount for a portable grill. But if you try to use a compact starter for a full-size grill you will have to start the coals in batches.
A last thought on capacity. It’s also important to take into account who will be using the chimney starter. I once used a huge one at a buddies house, and then had a heck of a time shifting the coals into the grill. It was awkward to lift and dump 14 pounds of burning hot coals and metal, even with two hands. Don’t be like me; consider this point before you light the match.
Shape and Durability
Is it better to have a square-shaped or round charcoal starter? Which design is more durable?
Truthfully, and without making you think you are back in geometry class, the answer is that the shape doesn’t affect the primary function of setting coals on fire and getting them ready for the grill. But the shape does control how much capacity the starter has. Square starters can hold more charcoal than similarly sized cylindrical models.
But a square starter may not be as durable, long term, as the classic style. Those corners create weak spots, and over time that can warp the starter. As this children’s experiment shows, even paper cylinders are stronger than square columns.
If durability is your primary concern, then you will probably be happier with a classic cylindrical starter. If, however, you really want to prep a lot of charcoal at once, or need a collapsible model, then go with the Ultimate or the Redcamp. They are great starters! You might just have to replace them more often than the Weber or the Dragon.
The most reliable charcoal chimney starters have an extra piece of metal between the tube and the handle. On some models, like the Webers, this shield sticks out quite a bit on each side. On others, the heat shield might just be a bit of metal between the cylinder and the handle.
The shield protects the handle of the starter (and your hand) from the heat of those burning embers and the hot metal tube. This keeps the handle from (depending on the material) melting, catching fire or getting hot enough to brand your palm.
Honestly, the shield helps, but things still get really hot. How well the shielding works will vary, depending on factors like fuel source and the weather. Grilling on a windy day, for instance, could cause the shield to heat up more than usual, leading to a hotter handle.
Be careful and take other protective measures, like using BBQ grill gloves. Your hands will thank you.
Handle or Handles
You are playing with burning chunks of coal, and you have to handle it without getting hurt.
The handles on chimney starters can be made from many different materials. All of the BBQ starters featured here are made with composite materials like ABS or Bakelite, which are forms of heat resistant plastic. Generally, handles are made from things that won’t catch fire and won’t conduct the heat from the tube to your delicate flesh.
Some starters have a second assist handle, and this is a really useful feature. Lifting a filled starter with one hand isn’t really hard, but pouring the glowing charcoal into your grill one handed can be awkward. The extra handle helps stabilize the starter while you pour, especially if you are trying to direct the charcoal to certain places in your grill (creating zones for cooking, for instance).
The assist handle on many starters is just an extra loop of metal. It is usually attached to the upper part of the heat shield, and hangs down over the main lifting handle (the one made from plastic or other heat-resistant material). You can also use this extra handle to hang your starter from a nail or hook when not in use.
Theoretically, these handles should be far enough from the tube (and shielded) to prevent them from getting too hot. Still, it is best to treat the handles like they hot enough to burn you. Before you pick up your starter, test the handle to see how warm it really is, or better yet, test AND use grill gloves. There is nothing like realizing halfway into dumping out your coals that the handle is too hot for you to hold!
Charcoal Chimney Starter Cautions
If grilling over charcoal wasn’t a little risky, then it wouldn’t fun! Still, to keep the risks within reasonable bounds, consider these factors before using a charcoal chimney starter. It’s all fun and games until you set porch on fire. Your spouse might not appreciate that, however much they love your grilling.
It gets hot. I know I keep saying it, but these starters get really, scorching hot. Most people use these starters directly on their grill. You can start them on a patio, but keep in mind that the heat could cause bricks to crack, and leave burn marks on concrete. If you are using one on the ground, like on a camping trip, be sure you have cleared the area well around it and have a bucket of water ready.
Starters can produce a lot of heat, so be sure there is nothing flammable around them. Never touch any part of a starter other than the handle(s) while using, and be sure your clothing doesn’t touch it as well. I once melted a hole in my fancy Gore Tex jacket when I accidentally brushed up against mine on a trip.
Use Gloves. This caution goes along with the one above. Most chimney starters for charcoal grills advertise that they have heat resistant handles that won’t overheat and burn you. Frankly, every starter handle I have ever used has gotten hot enough to burn me at some point. As someone who loves to play around with fire, I consider my BBQ gloves to be the best investment of all my grilling equipment. Get a good quality pair of grill gloves, and use them when handling your chimney starter.
If you are looking for a pair, check out our buying guide for grill gloves!
After use. We have focused this article on buying and how to use a BBQ chimney, but you definitely want to think about what you are going to do with it once it is empty. After all, it’s still hot enough to burn someone, or set something on fire. You need a safe place to put it until it cools down. Pets and children are at particular risk of tripping over a hot starter, so plan this out in advance of your BBQ.
I usually place my starter in the ash pail until it is cool. Since the pail is fire safe and has a lid, it contains the heat and prevents anyone (especially me) from tripping over it. Some folks hang the hot starter from a hook to cool down. They are usually cool within 10-20 minutes after use.
What’s the best way to start a charcoal BBQ? How can you read the thoughts and reviews above and arrive at any other answer? Whether it’s charcoal or briquettes, you simply must use a charcoal chimney starter. Instructions are easy and results are consistently great!
Enjoy playing with your barbeque chimney starter, and be sure to check out our other posts on BBQ techniques and equipment! Happy Grilling!