As much as I like cooking with charcoal, I have to admit that, sometimes, lighting charcoal ain’t easy.
You can use the traditional Boys Scout kindling method but, God forbid, that’ll take forever. You can also use a cool tool like the Looftlighter but it’s expensive. Not everybody is going to drop that kind of dough for it.
Then we have the good ol’ lighter fluid. Thing is, you need to wait until it burns off before you can cook. Otherwise, it will impart an off taste to your food. Noone has the time and patience for it these days. Besides, we should eliminate any chemical from our food as much as possible.
What to do, what to do?
Fortunately, there is one device that can light your charcoal every time. It’s also clean and only takes 20 minutes until the coals are ready. Better yet, you don’t have to babysit it. Let it do its job while you’re prepping your food.
That one device is the charcoal chimney starter.
So, we’ll walk you through the process of buying the best charcoal chimney in this article. We’ll first show you our top 5 picks then we’ll go into more details about this device. Things like how it works, why you should use it, and how to start one. Then we touch on what to look for when making your final purchase decision.
It’s going to be fun and informative. Let’s get started.
In A Hurry? The Top 5 Picks For The Best Charcoal Chimney Starters
- The Ultimate: Weber Rapidfire
- The Most Portable: Napoleon Jetfire
- The Most Convenient: Char-Griller Chimney, with Quick Release
- The Fastest: BBQ Dragon Chimney Of Insanity
- The Biggest: Oklahoma Joe’s Halftime XL
Notice: The links above will direct you to either Amazon, BBQ Guys or Home Depot for more details and the latest information on the products.
Top 5 Options For The Best Charcoal Chimney Starter
The Ultimate – Weber Rapidfire
Don’t let the picture fool you. The Weber Rapidfire is quite big in real life.
This beast can hold about 80 briquettes at full capacity. And that’s an obscene amount of charcoal, enough to cook for several meals. That said, if you want something smaller, there is a compact version of the Rapidfire. It has all the features as its bigger brother, except for the guiding handle.
Another thing we like about the Rapidfire is the conical grate inside the unit. This design increases the volume of the lower chamber, allowing you to stuff more newspaper for a roaring hot start. Furthermore, the grate is made out of thin wires, which let more air through thus creating a stronger updraft to push the fire up.
Along the body, you will see plenty of holes. These feed hot coals the oxygen they need as they ignite the unlit coals above them. Overall, the Rapidfire’s ventilation is highly effective. Something that Weber got right down to a tee.
Moving on to the handle, it is comfortable and ergonomic. It’s girthy enough for most hands, offering a solid grip when handling the unit. The Rapidfire also has a guiding handle. This lets you steer the chimney as you pour the hot coals to the grill. A nice feature to have for better control and safety.
The Rapidfire too includes a heat shield, which protects your hand and prevents the two handles from getting hot. It’s made with tough and sturdy steel that can withstand constant use.
All in all, the Weber Rapidfire is the best charcoal chimney on the market. Hands down! It hits a sweet spot between size, design, material, safety, and ease of use. If you’re serious about your charcoal grilling, this is a must-have.
- Highly effective ventilation for better airflow and ignition
- Conical interior grate for added volume in the lower chamber
- Ergonomic handle with secondary guiding handle
- Heat shield to protect hand and allow the handle to stay cool during use
- High charcoal capacity, about 80 briquettes all at once.
- Available in two sizes
- The ability to cook on it (with a small enough grate)
- Flip it upside down and use the lower chamber to light a small amount of coals.
- Bigger in real life
- If loaded fully, it might be heavy to control
The Most Portable – Napoleon Jetfire
The first impression about the Napoleon Jetfire is the triangular shape. Unlike the typical cylindrical one, this design allows you to dump hot coals with precision. Just lean them against the far corner and pour. It’s also collapsible, meaning that you can fold it flat and carry it with you when camping or tailgating.
This design however reduces the charcoal capacity of the Jetfire. So it’s best for small and portable charcoal grills.
Now, the Jetfire has two heat shields. The first one is along the body to protect your hand. The second shield is a little above the first one. Its purpose is to block the sparks from burning coals, e.g. lump, as you pick up the unit.
Constructed from durable steel, the Jetfire also features lots of holes throughout its body to maximize the airflow. The handle is made from hard plastic that stays cool to the touch. Unfortunately, there is no extra assistant handle.
If you’re looking for a compact and portable chimney starter to bring with you on the go, look no further than the Napoleon Jetfire.
- Portable charcoal chimney with collapsible design
- Triangular shape for pouring hot coals with better accuracy
- Two heat shields to protect your hand from heat and sparks
- No assistant handle
- Small charcoal capacity
The Most Convenient – Char-Griller Chimney, with Quick Release
The thing that makes the Char-Griller chimney starter stand out is the quick release near the main handle. It works like an old school flour sifter. Squeeze the trigger and the grate inside the chimney will drop, allowing you to put the hot coals exactly where they need to be. There is no need to turn the chimney to the side to dump them.
This feature is particularly useful if you have a kamado grill. This type of grill has a deep bottom so pouring hot coals into it is awkward and more likely to cause a mess. It’s also safer since you don’t have to dump the hot coals from 7 – 8 inches out of the top of the chimney.
The Char-Griller chimney has the typical cylindrical shape, with a sizable charcoal capacity. This means that you can use it for large or small fires. Unlike the Weber Rapidfire, the internal divider grate doesn’t have a cone shape. Instead, it’s a metal disk with holes. This design isn’t as effective as the one in the Weber Rapidfire. But it still gets the fire going nonetheless.
The handle of this chimney starter is nice and comfortable, with a molded grip. There is no secondary handle but it does include a large heat shield for hand safety. Made from Zinc coated galvanized steel, this prevents the unit from rusting and ensures a long lifespan.
If convenience is important to you, consider checking out this chimney starter from Char-Griller. You won’t be disappointed.
- Quick release trigger to put hot coals exactly where you want
- Large charcoal capacity
- Proper ventilation
- Comfortable main handle, with molded grip for better control
- Large heat shield
- Made from galvanized steel to prevent rusting
- No secondary handle
- Small opening between the main handle and the quick release trigger
The Fastest – BBQ Dragon Chimney Of Insanity
The BBQ Dragon Chimney Of Insanity is quite small. To put into perspective, it’s about the size of the Compact Weber Rapidfire, which can hold about 40 to 45 briquettes all at once.
That being said, it features a 90-degree tube at the bottom chamber. Here, you can put your fire starters. And the tube will lead the fire as well as the air directly to the coals for a fast ignition. Keep in mind that the tube also protects your fire starters from the wind.
For even a faster burn, you can use a small portable fan and blow air straight to the tube. BBQ Dragon does sell a compatible fan that fits into the diameter of the tube.
The only downside of this design is when you use newspaper as your fire starter. The tube is such that if too little newspaper is used, the paper will be gone before the fire reaches the coals. Whereas if too much newspaper is used, it’s too tight that air can’t flow through properly so the fire smolders and dies out quickly.
There is space besides the tube at the bottom chamber. But it’s also small, which runs into the same problem as the tube itself. Therefore, it’s best to use paraffin cubes, preferably with a fan, to light your charcoal with the BBQ Dragon chimney.
Similar to other chimneys, the BBQ Dragon has a heat-resistant handle, accompanied by a heat shield. It’s well-constructed with thick galvanized steel. It has that common cylinder shape and also a cool dragon logo along the body.
- 90-degree tube for fast ignition. Even faster with a small fan
- Heat-proof handle with included heat shield
- Well-made with thick galvanized steel
- Cool dragon logo
- Small size, about the same as the compact version of the Weber Rapidfire
- Having problem using newspaper inside the tube
- Same problem for the space next to the tube
- Best to use paraffin cubes
- Might need to use a fan
- No guiding handle
The Biggest – Oklahoma Joe’s Halftime XL
If you think the Weber Rapidfire can hold 80 briquettes all at once, wait until you see the Oklahoma Joe’s Halftime XL chimney. It can hold 100 briquettes at full capacity. This gives you the flexibility to light any amount of coals that you want.
The XL has that same round cylindrical shape, however it’s wider and shorter than other chimneys. Because of the wide diameter, you can actually turn it into a mini grill using the Afterburner method. Simply light your coals, put a small cooking grate on top, and start cooking.
Another interesting feature of the XL is that it has a lot of holes, more than other units. This allows for a substantial amount of airflow to ignite charcoal fast. In fact, Oklahoma Joe’s touts that the XL can get your charcoal ready in half the time compared to the standard chimney starter. Hence the name Halftime XL.
Similar to the Weber Rapidfire, this chimney starter has a double-handle, which makes it easy to pour hot coals. While in use, both handles too remain cool. There is also a heat shield that blocks any incoming heat from the main body. We really like the Oklahoma Joe’s logo embedded in the shield. A nice little touch from the company.
Last but not least, the XL has a heavy duty stainless steel construction, which is made to last for a long time. This chimney starter is as good as the Weber Rapidfire in terms of performance, material, and safety. In fact, it’s a great alternative to the Weber Rapidfire. However, due to its size, we decided to put in the ‘best charcoal chimney with the biggest capacity’ spot.
- Huge capacity, 100 briquettes at once
- Wide diameter easily turns this chimney into a mini grill
- Plenty of holes along the body for more superior airflow
- Double-handle for handling hot coals with precision
- Cool heat shield with Oklahoma Joe’s logo on it
- Durable stainless steel material
- Heavy when fully loaded
- Shorter than other chimneys
How Does A Chimney Starter Work?
A chimney charcoal starter (or chimney starter or charcoal chimney) is a large metal tube with a top and bottom chamber. Between these two sections, there is a divider grate where the charcoal sits on top of it. Underneath the grate is where the fire starter goes.
On the outside, there is a handle for you to pick the chimney up. Some models feature a secondary one for better leverage and handling. You’ll also notice an array of perforations throughout the chimney’s body. Their purpose is to feed oxygen to the fire as it goes up the chimney.
Speaking of fire, the way the chimney works is through an updraft. When you light the fire starter at the bottom chamber, the hot air rises. As it ascends, more cold air is drawn through the bottom chamber to fill the space, which in turn supplies more oxygen to the fire and eventually ignites the coals. The process continues until the very top charcoal is fully engulfed in flames.
You mostly use briquettes with a chimney starter. A standard charcoal chimney, say the Weber Rapidfire, can hold about five quarts or 80 briquettes at its maximum capacity. You can also use lump charcoal but only with bigger pieces. Smaller pieces of lump tend to fall through the divider grate, which is inconvenient and unsafe.
Why Use A Chimney Starter?
Using a chimney starter is the simplest and most effective way to light your charcoal. Trust me on this, it works. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Allow me to explain.
With a chimney starter, you eliminate the need to use lighter fluid. This stuff will leave a chemical taste on your food if you don’t let it burn away completely. Moreover, if you’re not careful, lighter fluid can pose a lot of dangers. We’ve probably heard of terrible lighter-fluid stories of people burning off their eyebrows (Yikes!) or even worse.
Now, there are many ways to ignite your charcoal. But a chimney starter is one of the cheapest ways to do so.
All you need is newspapers, which is available everywhere, a lighter, and charcoal. Keep in mind that colored ink newspapers contain some chemical so it’s ideal to get the black-and-white version. In case that you run out of newspapers, other types of paper work too (I’d recommend egg cartons). Or if you prefer, you can buy the fire starter cubes at any hardware or camping store.
Another good use of a chimney starter is to cook on it, using a method called the Afterburner. Seriously, you can do some intense searing with this technique. Christian from COOK WITH ME.AT has a short but informative video about it. Please see below.
That being said, the only downside of this wonderful grilling tool is that it can get really hot. A chimney starter can get up to 700F (or 371C) if you let all the coals lit. Therefore, it’s best to keep it away from combustible materials, such as a wooden deck, hanging branches, and so on. Also don’t let children, pets, and any careless adults near it.
How Do You Start A Charcoal Chimney?
If you want more detailed instructions on how to start a charcoal chimney, plus some useful tips and tricks, check out our separate article on the subject. Due to the scope of this article, we’re going to keep the step-by-step here short and sweet. Mind you, this process applies to all charcoal chimneys, regardless of the brand.
Step 1: With two sheets of newspapers, crumple them up into two donuts. Remember to keep them loose so air can flow through easily. If they’re too tight, you might have to relight them.
Step 2: Stuff the two newspaper donuts into the lower section of the chimney. Put your charcoal, lump or briquettes, in the top section. Lift the chimney to the side. And light the newspapers.
Note: It’s best to put the chimney on the lower grate of your charcoal grill. That way, once the coals are ready, you just have to pour them out. No need to move the hot chimney around. If your main grill is occupied for any reason, the second best place is the inside of another cooker, preferably close to the main one.
Step 3: Depending on the amount of charcoal inside the chimney, it usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes until all the coals are fully lit. Once you see the top charcoal covering in white ash and there is an orange glow underneath it, the charcoal chimney is ready.
Step 4: Put on your heat-resistant BBQ gloves. Grab the handle (and the secondary one if any). And dump the hot coals to where you want them. Don’t forget to shake the chimney up so all the ash will fall down with the coals. Once everything is out, put the chimney somewhere safe and heat-proof. I’d recommend firebrick or your grill’s bottom shelf.
Here is a quick video of the whole process.
What To Look For In A Charcoal Chimney
By now, you probably have a good idea of how a chimney starter works, the benefits, and how to start it. Let’s continue with the features to look for when you’re shopping for one.
There is nothing irritating than having to add more charcoal mid-cook. We’ve all been there. The grate is full of fat and greases. The food is hot and messy. It’s not pretty at all.
So choosing the right size for your chimney starter is important. They usually come in different sizes that go with different sizes of grill. Keep in mind the charcoal capacity of a chimney starter is determined by the volume of its upper chamber.
I’d recommend going with the bigger sizes. That way, you have the option of igniting to whatever amount of coals that you want. With the bigger sizes, you can also cook on them.
However, if you like to cook when camping or if you live in a RV, it’s best to get the smaller and more compact sizes. As a result, it’s easier to carry them around because the bigger sizes tend to be bulky and cumbersome to travel with.
Another thing to pay attention to is the space inside the lower chamber. If the space is too cramped, it might be hard to light the newspapers, either because of restricted airflow or too little newspapers. The larger the space, the better the initial ignition.
The rule of thumb here is that if you can, always go one size up.
The next feature to look for is the shape. Most chimney starters have a cylindrical shape.
Some models feature a square or rectangular shape. They are also collapsable, meaning that you can fold them flat. That saves space and makes them highly portable. However, you might feel unsafe when using these models, thinking that they might fold up on you mid-use.
Then you have the triangle-shaped chimneys. These offer a better pouring experience. Lean all the hot coals against the corner opposite from the handle. Then proceed to dump the coals, which will follow a straight line down to the grill safely and precisely.
However, the triangular shape reduces the charcoal volume compared to other shapes. They’re also collapsable, which run into the same psychological problem that the square or rectangular chimneys have.
So, the best of them all is still the cylinder tube shape. It not only allows proper air circulation to ignite the coals, but also maximizes the charcoal volume. Furthermore, it’s non-collapsible, giving you a peace of mind when operating the unit.
Oxygen is essential for everything. Fire is no exception. A good ventilation in a chimney creates a better updraft. Because of that, it will ignite charcoal quickly and effectively.
Look for perforations or holes along the body of the chimney. The more the better.
Also consider the divider grate inside the chimney. Some come with a conical shape and are made out of slim metal twines.
These features are superior to a flat plate with a series of holes. The reason is because more cold air is pulled through during the ignition process. There is also more space to stuff the newspaper in the lower chamber.
The handle needs to be positioned at a good distance away from the main body of the chimney. That’s to prevent the handle from getting burned and to protect your hand as well.
Look for an ergonomic handle with a molded grip to ensure a solid yet comfortable hold. It should also be made from a heat-resistant material. Try to avoid wooden handles. They tend to get hot and don’t feel as substantial.
Another thing to consider is a secondary helping handle. This lets you guide the chimney alongside the main handle when spreading the hot coals. It’s also good for supporting heavy loads if you happen to fill the chimney to the maximum.
Safety features are another thing to be aware of since you’ll be playing with fire. A heat shield is a must in any chimney starter. As the name suggests, it shields the handle and your hand from the roaring heat.
Another safety design is a quick release trigger. This allows you to drop the coals without the need to turn the chimney to the side. It comes in handy when the load is heavy or you have a grill with a deep bottom.
Finally, choose a material that is thick and sturdy. The most common is steel. It doesn’t have to be stainless since a chimney starter isn’t supposed to look pretty. As a matter of fact, the outside of it will discolor after the first use. And that’s totally normal.
It’s Time To Light That Charcoal
The charcoal chimney is one of the best grilling tools ever made. It will light your charcoal every time. And it doesn’t require a lot of expensive ingredients at all. All you need is a few sheets of newspapers and a lighter.
To pick the best charcoal chimney, look for these winning traits:
- A durable cylindrical body with plenty of holes.
- A spacious top and bottom chamber. The larger the better (smaller if you want something more portable).
- A nice and grippy handle. If it has an extra helping handle, that’s a bonus.
- A thick and sturdy heat shield to protect your hand.
And that’s about it. We hope you find this whole article useful. It takes a lot of work to produce these so if you don’t mind sharing them, we’d be really appreciative of that.
Let us know if you have any questions.
Have a good one!