How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter? (Step-by-Step Instructions for Starters!)

August 9, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Using a charcoal chimney starter is pretty straightforward: I fill the bottom with crumpled newspaper or fire starters, then pour charcoal on top. When I light the newspaper, the flames rise through the chimney, creating a draft that ignites the charcoal. Once the coals in the chimney get hot and turn to embers, add them to your firebox and pile the other coals on them.

Having been there and done that a thousand and one times, in this article, I’ll guide you through the step-by-step process of using a charcoal chimney starter. We’ll cover everything from gathering your supplies to lighting up those coals and finally, getting that grill sizzling with deliciousness. So, check this out, and you’ll never use lighter fluid again!

how to use a charcoal chimney starter

Steps to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter to Light Charcoal 

Anyone who’s used more convenient grills like pellet or gas grills will understand when I say I dislike having to do all these to get the fire started. But it’s what you’ve got to do on a classic charcoal grill. And in this case, the charcoal chimney starter is perhaps the simplest method. Let’s stop complaining and see how to use a charcoal chimney starter to light charcoal like a pro.

Step 1: Get a Good Charcoal Chimney Starter

This is the star of the show, the main event! Make sure it’s in good shape and ready to rock. 

Don’t have a charcoal chimney starter? Then simply stroll into your local hardware store or hop online (whatever floats your boat) and start hunting for that perfect charcoal chimney starter. 

Look for one with a heavy-duty metal cylinder like the Kingsford Deluxe Charcoal Chimney. It has to have a handle that can protect you from the heat. You don’t want it falling apart on you after a few uses. And don’t stop at the product descriptions. Read those customer reviews! That’s where the actual details are. You want fellow grill enthusiasts raving about how amazing their chimney starters are before going for it. 

Step 2: Gather Your Other Supplies

Before you dive into the excitement, make sure you gather all your other supplies. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Some charcoal: You can’t have a proper barbecue without the fuel. Grab a bag of your favorite charcoal, whether it’s charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal, whatever floats your boat. I always prefer lump charcoals like this 16-pound bag from Masterbuilt. Some briquettes give off a smell that I don’t like on my BBQs. 
  • Crumpled newspaper or fire starters: These are the spark that set everything ablaze. Get a handful of crumpled newspaper or some fire starters to light up the fire in your chimney starter.
  • Long-reach lighter: You’d need a lighter, preferably a long-reach lighter like the Click-n-Flame Butane Lighter. You can also use your regular matches too.  
  • Safety kit: You’re dealing with direct fire and red-hot coals. So you need a safety kit that may include a pair of safety goggles and a pair of BBQ gloves. 
  • A safe spot to set up: Safety first! Find a sturdy, heat-resistant surface where you can place your chimney starter. Make sure it’s away from a wooden deck, dry grass, or anything that can catch fire. Place it on fire-safe bricks or a concrete surface. We don’t want any unexpected fireworks except the ones from your grill!

Step 3:Prep the Charcoal Chimney

It’s time to prep that chimney for some serious charcoal ignition action. Here’s what you have to do:

Grab that chimney by its handle and hold it like you mean it. You’re in charge here! 

Take a quick peek at the bottom of the chimney. Are the air vents clear and ready to go? You want them unobstructed, allowing that airflow to work its magic. If any gunk or debris is blocking the vents, clear it out. We need those vents doing their thing.

Once you’ve got your charcoal chimney in the right spot, away from anything that can go up in flames, and those vents are clear as day, you’re all set. It’s time to move on to the next step and unleash the fiery power of that chimney starter. 

Charcoal Chimney Starter Placed on top of an Outdoor Grill

Step 4: Add Fuel

Get your hands on crumpled newspaper or a firestarter. Look around for some crumpled newspaper. Got any lying around? Perfect! If not, don’t sweat it. Fire starters are your next best bet.

Take those crumpled newspaper balls or fire starters and gently stuff them into the bottom of the charcoal chimney. This is where the fire will start, and they’ll work their way up to ignite the charcoal.

Now, it’s time to light up that fire and unleash the flavor-packed inferno! 

Step 5. Fill It Up

Grab your bag of charcoal, whether it’s briquettes or lump charcoal. We’re about to bring the heat!

Keep a firm grip on the chimney, ensuring it’s secure on a heat-resistant surface. 

Pour a generous amount of charcoal into the top. Don’t hold back! Fill it up all the way, ,or add as much as you need for your grilling session. It’s your call.

Once you’ve loaded up the chimney with charcoal, you’re good to go. Get ready to light it up.

Step 6. Light It Up

Get yourself the long-reach lighter or matches, whichever you prefer. Light that newspaper or fire starters at the bottom of the chimney. Watch as the flames dance and ignite the charcoal above. But hey, be cautious here! Avoid any sparks or flames near your face or body. We want the fire where it belongs, in the chimney, not on your eyebrows. To be safe, you may use some safety goggles here. 

With your fire starters blazing and the flames taking hold, you’re one step closer to grilling. 

Step 7: Let It Do Its Thing

Once you’ve lit the newspaper or fire starters at the bottom of the chimney, sit back and watch the show.

The flames will start to rise through the chimney. This is where the incredible chimney effect comes into play. 

At this point, the rising flames create a draft. This draft draws air through the vents at the bottom of the chimney.

That influx of air is exactly what the charcoal needs to ignite. Slowly but surely, those coals will start to catch fire and come alive, thanks to the combination of flames, draft, and good ol’ science.

Allow the chimney starter to do its job for about 10 to 15 minutes. You can set a timer or just keep an eye on it. We’re aiming for perfectly glowing coals. 

During this waiting period, feel free to channel your inner grill master and make sure everything is burning nicely. 

While at it, you can also use this time to prepare any other grilling essentials, like your favorite marinades, sauces, or maybe even whip up a refreshing beverage. It’s all about setting the mood for an epic grilling experience!

Charcoal Chimney Starter and Charcoal Grill

Step 8: Dump and Spread the Fiery Coals

We’re in the home stretch now! Once the charcoal looks all fired up and covered in that gray ash, it’s time to pour it into your grill. But hold on, safety first.

Grab some heat-resistant BBQ gloves and a pair of tongs to handle that hot chimney and lit coals. We don’t want any accidental burns here. Safety is key.

Wear your heat-resistant gloves, grab the chimney by the handle, and carefully pour the hot coal from the chimney into your grill. Spread them out evenly to create that perfect bed of fiery heat for your cooking adventure. You can now pile the rest of the unlit coals on top of the embers so they can catch the heat and ignite. 

It can take up to 15 minutes for the coals to get all caught up and red-hot. It depends on how much charcoal you’re using.

Step 9: Let the Grilling Begin!

Now that you’ve got your charcoal all set and spread out, it’s time to unleash your grilling prowess and start cooking up a storm. 

Next, you can place your food of choice on the charcoal grate, whether it’s juicy steaks, succulent burgers, or veggies. The advantage of this process is there’s no volatile chemical used as is the case with the use of lighter fluid.

Follow your recipe closely to get things done as you should, and good luck!

Lighting a Chimney Starter Using Lighter Cubes

Lighter cubes like the Weber Lighter Cubes offer an economical solution for igniting your chimney starter. These handy Paraffin Wax Cubes burn at an impressive 1300°F for a solid 10-12 minutes. Here’s how to get the fire going:

Step 1: Fill the Chimney Starter With Charcoal 

Pour the lumps or briquettes into the chimney, filling it all the way to the top. You can use as much charcoal as needed for your cooking.

Step 2: Place the Lighter Cubes on the Charcoal Grate

Take the lighter cubes and position them on the charcoal grate of your grill. Ensure they are evenly spaced apart to facilitate an even ignition.

Step 3: Light the Starter Cubes

Light the lighter cubes using a match or a lighter. Place the flame directly onto the cubes until they catch fire.

Step 4: Position the Chimney Starter Over the Cubes

Carefully place the chimney starter over the ignited cubes. Ensure that the chimney covers the cubes completely.

Step 5: Allow the Cubes to Burn

Let the cubes burn until they produce a steady flame and begin to ignite the charcoal briquettes. This process usually takes around 15 minutes, but keep an eye on it to ensure proper ignition.

Step 6: Observe the Briquettes

Watch the briquettes closely as they heat up. Wait until they start to ash over and turn gray. This indicates that the charcoal is ready for cooking.

Step 7: Dump the Charcoal Into the Charcoal Chamber

As I described in the first procedure, dump the chimney starter by the handle and pour the hot charcoal into the grill. Distribute the coals as explained earlier and follow the safety precautions. 

You may check out the video below to see how this is done visually: 


A chimney starter is an indispensable tool for lighting charcoal in a quick, efficient, and chemical-free manner. By following the straightforward steps I outlined in this guide, you can effortlessly achieve a bed of evenly ignited coals ready to infuse your dishes with that delectable smoky taste. The chimney starter not only eliminates the potential risks associated with chemical igniters but also ensures a more consistent grilling experience.

So, the next time you’re gearing up for a barbecue, grab your chimney starter, gather your supplies, and watch as the flames rise through the chimney, creating the ideal draft to ignite your coals. Have a happy charcoal grilling experience!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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