Best Charcoal Chimney Starter – What’s the Best Way to Fire Up Your Grill?

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So you’ve acquired a new charcoal grill, and now it’s time to scoop up some accessories.  One of the grilling accessories on your wish list should without a doubt be a chimney starter.

It’s one of the best ways to cut down on your prep time, and also the work that goes into lighting up your fire.  There really isn’t a downside or reason that you shouldn’t get ahold of one!

In this article, we’ve rounded up a best charcoal chimney starter list.  Read on if you want to see our top picks, reviews, and tips for how to get the most out of your charcoal chimney starter.

Best Charcoal Chimney Starter – Quick Overview

One of most common and widely agreed upon pain points associated with charcoal grills is lighting your charcoal briquettes.  If there’s anything that’s a turn off for new grillers to use a charcoal grill, it’s probably the hassle associated with lighting a proper charcoal fire.  Frankly, there aren’t a ton of great options out there to help with it.

You could use an electric charcoal starter, but they can get extremely hot.  So hot that they can actually be pretty dangerous, and serious accidents can be right around the corner if you don’t take extra precautions.

Some recommend that you use lighter fluid with charcoal – but that’s a strategy we generally like to avoid.

A chimney starter is by far the superior way to light your charcoal fire.  With these simple, safe, and straight forward contraptions, literally all you have to do is light it up and let it go to work.  After about 15 minutes, you’re left with a burning charcoal fire that’s ready to grill up some delicious food.

Without any further ado, let’s get into our reviews!  Along the way, we’ll go over the features you should look out for, and how to differentiate between seemingly similar products.

Best Charcoal Chimney Starter Reviews

Weber Rapid Fire Chimney Starter

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Weber is one of the most trusted names in outdoor cooking, and their Rapid Fire Chimney Starter is deserving of a place at the top of our best charcoal chimney starter list.  They advertise these starters as the easiest and fastest method for lighting all types of charcoal – and they aren’t wrong.

About 20 to 25 minutes is all it takes to get your fire started.  A cone shaped grate design helps to increase the rate at which ignition occurs throughout the stack of charcoal by providing optimal airflow.

The body of the unit is made of aluminized steel that has been hot-dip coated on all sides with aluminum-silicone alloy.  This unique process results in a material that possesses a combination of both steel and aluminum – and it does a fantastic job of lighting your coals.

A couple of really nice safety features are built in around the handle to greatly reduce the risk of accidents.  First, there’s a two handle design that gives you maximum control when you’re pouring your lit charcoal.  A large heat shield also protects the handle from extreme temperatures.

High volume cooking also isn’t an issue here, as this chimney has a high capacity bin and is 12 inches tall by 7.5 inches in diameter.  On top of that, it’s built to last literally for decades with proper care.

Things We Like:

  • Simple, straightforward, and effective design
  • Aluminized steel is durable and does an incredibly good job of creating a hot environment for your coals
  • Safety features abound – two handles and heat shield greatly reduce the risk of accidents
  • Cone shaped internal grate helps coals light fast.  Get going in less than 25 minutes
  • Ventilation and airflow design features are well thought out
  • Great price

Things We Don’t:

  • While there’s plenty of capacity for most grilling and smoking jobs, it’s not the largest volume chimney starter available.  Just something to keep in mind if you have a large grill

Oklahoma Joe’s Half-Time Charcoal Starter

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If you’re in the market for a large capacity chimney starter, the Oklahoma Joe’s Half-Time XL Charcoal Starter is a great choice and makes a great case for the best charcoal chimney starter.

In fact, if you regularly use larger lump charcoal in your charcoal grill or kamado grill, this is the probably the perfect choice for you.

The dimensions of the chimney starter are 8 inches tall by 12 inches in diameter.  That’s enough volume to fit up to 100 charcoal briquettes, or a generous amount of lump charcoal.

An intuitive handle design keeps the handle cool and safe even when you have an ignited charcoal fire.  On top of that, great ventilation and airflow through the charcoal bin means that your coals can light in as fast as 15 to 20 minutes.

Stainless steel is the material of choice in the construction of this chimney, and it will last you a long time with proper care and routine cleaning.

Things We Like:

  • Oversize coal basket is ideal for high capacity grills or for lump charcoal
  • Coals light faster compared to many other chimneys
  • Handle stays cool and safe after your fire is hot and roaring
  • Stainless steel used for construction is highly reliable and durable

Things We Don’t:

  • When the basket is completely full, it can be a little tough to manage.  As long as you pay attention and use some BBQ gloves, you should be completely fine though

Weber Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter

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On the other end of the size spectrum, the Weber Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter is intentionally designed to be a more compact fire starter.  It gets our vote for best charcoal chimney starter for on the go grilling – it’s perfect to take with your portable grill on a camping or tailgating trip.

Dimensions wise, it’s 8 inches tall and 5.75 inches in diameter and can light coals in as little as 15 minutes.

As far as the design goes, it’s quite similar to the Weber 7429 Rapid Fire – just smaller.  It’s the ideal choice for smaller grills or shorter grilling sessions.

All of the safety features you like to see are still there.  Namely, a cool touch handle and heat shield are both in place to make sure that your hands are safe while the chimney is in use.

Obviously with this being a smaller unit, it’s best used with smaller briquettes and won’t work for lump charcoal.

Things We Like:

  • Compact design is lightweight and great for on the go BBQ
  • Coals light really fast since the chamber isn’t that big
  • Cool touch handle and heat shield are ideal safety features
  • Very affordable
  • Weber is a trusted brand and makes high quality products

Things We Don’t:

  • Not great for long grilling sessions or lighting for larger grills
  • Doesn’t work for lump charcoal or larger briquettes

Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter with Quick Release Trigger

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The part of using a chimney starter where you have to be the most careful is when you’re dumping your lit coals into your grill.  The Char-Griller Chimney Starter with Quick Release Trigger went the extra step of creating a design feature to help with that step in the process.

Right in front of the handle is a release lever that will drop your hot coals into your grill’s fire basket with no tipping or messy pouring of your coals.  The release also keeps the hottest coals on the bottom and the least hot ones on top to maximize efficiency of your fire in the grill.

If you’re new to charcoal grilling or are nervous about using a chimney starter, this might be the best charcoal chimney starter for you simply because of this feature.

Aside from that there are plenty of great, if expected, features included with this product.  The handle is made of ABS plastic with a built in heat shield for maximum safety while handling.  Galvanized steel is the material of choice, which is highly durable.

As far as capacity goes, this starter is also on the higher end of the spectrum with dimensions at 12 inches tall and 7.75 inches in diameter.

Things We Like:

  • Great price point
  • Quick release feature is practical and unique
  • Included safety features include cool touch handle and heat shield
  • Generous amount of capacity to work with
  • Durable ABS handle and galvanized steel body

Things We Don’t:

  • You have a lot less control over how your coals come out of the chimney when bottom dumping
  • Quality of the moving parts in this unit could be better

Homenote Rapid Charcoal Chimney Starter Set

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If you’re completely starting from scratch with your accessories, then a starter kit like the Homenote Rapid Charcoal Chimney Starter Set is a great place to start.

In addition to a chimney, it comes with BBQ gloves and an air blower.  The BBQ gloves are very nice to have around – the air blower isn’t really necessary, but it can definitely speed up the process of lighting your pile of coals.

This starter is 11.5 inches tall and 7 inches in diameter, so you’re afforded plenty of space to light a medium to large sized pile.  It’s made of zinc plated steel and has a wood handle design to help prevent burns.

The design of the chimney itself is a little inferior to the others on this best charcoal chimney starter list – mostly due to a lack of airflow and ventilation systems.

Things We Like:

  • Comes with BBQ gloves in addition to the chimney
  • Built in heat shield and wood handle are great for safety
  • Nice capacity for medium sized piles of briquettes

Things We Don’t:

  • The extras drive up the price, and a couple of them are pretty unnecessary
  • Ventilation could be better and would lead to quicker lighting times

Char-Broil Half-Time Charcoal Starter

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Char-Broil is another trusted name in the outdoor cooking space, and their iteration of the half-time chimney starter is worthy of consideration.

Most notably, this unit has a wide diameter at 8 inches and can fit larger coals like lump charcoal.  It is only 8 inches tall though, so volume wise it’s not quite as much as some of the other choices on this list.

There’s also a built in heat shield and the plastic handle rests far enough away from the main bin that you won’t be worrying about scorching your hand.

Things We Like:

  • Wide 8 inch diameter unit is ideal for large pieces and lump
  • Built in heat shield and far away plastic handle are nice safety features
  • Lights coals really quickly – get going in around 15 minutes
  • Good price

Things We Don’t:

  • Since it’s not as tall, you sacrifice some volume.  Not ideal for large cookers or even standard sized grills
  • Dumping is a little harder with the handle so far away from the bin

Don’t Grill Again Without One of These!

There just simply isn’t a good reason to not utilize the best charcoal chimney starter.  Even professionals and experienced pit masters use these tools to light their flame.  There’s no simpler or safer way to do it.

Compared to all of the other ways you could light your charcoal, this is the best way by far.  All you need aside from your chimney and coals is a little bit of newspaper or lighter cubes plus a lighter.  That’s it!  You can leave the lighter fluid at the department store.

What Will a Charcoal Chimney Starter Do For You?

Alright, from a high level it lights your charcoal… obviously.  But what exactly does this little contraption do to accomplish that feat?

Essentially, it’s just a cylinder shell that contains a pile of charcoal set in a basket.  There are holes around the base to promote airflow and also to help light your coals.

From there, once you light the bottom coals, those begin to burn and the flame works itself up the stack until all of the coals have ignited.

How to Use a Chimney Starter

In case you were looking for a little tutorial, here’s how to use a charcoal chimney starter in step by step form:

  1. If necessary, remove your cooking grate from your cooker (some have hinge mechanisms where this step won’t be necessary).
  2. Place a wad of newspaper or fire lighter cubes at the bottom of your chimney starter.
  3. Put your chimney either on the bottom of your cooker, fire basket, or on a surface that’s safe to start a fire on.
  4. Fill your chimney’s bin with charcoal.
  5. Ignite your newspaper or fire lighter cubes through the holes in the bottom of your starter.  You can also use a butane torch if you want more horsepower.
  6. Sit back and relax while your fire works its way up the chimney.  After about 15 to 20 minutes, all of your briquettes should be gray and lit.
  7. Carefully pour your coals into the bottom of your grill or into the designated fire basket.

Here’s a great video showing how simple and straightforward this process is:

Buying Tips

When you’re comparing different products, it might not seem like there’s much difference between one chimney to the next.  While that’s true to a degree, there are definitely a few things you should keep an eye out for.

Charcoal Capacity

Probably the most important thing to look at is how much charcoal can your chimney hold?  The answer to that question probably has a lot to do with how big your cooker is, whether you’re using a smoker vs a grill, and how long your cooking sessions are going to be.

The other thing to consider here is whether you typically use charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal.  Lump charcoal is a lot bigger and will require a wider diameter chimney if you plan on lighting it efficiently.

Safety Features

The whole purpose of using a chimney starter vs other methods is that chimneys are considerably safer, in general.  If your starter doesn’t include basic safety features, what’s the point?

In particular, you should look for a product whose handle is a safe distance away from the main bin and also has a heat shield built in to add a protective layer between your hand and the heat.

Quick release starters sound safer in theory but you have to focus a little bit extra to make sure you don’t accidentally release your coals prematurely.

Ventilation

Ventilation and oxygen flow is a key ingredient to any healthy fire.  Without good ventilation, your charcoal pile will take forever to burn.

On the other hand, a properly ventilated starter will burn at a quicker rate, so you can spend less time waiting around for your BBQ!

Construction Material

Since your chimney will get extremely hot, you need a metal that can withstand the heat and that will also last a long time through repeated use.  Most starters are some kind of steel – but you should double check before you make any sort of purchase.

Also, be sure to stay away from any painted starters, they simply aren’t worth the trouble.  Only super expensive, specialist paints would be able to withstand the repeated heat beating that the best charcoal chimney starter takes.

Be Careful When Handling!

Even though these starters are by far the safest and easiest way to light up your charcoal grill, you still can’t fall asleep at the wheel.  Chimney starters can get your coals upwards of 550°F, and any time you’re handling materials that hot, you need to be careful.

Don’t ever use them with children present, and even make sure all adults in the area are aware of what’s going on.  The last thing you need at your cookout is somebody knocking a hot pile of coals over onto themselves – that would be extremely bad news!

Use care when you pour your coals into your cooker.  Take it slow, and use BBQ gloves.  And take some time to learn how to put out a charcoal grill safely.

Final Thoughts

For all of my charcoal grillers and smokers out there, the best charcoal chimney starter is an absolute must have for your arsenal.  It’s the quintessential way to light your coals, and you can spend more time focusing on the best part – the food!

Even though these contraptions look pretty basic, there’s more than meets the eye.  I’ve found over time that it’s worth the extra couple of bucks to go with a reputable brand compared to a cheap imported piece of crap.  It’s worth it in the long run.

Hopefully after reading this guide, you now know how to differentiate between what’s legit and what isn’t.  For my taste, I’d go with a Weber chimney starter for “regular” grilling and if you need an oversize starter, the Oklahoma Joe is what I use.

Which one did you end up with?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.