Their ability to create high heat and a wonderful smoky flavor make charcoal grills a favorite of many over the more convenient-to-use gas grills. That said, lighting a charcoal grill so the coals heat the cooking surface can be a challenge.
Fortunately, charcoal chimney starters can come to the rescue and make that process much easier. A chimney starter consists of a metal tube with numerous vents and holes along the sides and a wire rack that holds the charcoal. Once lit, the charcoal burns evenly. Heat shields and stay-cool handles allow the user to lift and dump the lit coals into the grill safely.
This guide will examine size, materials, and other important factors when selecting the best charcoal chimney starter while also reviewing some of the hottest models on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Weber 7429 Rapidfire Chimney Starter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter
- BEST UPGRADE: BBQ Dragon Chimney of Insanity Charcoal Starter
- BEST SET: HOMENOTE Rapid Charcoal Chimney Starter Set
- BEST PORTABLE: Weber 7447 Compact Rapidfire Chimney Starter
- BEST LARGE-CAPACITY: Oklahoma Joe’s 9848125R04 Half-Time Charcoal Starter
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Charcoal Chimney
Several factors are essential to consider when choosing the best charcoal chimney starter, including the size of the grill, the construction of the starter, and its safety features. Ahead, learn about these and other vital attributes of charcoal chimney grill starters.
A charcoal starter isn’t of much use if it can’t fill the grill in one load. Choose a charcoal starter that is large enough to serve the grill or provide enough lit charcoal to start the remaining charcoal in the grill. Most charcoal starters are around 12 inches tall and 7 inches in diameter, enough to fill a 21-inch kettle grill. Smaller chimney starters sized at 8 inches tall and 6 inches in diameter are suitable for a 14-inch portable grill.
Also, consider the type of charcoal that will go in the starter. Lump charcoal is significantly larger than briquettes. As such, lump charcoal can’t fit as compactly into the starter and requires a larger chimney than briquettes.
Handle and Chimney Material
Choose a charcoal chimney starter with a large handle that is easy to grip and move. While wearing a pair of grill gloves is one way to move a hot charcoal chimney starter, consider looking for a model with an insulated “stay-cool” handle made of plastic or wood that does not conduct heat from the chimney’s metal body.
It’s also crucial to choose a chimney made of steel. Galvanized or stainless steel will better resist rusting and corrosion, extending the chimney’s life while ensuring it remains safe to use. Avoid painted chimneys, as the intense heat of the chimney can cause the paint to peel or melt.
Ventilation and Safety Features
Ventilation is key to a chimney starter, as charcoal needs plenty of oxygen to burn. A chimney starter should have vent holes on both the bottom and top, as well as along the body, to promote the flow of oxygen through the chimney.
Since chimney starters require the user to lift and maneuver charcoal that can reach more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, safety is paramount. A high-quality charcoal chimney will have a heat shield between the chimney and its handle, helping to prevent burns. The handle should also be offset far enough from the chimney—about 5 inches—that the user’s hand is safely away from the burning charcoal.
Our Top Picks
The top picks take into account the above considerations to narrow the field of chimney starters to some of the best options on the market. All of these starters consist of durable materials with designs that make them safe to use.
This Weber Rapidfire chimney starter is a worthy addition to any charcoal grill, thanks to a design that works efficiently and safely. Construction that features vent holes circling the bottom and sides of the starter, an open top, and a cone-shaped wire grate supporting the charcoal all provide excellent airflow to promote an even burn throughout the chimney. A large heat shield prevents intense heat from transferring to the user’s hand, and the ergonomic handle makes it comfortable to hold.
A second handle makes it easy to pour the charcoal into the grill. The starter measures 7.5 inches in diameter and 13 inches high and can hold between 60 and 100 briquettes. Its aluminized steel construction resists corrosion and rust.
This well-designed chimney starter from Char-Griller is an excellent affordable option for readying charcoal for the grill. Despite the low price, it’s easy to use with a trigger release that opens the bottom, dropping the coals into the grill and eliminating the need to dump the charcoal.
The starter also features durable stainless steel construction and plenty of vents to allow oxygen to flow through the coals. A heat shield protects the user’s hand from the burning charcoal, while an ergonomic plastic grip prevents the handle from heating up. At 7.5 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall, this chimney starter can fill a 22.5-inch kettle grill.
In addition to having one of the more colorful names among charcoal chimney starters, the BBQ Dragon Chimney of Insanity starter also boasts one of the more innovative designs. It features a large elbow-shaped tube that opens in the side of the body and extends to just beneath the grate holding the charcoal. When paired with BBQ Dragon’s electric blower (sold separately) and a fire starter, this chimney starter will light charcoal in about 3 minutes without the need for lighter fluid.
The fire-starter body is made of heavy-gauge galvanized steel for durability. An ample heat shield and heat-resistant nylon handle protect the user from burns. At 6.75 inches in diameter and 11 inches tall, this starter can hold enough charcoal to fill a 20-inch grill.
This HOMENOTE chimney starter set makes it easier and safer for users to start the charcoal by eliminating the need for lighter fluid while also protecting the user’s hands. In addition to the chimney starter, this set also includes fire starters for insertion under the rack holding the charcoal to light the charcoal.
To speed up the process, HOMENOTE also includes a cordless fan that inserts into one of the vent holes to draw oxygen into the starter. Once the chimney starter is hot, the user can don the included pair of heat-resistant grill gloves to dump the hot coals safely. This chimney starter, which measures 7 inches in diameter and 11.5 inches tall, also features a larger handle and heat shield that protects the user’s hand from the intense heat of the charcoal.
This Weber charcoal chimney starter uses the same design as Weber’s larger Rapidfire model (this guide’s Best Overall pick) but in a more compact size. At just 5.8 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall, the chimney starter is ideal for camping, tailgating, and other situations when one needs to take a charcoal grill on the road.
This starter is just the right size for filling 14-inch portable kettle grills. Like its larger cousin, this smaller Rapidfire starter features a cone-shaped grate with room under the coals for a fire starter or crumpled newspaper, eliminating the need for lighter fluid. Its stainless steel construction holds up to corrosion and rust, while the heat shield and stay-cool handle prevent the user’s hands from burns.
For those with larger charcoal grills or who prefer lump charcoal, this large-capacity charcoal chimney starter from Oklahoma Joe’s is an ideal option. It measures 12 inches long, 15.4 inches wide, and 7.8 inches tall, providing plenty of capacity for larger lump charcoal or simply to fill a larger grill—it will hold up to 100 briquettes.
Since greater capacity means more weight, this starter features a two-handle design that makes it easier to dump the charcoal into the grill. A broad heat shield prevents the intense heat from the charcoal from burning the user’s hands, while larger vents that encircle the entire body of the starter promote plenty of airflow. With its stainless steel construction, this starter will resist rust and corrosion.
FAQs About Charcoal Chimneys
Wondering how to light your new charcoal chimney or what type of charcoal to use? Read on for answers to these and other frequently asked questions about these charcoal grill companions.
Q. How do I light a charcoal chimney?
You can light a charcoal chimney in a few ways. One option is to douse the charcoal in lighter fluid, allow it to soak in for a minute, and then light with a lighter. For charcoal starters with a space between the starter’s bottom and the grate holding the coals, you can use either a fire starter or even crumpled pieces of paper to start the charcoal chimney.
Q. What size charcoal chimney do I need?
The best way to determine the size of the charcoal chimney you need is to consider the size of the grill. For charcoal grills that are 22 inches or larger in diameter, use a starter that is 7.5 inches in diameter and about 12 inches tall. If the grill is larger, simply fill the chimney and add the additional coal to the grill. The lit charcoal will light the other charcoal once you’ve added it to the grill.
Q. Should I use lump charcoal or briquettes?
This choice is a matter of preference. Lump charcoal devotees like the fact that it contains no chemical additives (it’s essentially pure carbon), allows for easier temperature regulation, creates higher temperatures, and produces little ash. Briquette lovers prefer the uniform shape of briquettes, which makes them easier to arrange in the grill. Briquettes also burn longer than lump charcoal and cost less.
Q. How long should I leave the charcoal in the chimney before adding it to the grill?
It typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the charcoal to be lit enough to pour into the grill.