Chimney Starters

Published June 1, 2009. From Cook's Country.

A chimney starter is the safest, most effective way to start a charcoal fire. We rounded up several models to see which ones worked best.

Overview:

We wouldn’t dream of starting a charcoal fire without a chimney starter, a cylindrical canister that quickly ignite quarts of briquettes without lighter fluid (which can leave residual flavor on grilled food). You place briquettes in the large top chamber of the chimney, which is shaped like a giant metal coffee mug. Then you crumple a sheet of newspaper, place it in the smaller chamber under the coals, and light it. In about 20 minutes, the coals are covered in a fine, gray ash and ready to be poured into the grill.

Our favorite chimney holds 6 quarts, enough for most kettle grills. The handle remains cool, and when it is time to pour out the red-hot coals, a second handle provides leverage to make maneuvering easier, particularly if you are banking the coals for a two-level fire and need precise pouring. Since our last testing, new models have appeared. We chose three top brands to see if they could knock out our chimney champion.

Starters that held fewer than 5 quarts of coals were a deal-breaker. They were inadequate to heat… read more

We wouldn’t dream of starting a charcoal fire without a chimney starter, a cylindrical canister that quickly ignite quarts of briquettes without lighter fluid (which can leave residual flavor on grilled food). You place briquettes in the large top chamber of the chimney, which is shaped like a giant metal coffee mug. Then you crumple a sheet of newspaper, place it in the smaller chamber under the coals, and light it. In about 20 minutes, the coals are covered in a fine, gray ash and ready to be poured into the grill.

Our favorite chimney holds 6 quarts, enough for most kettle grills. The handle remains cool, and when it is time to pour out the red-hot coals, a second handle provides leverage to make maneuvering easier, particularly if you are banking the coals for a two-level fire and need precise pouring. Since our last testing, new models have appeared. We chose three top brands to see if they could knock out our chimney champion.

Starters that held fewer than 5 quarts of coals were a deal-breaker. They were inadequate to heat the grill sufficiently even after we poured the coals, closed the lid, and waited 5 minutes. When we timed how long each chimney took to ignite all its coals, we quickly uncovered a major design flaw: Chimneys without holes on the sides of the canister had limited airflow, preventing oxygen from circulating around the coals, which slowed the heating process by a few minutes. While all of the brands had heat-resistant handles, their sturdiness varied. One felt flimsy enough to fall off—not a nice prospect when dealing with red-hot coals. Only our previous favorite had dual handles, which we distinctly preferred. Another’s silvery paint job melted off after one use, dripping down the sides of the can.

In the end, our previous favorite model was still the best performer and had it all: sturdy construction, generous capacity, heat resistance, dual handles, excellent air circulation for rapid heating, and a low price.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - Winner

    Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter

    Our test kitchen winner from 2006 once again beat the competition—at about half the price of other models. We loved its sturdy construction, generous capacity, heat-resistant handle, and second handle for pouring control. With the most ventilation holes in its canister, coals ignited quickly.

    • Handle Stays Cool ★★★
    • Design/Construction ★★★

    $14.99

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended with Reservations

    Lodge Camp Dutch Oven Charcoal Chimney Starter

    Construction was sturdy and the handle remained cool to the touch. Unfortunately, the smaller capacity meant fewer coals and less heat output. And with fewer air-circulation holes than the top performer, heating the coals took four minutes longer.

    • Handle Stays Cool ★★★
    • Design/Construction ★★

    $25.46

  • Not Recommended

    Outset Stainless Steel Chimney

    Although the handle remained cool, its flimsy construction made us worry that it might pop off at any time. With no holes for air circulation, heating took more time, even with only 4 quarts of briquettes.

    • Handle Stays Cool ★★★
    • Design/Construction

    $22.46

  • Not Recommended

    GrillPro Charcoal Starter

    Problems started with the cryptic assembly instructions. The bolts never tightened completely, so the handle felt loose. Heat from the lit coals melted the finish, and this was the only model where the metal around the handle became hot. The coals took 27 (very long) minutes to heat.

    • Handle Stays Cool
    • Design/Construction

    $19.00

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