What's The Best Chimney Starter for You?

Chimney starters turn charcoal into glowing coals quickly—but they’re not all the same. The right one for you depends on how you use your grill.

meat cooking on an open grill
Want to fire up your charcoal grill more quickly? Better use a chimney starter.mnm.all/unsplash

You may think there’s not much difference from one chimney starter to the other. After all, a chimney starter is basically a large steel canister that holds charcoal briquets in its upper portion. The bottom holds newspaper or fire-starting cubes, which you light. Because all of the briquets are exposed to the flame from below, they light quickly—quicker than if you had mounded them in a barbecue grill or smoker—and when the coals are red and ready, you dump them into the basin and start your masterpiece of a tri-tip.

While it’s true that the lighting procedure does not vary from one chimney starter to the next, starters themselves vary in several important ways. Your grilling or smoking personality will determine the best chimney starter for you. Here’s a guide:

1. You're a no-nonsense griller.

Weber 7429 Rapid Fire Chimney Starter
A sturdy, reliable, easy-to-handle, long-lasting chimney starter for a standard-size grill.Weber

Look for solid construction and thick walls, a large heat shield, a heat-resistant side handle, and a top handle that allows you to carry the loaded starter easily and pour out the hot coals exactly where you want them to go.

2. You Think Big and Cook Big

Oklahoma Joe's 9848125R04 Half-Time Charcoal Starter
This extra large chimney starter holds up to 100 briquettes and is perfect for lighting lump charcoal.Oklahoma Joe

If you need to prepare a load of standard-size briquets for a big cookout or a large piece of meat, an extra-large starter will ensure that all the charcoal burns uniformly and will be ready on time. An XL-size starter will also work well for lump charcoal, which comes in various sizes and won't nest well together in a standard-size chimney starter, meaning you may not be able to get enough of them going at once for your grilling needs.

3. You Cook in a Rush

BBQ Dragon Chimney of Insanity Charcoal Starter
This colorfully-named chimney starter is designed to pair with a small fan and will get your charcoal cherry-red in as little as three minutes.BBQ Dragon

You drank a few beers, lost track of time, everyone is starving, and you need to light charcoal NOW, dammit. We've all made lighter-fluid-flavored burgers because hangry friends and family coerced us into putting the patties on the grill before all those petroleum products burned off. You can fire up the charcoal faster with a chimney starter that accelerates the combustion process by allowing—or even pushing—more air into the canister.