I prefer a chimney. It is a tube with an upper compartment and a lower compartment. First you stuff newspaper into the bottom compartment, add charcoal to the top compartment, then you light the paper, and after about five minutes, put on a glove and grab the handle and give a shake so the unlit coals on top will turn over and that’s about it. In about 15 minutes the coals are white and ready. The hot air from the newspapers rises and sucks oxygen in through the bottom which ignites the coals and creates an updraft that grows rapidly in heat making the top of the chimney blowtorch hot.
Some folks have been known to drizzle some cooking oil on the newspaper to make it burn longer but I’ve never found this necessary. Another technique is to use firestarters on the chimney. Weber sells small cubes of paraffin that work just fine (at right). The package says to use two per chimney, but one works just fine for me. Reader “SuperDave2” writes to say he puts the chimney on the sideburner on his gas grill and “I can light my chimney with a push of a button, they are ready in half the time, and perfectly evenly lit.” Clever feller.
With a chimney there is no chemical aftertaste, no solvent smell in the air, and it’s a lot cheaper and safer than using lighter fluid. Just make sure you place it on something heatproof after you dump out the coals, and away from children and pets.
The Weber brand of chimney is my fave and it lasts longer than the cheaper models. But another feature of the chimney is that it is an excellent temperature controller for your cooking because it is a measuring cup! As you get experienced, you will learn just how high to fill the chimney in order to get your grill to the desired temp. There are about 16 Kingsford briquets in a quart, so a gallon is about 64 briquets. A Weber chimney holds about five quarts, or about 80 briquets. For a Weber kettle, I put about half a chimney of unlit coals in the grill and put about half a chimney of fully lit coals on top to get to 225°F. To get to 325°F, 3/4 to a full chimney should do it. It all depends on the air temp, humidity, brand of charcoal, and other variables. You must do dry runs to calibrate your grill.
There is something else cool about the chimney. You can cook on it! It makes a better wok fire than anything in your kitchen. Just sit your wok on top and stir fry away. Incredibly hot. Or you can put a grate on it and cook thin foods right on top of the chimney, a technique I call the Afterburner Method.
Use a chimney. Get repeatable heat every time and save your eyebrows. Click here to check the prices for charcoal chimneys on Amazon.