Best Charcoal Chimney Starter of 2020 [Top 5 Reviews and Buyer’s Guide]
The charcoal grill, an all-time classic. You may have used electric or gas grills before, maybe even hybrid models, but for many, there is nothing better than the taste of burgers or ribs that have been lovingly cooked over a charcoal grill. As any charcoal grill master will tell you, the biggest problem is actually getting the charcoal to light.
Now there are many ways out there to attempt to light a charcoal grill, the most common and widespread being dousing the charcoal with as much lighter fluid as possible and tossing in a match with the hopes you don't set yourself on fire. Electric starts are available, but they can be expensive and might not work. What you need is a best charcoal chimney starter.
Charcoal chimney starters are surprisingly simple to use. You place flammable material, like newspaper, at the bottom, and then charcoal on the top. Light the bottom, wait ten-to-fifteen minutes and your charcoal will be nice and hot! No fluids, no electricity, just heat doing the work for you.
Top 5 Chimney Starters at a Glance
Best Charcoal Chimney Starter Reviews
Below we're going to review the top five charcoal chimney starters on the market, and talk about what makes them different and unique!
When it comes to charcoal grills, you can never go wrong with Weber. The same can be said about their charcoal chimney starters like the 7447 Compact Rapidfire.
Essentially a downscale version of the regular Rapidfire, this little chimney starter stands nearly six-inches tall, eight inches wide, and has an overall diameter of ten-inches.
Although small, the Compact Rapidfire can hold around forty pieces of charcoal making it perfect for smaller grills like ones you'd find in the park or campgrounds, or of course portable charcoal grills you'd take with you to events.
Weber is highly regarded for its quality, and the Compact Rapidfire is no exception. Its solid, stainless steel with a plastic grip and a head shield like it's a larger counterpart.
While it may not be the best chimney starter for your bigger grills, what sets the Compact Rapidfire apart is how portable it is, weighing in at less than two pounds, and the durability with a brand name like Weber. This is not the chimney starter for you if there are pounds of charcoal that needs heating right not. This is the chimney starter for you if you need to heat charcoal for a small grill and don't want to waste more charcoal than you need.
The one big problem of chimney starters is how you unload them. Once your charcoal is nice and hot, you have to then dump it into the grill where you risk the bottom charcoal not being as hot as the top or missing the grill and spilling hot charcoal everywhere.
The Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter fixes this problem with a simple solution: dump the charcoal down, not up and over.
With a nearly eight-inch diameter and standing twelve-inches high, this chimney starter by Char-Griller can hold nearly five pounds of charcoal! For medium-to-large grills, a few cupfuls are all you need to start grilling!
How the Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter works is that by pulling the lever next to the handle, the bottom opens up and dumps the charcoal out. A simple solution for an age-old problem.
Char-Griller has been making and selling grilling accessories and grills for years, and this chimney starter is no exception to their fine brand name. Made of zinc-coated steel, the quality is great and the overall feel of this chimney starter is both comfortable and sturdy. This being said, it's recommended to not overuse the dumping mechanism as there are reports of them breaking.
Very rarely today do we ever see a product advertise itself as being "insane", but BBQ Dragon has decided to announce to the world how insane their chimney starter is.
Of course, insane in this context is good because the Chimney of Insanity can ignite charcoal in as little as three minutes; even faster if you use a fan that is sold separately. How this works is there is a 90-degree bend that feeds air directly to the charcoal.
With a diameter of nearly seven-inches and a height of eleven-inches, the Chimney of Insanity is a heavy-duty chimney start that's built to last.
Made of thick steel, what sets the Chimney of Insanity apart from other chimney starters, besides the 90-degree bend, is the nylon grip. Comfortable to hold and doesn't feel like it will melt. The Chimney of Insanity can hold around two or so pounds of charcoal.
While somewhat of an unorthodox design, including the main vents spelling out "BBQ Dragon", the Chimney of Insanity is truly an insane chimney starter. Again, insane in the positive sense. The charcoals heat up faster due to the bend that feeds air directly to them, the construction is sturdy, and the nylon grip is fantastic! If you need a chimney starter to stand out, you can't go wrong with the Chimney of Insanity!
There are times when small and compact is what you're looking for. Like the Compact Rapidfire, the Char-Broil Half-Time is a compact chimney starter that's designed for smaller grills.
Standing eight-inches tall and with an eight-inch diameter, you'll have no trouble loading up this chimney starter. It can carry around one hundred or so pieces of charcoal, give or take the size of the pieces.
Construction-wise, the Half-Time Charcoal Starter is made of aluminized steel so it'll last you quite a while. The handle is plastic, but it's molded with fingers grips so carrying this chimney starter is a breeze.
Speaking of breeze, the Half-Time Charcoal Starter is perhaps the best vented chimney starter on the market. With eighty-one vents, this durable chimney starter can have your charcoals warmed in no time!
Char-Broil has been making grills, and their accessories, since the 1940s. With a long history behind them, it's to be expected that anything with their name on it will be a quality product. This is true of the Half-Time Charcoal Starter. Much like other small chimney starters, you don't get this for your large grill. You get this to take camping, to take to tailgates. As a portable chimney starter, you can't go wrong with the Half-Time Charcoal Starter.
The last charcoal chimney starter on our list might certainly rival BBQ Dragon and their Chimney of Insanity when it comes to chimney starter names. Steven Raichlen is a barbecue author and even hosts his own show on PBS.
Having been in the barbecue industry for many years, Mr. Raichlen decided to share some tools he uses and the Ultimate Chimney Charcoal Starter is one of them.
Standing twelve-inches tall with a seven-inch diameter, the Ultimate Chimney Charcoal Starter is possibly the largest chimney starter on the market and can hold eight-and-a-half pounds of charcoal.
The Ultimate Chimney Charcoal Starter is designed as a square, not a cylinder like most chimney starters. The idea is that the square design provides more uniformed heating than cylinders, although we couldn't notice a difference.
Due to the size and shape, this chimney starter features two handles, a standard handle and one that flips over it, to give you more control when dumping the charcoal onto your grill. Given its massive capacity, it's perfect for lighting multiple grills and the sturdy construction should ensure that you won't have any issue with breakage!
These were our five best charcoal chimney starters on the market today. We made this list and focused on affordability, quality, durability, and other prominent points. You can get cheap chimney starters, but they tend to break apart after repeated use and you end up having to buy a new one. We don't want that for you, or for anyone, which is why we narrowed it down to the five best.
Chimney starters are a tool you'll need if you have, or will ever work with, a charcoal grill. They're safer than gallons of lighter fluid, and more environmentally friendly too, and they're much more affordable than electric starters. If you can't wait to sink your teeth into a steak cooked on a charcoal grill, consider getting a chimney starter to get the most use out of your charcoal.
What to Look for When Choosing a Charcoal Chimney Starter (Buyer's Guide)
If a charcoal chimney starter sounds like a good investment to you, and it should, we've composed some useful tips below so you can get the most bang for your buck when looking for a charcoal chimney starter.
What brands do I want?
There are a plentiful selection of different charcoal chimney starters on the market today, all from different brands. Which one is the best? While we'd prefer this to be more of a case-by-case basis given you can have new upstart companies making fantastic chimney starters, the three best brands on the market are by Weber, Char-Griller, and Char-Broil. Their selection of chimney starters are both affordable and durable.
What type of charcoal chimney starter is right for me?
This very much depends on what type of grill you have. If you have a small charcoal grill, you'll want a compact model like the Weber Compact Rapidfire. If you have medium-to-large charcoal grills, standard models like the Weber Rapidfire will do the trick. Start with the size of the grill you have, and from there look at the selection of chimney starters that are available.
How much should it hold?
As said, this very much depends on the size of your grill. A compact model is going to take too long to heat up a large grill, and using a full-sized or larger model for a small grill is quite frankly overkill. For small grills, around 40 or so pieces of charcoal will suffice while with larger grills expect around one hundred or more pieces. If you have a chimney starter that's too large, only fill it with enough charcoal as you need.
How much will it cost?
On average, most charcoal chimney starters will cost you between ten and twenty dollars. Some models can go for over thirty or forty dollars, but anything over fifty dollars is very uncommon. Charcoal chimney starters are very affordable, which is why there isn't much excuse to not purchase one.
What safety features should I look for?
Because charcoal chimney starters are manually operated, and you're dealing with fire, the basic protection they have are their handle and a heat shield. This means that if you light a chimney starter and go to touch anything but the handle, you will be burned. As a general rule of thumb, always wear a glove when handling a chimney starter and never buy one that's painted or has a wooden handle; that's asking for trouble if you do.
Why is this better than lighter fluid?
Two reasons. The first is that they're much safer for the environment and don't let off a possibly toxic gas when lit. Secondly, with lighter fluid, you seem to always use too much or too little, either wasting it all or having to pour dangerous amounts onto your charcoal. Charcoal chimney starters gradually warm up your charcoal by you burning something beneath them, allowing you to place hot charcoal straight on your grill.
What about durability?
The majority of charcoal chimney starters are made of steel. Sometimes stainless steel, other times steel coated in the zinc of another coating to protect it against flames. The main problem is the grips, which while often made of plastic tend to get very hot and in turn might melt the grips. Cheaper chimney starters may be made of low-grade metal and might bend, buckle, or just outright break.
Do they come with warranties?
Most chimney starters lack warranties, although you can usually request one on purchase. Due to their affordability and durability, most manufacturers tend to not issue warranties to charcoal chimney starters unless it's a more expensive model. If for whatever reason you fear for your model, make sure to request a warranty to see if the company will cover any damages if they occur.
Charcoal Chimney Starter FAQs
How does a charcoal chimney starter work?
Rather simple, actually. A charcoal starter is just a metal cylinder divided between a section for the fire starter and the charcoal. Once a fire starter is lit, the charcoals on top will gradually increase in temperature until they're nice and hot. Vents are crafted into the chimney starter for the flame has a constant source of oxygen. Without the vents, the fire would quickly die out.
What if I don't have newspaper?
Fire starters are available online and in-store if you don't have access to newspapers, or don't have a newspaper subscription to begin with. Charcoal chimney starters will work with fire starters as much as they will with newspapers. As long as it's flammable and can fit in the bottom, you shouldn't have any trouble.
Should I buy a big and expensive charcoal chimney starter over a little one?
No. Buy only the model that you need that has the carrying capacity that you need currently. If you plan on buying a bigger grill later, buy a bigger charcoal chimney starter then. If all you have is a little grill, you're wasting the capability of your chimney starter if you're only putting a handful of charcoal at a time. Likewise, if you have a large grill, don't waste your time with a compact chimney starter either.
How safe are they?
As these are manually operated, there are no built-in safety features except the heat guard. So touching any of the exposed metal, and even the grips, after the fire is lit will cause burns. It's always recommended that you buy a charcoal chimney starter with a long grip and to wear gloves when holding it or handling it.
How do I get the coals out of the chimney starter and into the grill?
You dump them. Save for the likes of the Char-Griller Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter, which has a feature that dumps the charcoal from the bottom of the chimney starter, you have to manually turn it over and dump the coals in the grill. This can be somewhat ineffective as a few pieces might escape or the sudden movement might upset the heat balance. Never attempt to take the charcoal out by hand, as it's dangerous and time-consuming.
Where do I light my charcoal chimney starter?
Lighting your chimney starter on your grill is what most people do. No need to worry about carrying heated charcoal to the grill if they're already on it. However, some people prefer to set theirs on the ground and light them there. Others prefer leaving theirs on a flat rock. It's up to you, but we recommend just leaving it on the grill. Never leave it on a wooden surface, a surface that can be damaged, or around anything flammable.