Chimney Starter: What is It?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 1, 2022

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A chimney starter, also called a charcoal chimney, is a device that is used to ignite fire with either lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes.

The typical design dimensions of it is about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter and is roughly 12 – 18 inches (30 – 45 cm) in height. It’s also made of stainless steel.

Chimney starters also have a quarter inch thick metal plate/grate with horizontal holes evenly spaced across its surface. It is placed at about 3 inches (8 cm) from the bottom.

In order to effectively burn the charcoal in the chimney starter it is designed with large holes located below the grate, which allows air to circulate through it.

To prevent your hands from searing with the extreme temperatures being channeled through the chimney starter, they are also designed with insulated handles so you can safely start your bbq smoker (here’s our buying guide).

What is a chimney starter

Designing the Perfect Chimney Starter: Key Considerations

The handle of the chimney starter is another important design consideration. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Material: The handle should be made of a heat-resistant material that won’t get too hot to touch.
  • Shape: The shape of the handle should be comfortable to grip and easy to hold, even when the chimney starter is full of hot charcoal.
  • Attachment: The handle should be securely attached to the body of the chimney starter to prevent accidents.

Other Design Considerations

In addition to the body and handle, there are a few other design considerations to keep in mind when choosing a chimney starter:

  • Ventilation: The chimney starter should have adequate ventilation to allow air to flow through and help the charcoal heat up quickly.
  • Stability: The chimney starter should be stable and not tip over easily, especially when it’s full of hot charcoal.
  • Ease of use: The design of the chimney starter should be intuitive and easy to use, even for beginners (check out these smokers if you’re starting out).

By considering these design elements, you can choose a chimney starter that is safe, efficient, and easy to use.

The Evolution of Chimney Starters

The concept of using a chimney starter to light a fire dates back to the early 20th century. The first patent for a chimney starter was filed in 1920 by a man named Charles McGraw. His design was made of metal and had a cylindrical shape with holes in the bottom for ventilation. This early model was designed to be used with wood or coal stoves.

The Advantages of Using a Chimney Starter

Using a chimney starter has several advantages over other methods of lighting a fire. Here are some of the benefits:

  • It’s a safe and efficient way to light a fire without the use of harmful fluids.
  • It’s a natural and chemical-free method that doesn’t leave any harmful residue on the food.
  • It’s a quick and easy way to get hot coals for your barbecue or grilled food.
  • It’s a cost-effective tool that can save you money in the long run.

Choosing the Right Chimney Starter: A Comprehensive Guide

When shopping for a chimney starter, there are several factors to consider to ensure that you get the right one for your needs. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Quality: Look for a chimney starter made of high-quality materials that can withstand regular use and high temperatures. Some companies offer warranties, which can be a good indication of quality.
  • Safety: Make sure the chimney starter has safety features such as heat-resistant handles and a stable base. You don’t want to risk injury or damage to your barbecue.
  • Size: Consider the size of your grill and the amount of charcoal you typically use. Chimney starters come in different sizes, usually measured in inches, so choose one that can hold the amount of charcoal you need.
  • Type: There are two main types of chimney starters: the sheet metal type and the piece metal type. The sheet metal type is cheaper, but it can break easily and may not last as long. The piece metal type is more durable and easier to use, but it’s also more expensive.
  • Function: Some chimney starters have additional features such as a direct pour spout or a built-in lighter. Decide which functions are important to you and choose a chimney starter that meets those needs.

Step-by-Step Guide to Using a Chimney Starter

Once you’ve chosen the right chimney starter, it’s time to start using it. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide:

1. Fill the chimney starter with charcoal. Be careful not to overfill it.
2. Place the chimney starter on the grill grate and light the charcoal using a regular lighter or a built-in lighter if your chimney starter has one.
3. Let the charcoal burn for about 20-30 minutes until it starts to ash over.
4. Grab the chimney starter by the heat-resistant handle and carefully pour the charcoal onto the grill.
5. Allow the charcoal to cool properly before disposing of it.

A chimney starter is a metal cylinder that allows you to start a fire for your barbecue or grill in a safer and more effective way than other methods. It typically consists of a metal cylinder with a grate at the bottom, and a handle on the side.

Stay Safe While Using Your Chimney Starter

Before you start using your chimney starter, make sure you have all the necessary safety equipment and precautions in place. Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Wear gloves (these ones are great for BBQ) and closed-toe shoes to protect your hands and feet from the heat.
  • Use your chimney starter on a flat, stable surface that is not near any flammable materials, such as wooden patio furniture or dry leaves.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of an emergency.
  • If you’re using a charcoal grill (we’ve reviewed them here), make sure the lid is open to allow for proper ventilation.

Using Your Chimney Starter Safely

Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to start your chimney starter. Here are some tips to help you use it safely:

  • Never leave your chimney starter unattended while it’s in use.
  • Don’t place your chimney starter near any flammable materials, even if they’re not currently on fire. The heat from the coals can still cause damage.
  • Don’t touch the chimney starter while it’s in use, as it can cause physical burns.
  • Don’t pour lighter fluid or any other flammable liquids on the coals in the chimney starter.
  • Use caution when dumping the hot coals onto your grill. Make sure you place them in the right location and don’t accidentally knock them over.
  • If you’re using a Weber grill, make sure you place the chimney starter in the correct location on the grill to avoid causing damage.

After You’re Done

Once you’re finished using your chimney starter, it’s important to take some additional safety precautions:

  • Allow the coals to cool completely before disposing of them.
  • Don’t dump the coals on a flammable surface, such as dry grass or leaves.
  • Don’t touch the chimney starter or coals until they have cooled completely.
  • If you have any doubts about whether the coals are completely extinguished, use a hose or bucket of water to put out any remaining embers.

Remember, safety should always be your top priority when using a chimney starter. By following these tips and using common sense, you can enjoy grilling without putting yourself or others in danger. Photos by Greg and Caesar.


So, that’s what a chimney starter is. It’s a tool used to light the charcoal for a barbecue. 

It’s important to make sure the chimney starter is made of heat-resistant material and has a handle for easy use. You also need to make sure it has adequate ventilation to allow air flow and help the charcoal heat quickly. 

So, now that you know all the ins and outs, you can make the right choice for you and start using one today.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.