How to Use a Charcoal Chimney With or Without Newspaper

Using a charcoal grill, and even lighting that grill, are easier than ever thanks to tools like the charcoal chimney starter. Gone are the days where you have to build a great pyramid of charcoal, soak it in lighter fluid, and hope for the best. With this handy device, anyone can build a great fire and never worry about the dangers—or the unappetizing flavor-- of lighter fluid. Keep reading to learn more about using a chimney, with and without newspaper, to get the best fires for great grilling.

The Chimney Design

Chimney starters work because they have a very simple, but functional design. These fire starters are basically a hollow metal cylinder that contains a small wire grate to hold the charcoal. There is also a handle, making some models look sort of like a rustic camping pitcher. The chimney will have holes along the sides to allow for airflow, as well. These chimneys are designed to be easy to use, and whether you buy a name brand model or the season-ending clearance, lighting one is all about the technique.

Stuff paper under chimney starter

Lighting the Charcoal Chimney with Newspaper

Using a newspaper is an easy and affordable way to start a good charcoal fire. It’s cheap, and it gives you easy access to creating a good flame. Lighting charcoal bricks directly is rarely effective and can take a lot of effort. A couple of pieces of newspaper can go a long way. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Remove the cooking grate from your grill. Set a couple pieces of crumpled or twisted newspaper on the grate (flat paper won’t burn as well).
  2. Flip your chimney upside down and push a piece of newspaper into the bottom of the cylinder. Don’t pack it in, just loosely scrunch it in so that there’s room for air to move to promote burning.
  3. Fill the chimney with the desired amount of charcoal. If you’re cooking a full meal, you’ll want a full load. For one or two people, half a chimney should do the job. Use what you normally use in terms of quantity.
  4. Put the chimney on top of the paper, and use a match or a lighter to light the paper. If you can, rather than lighting the outside, try to light the paper inside the chimney by putting the lighter or match through the slotted holes on the bottom of the cylinder.
  5. Let the charcoal burn until you see gray ash and red-hot coals. This usually takes 15-20 minutes, depending on weather conditions and how much charcoal you’re using.
  6. Dump the charcoal out of the chimney onto the grate, and then replace the cooking grate. Put the lid on and give the grill about 10 or 15 minutes to heat up. Now, you can throw your food on and get to cooking.

Tip: If the newspaper isn’t lighting but you don’t want to use lighter fluid, dip the paper in a little cooking oil and let it sit for a few minutes before you attempt to light it. This will encourage a good flame without adding harsh flavors or chemicals to your food.

Match on fire

Lighting the Chimney without Newspaper

Lighting a charcoal chimney without newspaper might take a little longer, but it should still be quicker than trying to light loose charcoal on your own. Avoid lighter fluid if you can because, again, it is full of chemicals so it can be dangerous. Plus, if you don’t cook the food hot enough or let the coals burn off the fluid, your food might taste like it and no one wants that.

How long it takes also depends on how much charcoal you are using and the quality. Higher-quality bricks will burn better and longer, so if you’re not using a starter of some kind (newspaper or otherwise), you should invest in better charcoal. The lighting process is going to be the same, except that you’ll have to attempt to light the charcoal directly, which can prove to be a bit tricky.

The great thing is that even when it’s windy, lighting a chimney full of charcoal will be much easier than trying to light the fire without the chimney. The metal cylinder has a few holes for airflow, but other than that it protects the coals from the elements, allowing the charcoal to burn evenly and effectively in most conditions. Extreme wind or rain might make it nearly impossible to light a fire, but the chances of you grilling in that weather are slim, anyway.

News paper on fire

Starter Options Besides Newspaper

A newspaper is effective because it burns so well, and it’s easy to compact around the charcoal so that it will encourage even burning. However, you can use any kind of printed paper. Glossy paper won’t be as effective because the printing makes it burn too fast. Plain newsprint is best if you’re going the paper route. You can also use cardboard, or even the paper from the charcoal bag if it’s empty.

Also, make sure that you take it easy on the paper. You need enough to start a good fire, but you don’t want to stuff the bottom of the chimney so full of paper that air can’t get through. A couple of pieces is really all that you need, and remember the cooking oil tip from above if you want a little extra help getting things going.

Every good grilling cook has their own secret recipe for lighting the grill, but the charcoal chimney changes the game for everyone. Some make their own starters that you can place under the chimney to get the coals burning like:

  • Vegetable/cooking oil on the coals directly to encourage good burning
  • Dryer lint
  • Empty toilet paper tubes

Tip: We don’t recommend paraffin wax or fire starter cubes because they are made of chemical compounds that give off toxins

Regardless of the material that you are using, the fire-starting process is generally the same. Here’s a quick rundown of the steps with newspaper omitted:

  1. Remove the cooking grate from your grill. Place your chosen starter on the charcoal grate. If you’re using paper or cardboard, try to stuff a little up inside the base of the chimney.
  2. Fill your charcoal to the desired level and place it on top of whatever starter you are using. It can be hard to adjust to a chimney but use the same amount of coals that you would use for cooking any other time. The chimney should be large enough to create enough hot coals at one time so you’re not repeating the process and creating uneven cooking conditions or losing coals before new ones are ready.
  3. Light the starter with a match or lighter and make sure that you get the flame going well. You may have to try a couple of times depending on what you use.
  4. Let the coals burn for 15-20 minutes, or until you see gray ash start to form on the top coals.
  5. Dump the charcoal onto the grate and replace the cooking grate and lid on your grill.
  6. Allow the grill to preheat to the desired temperature (usually between 5 and 10 minutes). Then, you’re ready to cook.
Charcoal in grill

Charcoal Chimney and Cooking with Charcoal Tips

A charcoal chimney makes the entire grilling process easier, or it should. If you are struggling to light your grill even with a chimney, consider moving it to a place where you can block most of the wind. Most of the time, issues with lighting charcoal have a lot to do with wind and airflow. Here are a few more tips to help you grill successfully with your chimney every time.

  • Chimneys are available in different sizes. Make sure that you choose the one that fits your grilling needs. If you throw a lot of parties or have a larger family and feel that even the largest one isn’t big enough, consider investing in a couple so that you can start them simultaneously for even-burning fires and better cooking.
  • Feel free to experiment. Everyone has their own “tried and true” methods for lighting their charcoal, with or without a chimney. Even if something works fine, it might not be your preferred choice. Try newspaper, lighter cubes, and anything else that you want to see what creates the best burn and gets your coals hot evenly and quickly.
  • If you do decide to use lighter fluid or inorganic chemicals to start your fire, allow the coals to burn for at least 20 minutes before you put any food on the grill. That will give the chemicals time to burn off so that they don’t impact the flavor or quality of the food. Also, never add lighter fluid or starters after the fire is initially going, or you’ll have to wait even longer. Just give it some time.

Chances are that if you’ve never used a charcoal chimney before, you’ll find that lighting your grill is easier than ever and you might not even need a lot of tips and assistance. Whether you choose newspaper or another starter, this simple but effective tool can guarantee better charcoal grilling and easier starting for amateurs and master grillers alike.

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