What is a Chimney Starter?

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  • Written By: Shannon Kietzman
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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A chimney starter is a device used to help start charcoal on fire. It is most commonly used when lighter fluid is unavailable or cannot be used to start the coals. Several major grill companies, such as Weber, have their own chimney starter models available for sale.

Typically, a chimney starter is made from metal and is cylindrical in shape. It also contains a grate near its bottom and a handle on the side. Most are about 12 to 18 inches (about 30 to 46 cm) tall and eight inches (20 cm) in diameter, making them capable of holding around six pounds (about 2.72 kg) of charcoal.

In order to use a chimney starter to start charcoal briquettes or lumps, the user places the charcoal inside the chimney starter and some sort of flammable material on the outside beneath the grate. The user then lights the material below the grate, which allows air to move underneath the charcoal. The combination of oxygen and fire from the flammable materials helps light the charcoal inside the chimney starter. A chimney starter should never be lit on a concrete surface, because the heat from the chimney can damage the concrete and even cause it to explode, which can result in injury to the user. The best places to light a chimney starter include on a charcoal grate, on a car oil drip pan placed on the patio, and on fire-safe bricks that have been set on the patio.


In most chimney starter models, the attached handle is insulated in order to prevent the user from getting burned while lighting the charcoal. In a top quality chimney starter, the handle should also be made of stainless steel or another rust-resistant material. It should also be attached tightly in order to prevent the handle from falling off.

Regardless of the material used to create the handle on a chimney starter, it is always advisable to wear special heat-resistant gloves while handling it. After successfully lighting the charcoal with the chimney starter, the user should pick it up by the handle and pour out the coals. Alternatively, they coals may be removed using tongs. After removing the coal, the chimney starter will still be hot for quite a while. Therefore, care should be taken when moving a chimney starter after use.


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