A good chimney starter does more than light your coals. It helps you to do so quickly, without hassle, and all in a single go. Oh, it’s also durable and sturdy, so you don’t need to get a new one every grilling season.
The perks of using a chimney starter are many:
Unlike an electric charcoal starter, a chimney starter doesn’t require a power outlet nearby to work. And, not like lighter fluid, it won’t make your steak reek of kerosine. Simply crumple some sheets of newspaper under the bottom, put the chimney starter on the grill, fill it with coals, and light the fire. In 20-25 minutes, you will have red-hot embers that are ready to cook over.
These metal containers are particularly handy if you’re cooking for a large crowd or smoking a big hunk of meat in your kettle—and you need to ignite a fresh batch of coals every hour or so to replenish the fuel.
They don’t cost a fortune and, as far as we’re concerned, they are a non-negotiable tool in the self-respecting griller and meat smoker’s toolbox. But not all of them are created equal, so we sifted good from bad and wrote this guide to help you pick.
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See the details for our best chimney starter picks below.
With 7.5 inches in diameter and 13 inches in height, our pick has a 6-quart chamber that holds 100 briquettes, give or take. It has two handles for a safe and sturdy grip and a large heat shield to keep them cool.
The Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter is affordable, durable, and holds about a hundred coals—just enough for a Sunday cookout on a regular-sized charcoal grill. (If you have a smaller, travel-sized grill, there’s also a compact size available that holds half the amount of coals.)
There’s plenty of room under the charcoal chamber for crumpled-up newspaper or lighter cubes, and the good folks at Weber have gone to great lengths to design the vents for optimal airflow.
The ergonomic handle fits snugly in the hand, even when you’ve got grilling gloves on. The helper handle helps you pour in the right direction, without anything spilling over, and spread them out evenly.
All of these features, plus the fact that this chimney starter is made by a company we all know and trust, make the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter our first choice, and the best chimney starter in our book.
With 6.8 inches in diameter and 11.25 inches in height, this chimney starter is slightly smaller than the Weber and holds about 90 briquettes. It's made of durable, rust-resistant zinc and has a stay-cool handle—but no helper handle.
Name one person who owns a charcoal grill and has never cooked over Kingsford briquettes… Go on; I’ll wait!
It turns out that Kingsford, the company that invented charcoal briquettes to begin with, also makes grilling accessories. And pretty ones at that. The Kingsford Heavy-Duty Chimney Starter is living proof of that.
This chimney starter is slightly smaller than our top pick. Nevertheless, it has a charcoal chamber that’s large enough to light about 90 coals, which is more than enough to start a good fire and sear your steaks to deliciousness.
The handle, which stays somewhat cool because it’s shielded from the radiant heat of the coals, is sturdy and feels good in the hand. However, there is no helper handle, so pouring the coals is trickier than with the Weber.
The Kingsford Heavy-Duty Chimney Starter is our bugget pick because it’s inexpensive, durable, and you can find it in the grill aisle of any hypermarket or home improvement store.
With 7.5 inches in diameter and 12 inches in height, this chimney starter holds up to a hundred briquettes at a time. With two handles and a spark guard, it provides safety and a good hold. And its 18/10 stainless steel construction means it'll never rust.
For readers who want the best and nothing but the best (and are willing to pay up for it accordingly), we think there’s no better chimney starter on the market than the German-engineered Rösle Chimney Sweep.
There’s more than one reason why this chimney starter is our high-end, best-money-can-buy pick.
For starters, it’s made from 18/10 stainless steel—the highest-grade stainless steel there is—which means it won’t rust and, in terms of service life, it will outlast many, if not all, of its counterparts.
It is also exceptionally well designed. With the lip on top, you can pour glowing coals into your grill without sparks or tiny embers flying your way, even on a windy day. The large handle gives you a good hold of the chimney and the helper handle has a plastic coating for extra comfort.
You will notice that the two handles are farther away from the chamber than on our two other picks. This keeps the plastic at a distance from the radiant heat of the coals and prevents it from melting, even after years of use.
Yes, the Rösle Chimney Sweep isn’t for everyone. But it’s the best chimney starter for the griller and meat smoker for whom price isn’t as big of a factor as build quality and user experience are.
What to Look For
If you have a regular-sized charcoal grill—say, a 22-inch Weber kettle—you should aim to buy a chimney starter with a capacity of 6 quarts, give or take, which is large enough to hold about a hundred coals. (The only reason to opt for a smaller one is if you have a travel-sized grill and it makes no sense to use a big chimney.)
Aluminized steel and zinc corrode and rust slowly. 18/10 stainless steel, the highest quality available, is the best material for a charcoal chimney, but the units made out of it are understandably more expensive.
Two handles are better than one. Good chimney starters have an auxiliary handle, also called a “helpder handle” or “wire handle,” which you hold with the other hand to keep the container steady while pouring coals into the kettle.
The farther the handles are from the chamber, the less likely the plastic handles are to melt. (Sooner or later, however, they will—so temper your expectations.)
Words of Caution
The handles on these units get very hot, despite the heat shields and stay-cool handles. Never handle yours without a good pair of grilling gloves or you will burn your hand badly.
No matter which option you go for, remember that no chimney starter lasts forever. Eventually, the prolonged exposure to high heat takes its toll on both the plastic handles and the metal container. When corrosion and rust start eating away at the steel after a few good years of use, get a new one.
Don’t be fooled by rectangular chimney starters, no matter what their manufacturers try to convince you. We’ve selected only those with a round shape for a reason. One of the main functions of these devices is to help you pour glowing briquettes with ease and spread them out evenly. This is very hard to do when your chimney starter is basically a rectangular bucket.
A charcoal chimney is more than just a metal container for igniting hot briquettes.
To be worth the money, these deceptively simple devices must be well constructed, both in terms of durability and functionality, and made of quality materials.
The vents, the handles, and the chamber must combine to form a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts, igniting the coals quickly and evenly while providing you with a sturdy grip that keeps you safe.
At the end of the day, the best chimney starter is the one that you won’t regret buying. And, like all other grilling equipment, there’s a wide range of great options to choose from (and twice as many knockoffs to steer clear of).
We hope this guide has brought you one step closer to finding the right one for you!