There are several advantages to grilling food over a coal fire. With charcoal briquettes reaching temperatures of 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, they tend to produce more heat than conventional wood-burning fires. And with this heat, you’ll have an easier to creating a nice charred outside on your grilled meats and foods. Additionally, charcoal burns more efficiently and produces less smoke than wood. Of course, there are still benefits to grilling over a wood fire, but for these reasons many people prefer charcoal.
One of the problems of using charcoal, however, is getting it lit. Dry, seasoned wood easily burns when used in conjunction with kindling and tinder. Coal, however, can take a little bit of work to get going. Rather than wasting an entire box of matches, you should consider using a chimney starter. This otherwise simple tool will make lighting a charcoal fire ten times easier.
Also known as a charcoal chimney, a chimney starter lives up to its namesake by simplifying the process of starting a charcoal fire. As shown in the photo above, it’s a cylinder-shaped metal device (usually steel) that holds coals. Most chimney starters are about 8 inches in diameter and 12 to 18 inches tall. A few inches from the bottom is a grate with several small holes, allowing air to flow from the bottom and through the charcoal.
You’ll also notice that most chimney starters have a single handle attached to the exterior, along with a safety heat guard to protect the user’s hand from injury. The handles are insulated, so you don’t have to worry about burning yourself when using them. However, you should still use extreme caution when moving or even touching a chimney starter that contains hot coals.
Chimney starters have one primary purpose: to make lighting charcoals easier. Lighter fluid may sound like an effective alternative, but it isn’t recommended for several reasons. First and foremost, lighter fluid is dangerous and can cause serious injury when used incorrectly (hundreds of people are injured each year from using it). Secondly, lighter fluid produces noxious fumes when burned. Do you really want these fumes reaching the food you are about to grill?
A chimney starter is a simple solution to getting a stubborn charcoal fire going. You don’t have to use any lighter fluid. Just fill the chimney with coals, add your newspaper, and it does the rest. And contrary to what some people may believe, chimney starters aren’t expensive. Even if your grill didn’t come with a chimney starter, you can usually buy them for about $10 to $20 bucks at most major home improvement stores, which is a small price to pay for the convenience they offer.
Now that you know a little bit about chimney starters and the benefits they offer, let’s take a look at the steps to using them…
To use a chimney starter, you should first remove the cooking grate from inside your grill. Next, fill your chimney starter with your preferred charcoal all the way to the top. You may need to gently shake the chimney to help knock down the coals if they get stuck.
Once your chimney starter is full, place a piece of a newspaper inside the bottom of your grill, after which you should place the chimney starter over it. You can then light the newspaper, which should ignite the bottom of the chimney starter and eventually all of the charcoal. As the bottom of your chimney starter heats up, it will easily ignite the coals with the help of increased airflow.
Now comes the waiting game. As most backyard chefs know, coals are ready for grilling once they’ve reaches a glowing orange-white color. This characteristic color indicates the coals are hot and ready to be used for cooking. Depending on the size of your chimney starter, the condition of your coals and the surrounding humidity, it should take between 20 and 30 minutes for your coals to reach this state.
Next, carefully lift the chimney starter by the handle and dump the hot coals into the bottom of your grill. You may want to wear heat-resistant gloves to further protect your hands from injury when performing this step. Once you’ve dumped the coals into your grill, use a poker or similar tool to spread them evenly across the bottom. Congratulations, your charcoal grill is now ready for cooking! Keep in mind that coals won’t stay hot forever, so don’t wait too long to add your food.
This is the traditional method for using a chimney stater. Some people, however, cook foods directly over the chimney itself without ever dumping the coals. It produces intense heat, making it an excellent tool for searing the outside of meats.
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