If you can’t light your charcoal, nothing is getting cooked tonight.
But what’s the best way to get that pile of cold charcoal burning hot?
If you have had a bit of a poke around the internet, you might have heard of charcoal chimney starters. They’re a pretty standard way to light charcoal. But are they the best option for you? What if you don’t have any extra cash to buy a gadget that will help get the job done? Will a splash of lighter fuel be of any assistance?
We have sought out the best tools available for lighting charcoal. We also have some handy information to share with you regarding what you should definitely not be doing when lighting up your smoker.
Click to jump straight to each topic
Best charcoal chimney – Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter
The Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter is a great example of a well made, reasonably priced chimney starter. The Weber Rapidfire holds enough coals to fill a 22½ inch Weber Kettle, and is about 12 inches high.
There isn’t much more to a chimney starter than a thick metal tube divided into an upper and lower compartment, and a handle. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the concept. We have heard from some who have bought cheaper chimney starters that they just don’t work. And that’s even after dousing the coals in lighter fuel.
So why is it that such a simple design can fail, especially when most people who use chimney starters swear they work so well? It all comes down to the subtleties of the design.
The Weber Rapidfire has a cone shaped bottom which means it starts up fast, and channels the heat to the coals, where you want it. This further reduces the temptation to use lighter fuel, which you should definitely not do (more on that later in the article).
To use it, scrunch up 2 or 3 sheets of paper and place them in the bottom compartment, and place your coals in the top compartment. Light the paper and wait for around 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, grab the starter by the handle and give it is shake to make sure all the coals are lit. After about 15 minutes, have a peek — all the coals will be white hot and ready to go.
What We Like:
- It’s made by Weber. There is a level of confidence that comes with a product made by a trusted brand in the barbecue world.
- The double handle system makes pouring out the hot coals a lot easier. As this is a bigger chimney, you don’t want to be dropping those red hot coals on yourself!
- The cone shaped interior helps light the coals quickly and evenly. You won’t even be tempted to use lighter fluid.
What We Don’t Like:
- We have heard some complaints that the metal and rivets are a little flimsy. But on the whole, most who have bought this product feel that the quality is not a problem.
A note on safety — when the coals are lit, you will need to wear gloves while handling the chimney. The chimney starter gets incredibly hot, so you need to be careful when handling it.
We have even heard that you can use a chimney starter to cook! Place your wok on the top of the chimney starter once the coals are lit and it is just as good, if not better than, any hotplate you have in your kitchen!
Just about everyone we have heard from who has one of these say it works every time and makes lighting their coals a breeze. A common comment is that they are all a little baffled as to why they didn’t purchase one sooner.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Best Propane Charcoal Starter – Red Dragon Propane Torch
If you like the idea of hitting your coals with some serious heat to get them cranking fast, then the Red Dragon Propane Torch is worthy of some attention.
In fact, some may even feel this starter could fall into the “overkill” category, as it is a heavy duty unit. It can also be used to kill weeds and clear scrub, so it is a great tool to have on hand if you have a bit of land to maintain.
Despite it’s heavy duty appearance, the blowtorch is actually the perfect way to light your charcoal for a low and slow cook efficiently. The idea is to light just enough coals so that the barbecue comes up to the desired temperature and stays there, rather than getting hotter than the target temperature and dropping.
To do this, fill your cooker with charcoal, and target 2 or 3 spots with your blowtorch, for a minute or two each. Give the charcoal full access to oxygen for 5 or 10 minutes, then shut the lid. Watch the temperature rise and stabilize at the level you are after, and you are ready to add your smoking wood.
The Red Dragon Propane Torch attaches to a regular barbecue gas cylinder. While your cylinder may be quite cumbersome, if you are using it to barbecue, all this equipment is likely to be in one spot anyway.
This unit has a squeeze handle, meaning you have nice control over the intensity of the flame. We have heard from those that have bought the unit that it is well built with quality fittings. It is also easy to assemble; all you need is a wrench and the ability to follow some instructions.
What We Like:
- This is a heavy duty unit and is multi-purpose. In fact, you might find this a handy piece of equipment to have on hand for more than just lighting your barbeque.
- The unit is well made and should last a long time.
- Assembly is quick and easy. You will need a couple of wrenches, but that’s all.
- Unlike gasoline or other fire starting chemicals, propane is flavorless and odorless.
What We Don’t Like:
- This is not built purposely as a barbecue lighter. As such, the long nozzle and general size of the unit can make it a little awkward to use. This is especially true in the case of ‘green egg’ cookers, as you will need to get the nozzle down into the barbecue to light the coals.
We have heard that some people experience gas flow issues.
In reality, this unit is a little more than a charcoal starter. While it will do a great job of lighting your coals fast, if you are also after a way to control weeds without the use of chemicals, or burn off some greenwaste, this is the perfect tool for the job.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
The Best Electric Charcoal Lighter – Looftlighter Charcoal Starter
The Looftlighter is an electric device that blows superheated air out the end of a nozzle. And by superheated, I mean more than 1200°F.
Start up the device, and place the nozzle in contact with the charcoal. When the charcoal starts to light up, you will see small sparks flying out. Once this happens, pull the nozzle back from the charcoal a little, but keep the hot air up to it.
At this point, you can either focus on heating up one area of the charcoal, or move the Looftlighter around and light up the edges of individual coals throughout the pile. Either method will work and it really comes down to your preferences after some trial and error.
This product comes with a 2 year warranty. This is good to know because, compared to other charcoal lighting tools, this one is a little expensive. However, most people who have purchased one find that they are well made and work as described.
The unit’s power chord is 10 feet long. While the chord length is generous, you will still need to think about where you place your barbecue in relation to power outlets, which could be a bit of a pain. When camping, for example, this might not be the best tool.
What We Like:
- The speed at which you can have your barbecue lit and ready to go when using this device is very appealing.
- Quality construction with a 2 year warranty.
- No need to use paper or fuels to get your coals lit. Even if you are using a starter chimney, in windy conditions the ash coming off the paper can be messy.
- The unit comes with a hanger which doubles as a bottle opener. Nice touch.
- The air that the Looftlighter blows out is so hot that you can light wood with it, making it a bit of a barbecue allrounder.
What We Don’t Like
- The unit is a little noisy. While this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, be warned that the sound is akin to that of a small leaf blower. If that kind of a sound would grind your gears, it is worth considering that before you outlay the money.
Unlike chimney starters, you do have to physically hold the unit to the coals throughout the lighting process. While it only takes 5 – 10 minutes to do the job, you might find this a little irritating.
While you could be forgiven for thinking this is just a toy for big people, we have found that it does actually work, and works well.
It is built to last, lights your charcoal fast, and saves you the task of sourcing old newspapers, school books or bank statements to burn in order to get your barbecue started.
Get the latest price from BBQGuys.com.
How NOT to light charcoal
I have alluded to this topic throughout this article. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that fuel, gasoline, spirits (anything smelly and chemical-ly) is a good way to light your coals. It is not.
Not only is it unnecessary (especially now that you know what great options that are out there), but it will also make your food taste terrible. It will taste like petrol, or lighter fuel, or whatever it is you doused your charcoal with.
Worse still, using such chemicals can be downright dangerous. The fumes that come off them are toxic, and the very worst case scenario is that they can kill.
Not to mention the potential for burns. Stray sleeves, arms and faces, for example, hovering over a struggling fire while lighter fluid is being squirted onto it is a recipe for disaster.
What about the easy lighting charcoal you see in the stores? In the wise words of Meathead Goldwyn from Amazingribs.com
“… stay away from the easy lighting charcoal. Just open the bag and smell. They are soaked in mineral spirits. All the way to the core. So petroleum products are in the smoke right to the end. And you can taste it in the food.”
Light Charcoal the Low Tech Way
We have talked about the latest and greatest way to light your charcoal, but if you don’t have the inclination or the extra cash to buy one of these tools, don’t forget you can go old school. Yep, some paper and a match will still do the trick.
Exact methods vary, but the basic idea is to put down some paper, egg cartons, old bits of cardboard, with or without some fire lighting cubes underneath your coals. Light the paper, and wait for the charcoal to light up.
There are some minor variations to consider. For example, how tight to scrunch the paper, whether to douse the paper in cooking oil or not, or if fire lighting cubes are really necessary. But you get the basic idea.
Just be careful of the ash that can blow off your paper or cardboard. In windy conditions, ash can take off and light up your garden, which you really don’t want happening. If you are lighting up low-tech under a tree with low hanging branches, or the lawn has dried out a bit in the summer, it is a good idea to take extra care.
Wrapping It Up
We hope you have enjoyed our roundup of the best tools for starting charcoal. Lighting your charcoal need not be a stress inducing aspect of the barbecuing experience. With the right tools and a little bit of know how, it is not too difficult.
Whether you go high-tech with a gadget like the looftlighter, or stick to the old school techniques such as scrunched up paper and matches, there are plenty of ways to get the job done.
What method do you use to light your charcoal? Do you have any tips or tricks that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below. And if you have found this article helpful, but sure to share!
Last update on 2018-04-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API