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Charcoal Starters - Chimney vs. Electric?

I really like my chimney starter, though I've found that I need 2 of them in order to have enough charcoal for most of my grilling. Also, on occasion if the fire doesn't get going good I have to start over.
With these 2 things in mind, I was thinking about getting one of those electric starters that sit in the coals. They just look like they wouldn't burn all the coals evenly. I know I could just go spend about 10 bucks and do my own tests, but I thought I'd pose the question here first. Has anyone tried one of these. How do they work? Would you recommend them? Should I just stick with my 2 chimneys?

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  1. Troy, I've never used a chimney but before we got a gas grill we always used an electric starter for our coals - wore one out and promptly bought another.

    They work great, but the trick is to lay a bed of coals, put the starter on them and then add more coals on top of the starter. Keep the started plugged in for the length of time suggested by the manufacturer, perhaps a minute or three longer, and when you remove it use the starter to kind of gently push all the coals back into a mound. We found it completely hassle-free and reliable every time.

    1 Reply
    1. re: janniecooks

      ATTN: Place an empty paper towel cardboard tube inside the chimney, fill chimney with charcoal. This makes for a chimney within a chimney. Stuff 2 sheets of newspaper in bottom. One match. Works every time. Instant fire. You will be amazed.

    2. Electric's only advantages are no need for fire starting/ no messing with matches. Somewhat handy is cold weather, but still not as fast/even as chimney starter.

      I like the BIG chimney starters like those from Weber -- hold plenty of charcoal. Never had a problem where I had to start over. If the charcoal seems like it is not going well enough from the convection of the heat in the chimney I have been known to get out a leaf blower or other fan/inflator to speed things along...

      1. I have a big Weber chimney (I finally decided to spend the big bucks on the Weber, after using up two cheapo off-brand chimneys), and it works great. You can take out a little insurance on the starter by drizzling some cooking oil on the newspaper before you stuff it into the bottom of the chimney (thanks for the tip, Alton!).

        My mom used to have an electric starter, and it was a PITA...slow, uneven, and she never seemed to think ahead to have somewhere to put that red hot coil once the coals were going.

        10 Replies
        1. re: ricepad

          ricepad,
          do you use briquets or the natural stuff?
          I have found that the natural burns too quick, but in my chimney if i put the natural in as the bottom layer, then it does real well. Times I don't are hit and miss. I'll try the cooking oil, though.

          1. re: TroyTempest

            I use lump charcoal. The smaller chunks (say, the size of briquets or smaller) do burn quickly, but the larger ones(softball-size or bigger) last longer. I try to use a mix of a few big pieces along with the smaller pieces, too, so I don't end up toward the end of the bag with nothing but chips and dust.

            1. re: ricepad

              Use better charcoal. I was using whatever was handy (usually Kingsford) but a guy turned me onto some Argentinian hardwood lump charcoal that was amazing. It lasted at least twice as long and as such, had very even heat.

              DT

              1. re: Davwud

                What did I say that indicated I needed to use better charcoal? The 'dust' comment?

                1. re: ricepad

                  Sorry. I reread and realized misunderstood what you had said. I thought you had complained that the lump charcoal burned too quickly. So my reply of using better charcoal would be appropriate. As better charcoal lasts longer.
                  My mistake

                  DT

          2. re: ricepad

            I use a Weber Chimney and only had it fail twice, another sheet of paper did it. I too have gone the Alton route and drizzle a little salad oil on the paper now it really works. One fill is usually enough for most grilling for me but if I'm doing something that needs to go long I have a smoky Joe I set the chimney in for a second load.

            1. re: ricepad

              I use a can of cooking spray but cooking oil smeared all over the paper works the best. It makes the paper burn way faster.

              DT

              1. re: Davwud

                Yeah,
                This is an old thread, but the cooking oil was the key. The results were far superior after that.

                1. re: TroyTempest

                  Oh, and I mean the paper burns way slower.

                  DT

            2. I will htrough my vote in for the weber chimney starter with lump charcoal - starts the coals quickly so if I need more lit charcoal it only takes about 15 minuted before I have more list -

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