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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 -

              1. Just remember - these electric starters aren't 'forever', as the ads say. I'm about to get my 4th one, all from BGEgg. They say the longer they run, the shorter the life, and recommend 6 min max. I use an old hair dryer, stuck in the front vent of the Egg, which starts the charcoal quickly. Otherwise, 5min isn't enough.

                1. I use the Weber, it's much bigger than the off brand stuff. The idea is for those coals to light additional coals that are placed on top or around them. My son had an electric but switched to the Weber chimney.

                  1. BBQing bulgogi tonight with Korean friends who insist on charcoal. Always use an electric starter which works out well in tonight's mild steady snowfall here outside Toronto. They're good for a couple of years but I always buy 2 at the end of the summer when they're often marked way down.Looking forward to a Korean spread, good company, homemade kimchi, and a steady stream of shochu and beer.

                    1. I like chimneys ....especially during power outages.

                      1. Well, since jondoe raised this thread from the dead...

                        I have, use and like both the chimney and the loop electric. Obviously the chimney works anywhere. Like the electric whenever I don't want ashes and embers all over (e.g., when wearing sandals in the summer). I also dislike "reloading" the chimney with paper for a complete light. My only quibble with the electric is that you have to be careful not to leave it in the burning 'bricks too long or else you'll be buying another.

                        When I use the chimney, I like to use fewer 'bricks than a full load, and then dump them on a bed of unlit ones and partially cover with unlits. I do this because I'm a little nervous about having all the combustion products from all the ink in newsprint in all the fuel.

                        My IDEAL starting method is a high-output propane weedburner torch, but a Benzomatic shop torch works just fine, too. WAY faster than chimney or electric.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          If you are concerned about the ink from newsprint, head to the U-haul store and buy a package of packing paper. It's news print, sans the ink. Or just move and you'll have plenty for years to come.

                          1. re: kaleokahu

                            I do this because I'm a little nervous about having all the combustion products from all the ink in newsprint in all the fuel.

                            You're kidding right?

                            1. re: Dave5440

                              Dave5440: Wrong. I grill and smoke a lot, and my local newspaper has lots of colored ink and glossy ad pages. It makes a dirty, sooty smoke, and I don't like the chem-soot on my grates or in my food. Mikie's suggestion is good--I've got an industrial sized roll of butcher paper I can use up.

                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                My mistake , the only thing with glossy pages around here are magizines and i would never use them, but how would the glossy page smoke get into your smoker? I grill and have an offset smoker but the crap gets burned off in my chimney, but I haven't used any paper in mine for about 3 yrs , not since I started using my side burner to ignite the charcoal, see below

                                1. re: Dave5440

                                  Dave5440: I, too use an offset (Texas pit-style) smoker with a smoking locker welded onto the other end. I use the locker for cold smoking and the pit for kippering.

                                  Certainly some--maybe most--of the ink soot stays in the firebox, but I'm not taking chances that all of it is gone. The inside of the pit does get a little soot, which can collect and drop onto the food when the lid or doors get closed.

                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    I agree with you i wouln't use that paper for a starter either but If you use a chimney then you shouldn't get ink soot in the firebox, also when you get build up in the smoking chamber just crank the temp up or start a fire in the smoking chamber to burn it off, good idea on the locker, i've never done any cold smoking but it tastes good

                                    1. re: Dave5440

                                      Dave5440: Those are good suggestions, but my Texas Pit's smoking chamber accumulates dry soot over all conditions (I usually burn charcoal and hardwood chunks, and keep the fire low), so they are not practical for me. I steel brush the interiors and vacuum out the crap when it starts falling onto the food.

                                      As for the chimney, I don't think all of the ink soot is gone from it when I dump into the firebox. I could be wrong, but why chance it?

                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        Thats why I use the side burner ,faster and it'll light up anytime

                                2. re: kaleokahu

                                  Just stuff the bottom section of the chimney chamber with the paper (instead of putting it in the same section as your charcoal). That way when you pick up your chimney, your starter material will fall out of the bottom, safely away from your grill.

                                  1. re: bagofwater

                                    bagofwater: This is good advice, and if you read all of my posts above, you'll see I use this method when I do use the chimney. However, there are times of the year and occasions when I do not want the ashes, sparks and embers falling out the bottom onto little toes and white clothes.

                              2. re: kaleokahu

                                Isn't a lot of newspaper ink soy based?

                                I usually use Weber stater cubes in my chimney. You don't need a lot of fire in the base of chimney. Once some of the coals start they will feed the rest.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Hi, Paul: Maybe a lot is soy-based. But until I know it all is, I'm avoiding newsprint. I feel pretty much the same way about PTFE, so maybe I'm strange.

                              3. I've found the electrics are just like you said, uneven, do you
                                have a side burner on your gas grill? if you do , best way to get your coals going is to take the grate off the side burner and put the chimney on top turn it on high , in 10~15 min they are ready to go. I also modified my gas grill to use charcoal, i just use the gas to light the charcoal, works everytime.

                                    1. re: kkirkphoto

                                      How can it add flavor? good or bad?

                                  1. I use a Weber chimney as well, and find it holds plenty of charcoal for any of my grills or smoker. I always use newspaper for starting, and never seem to have to addd paper for a complete start. I usually use about three full sheets of a standard newspaper. I grab one sheet at a time with both hands on the long side and crumple it up into my hands, making kind of a long crumpled "rope". I do the same with each sheet seperately, and then twist them all a few times, not real tightly. Then just bring the ends together, making kind of a paper donut that just fits into the bottom of the chimney. When lit, the "donut" allows airflow and flames up into the chimney, and it lights correctly every time. I like the tip about the cooking oil on the paper, but I really never find it to be necessary.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Cheez62

                                      I only use a single sheet - spray a little Pam on it and lights my charcoal just fine -

                                      1. re: weinstein5

                                        Addendum,
                                        Since i started using Pam (or cooking oil) on the newspaper i never have a problem. I went and bought the big Weber Chimney, and that is a big help.

                                    2. I use both I stick the electric starter in the chimney.

                                      1. Just get a propane blowtorch. You'll light your entire chimney of coals in about 20 seconds flat.

                                        http://youtu.be/kTC8br5VZj0

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Zalbar

                                          Using those and the large ones melts your grates... they get all saggy and have to be replaced quite often. Too much use and the enamel on the kettle, or finish on the unit, crack off and it rusts out in weeks. I learned this from the bbq circuit, and one summer of using one at home. Ruined my perfect shape, ten year old Weber kettle and had to get a new one.

                                          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPvsg...

                                          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hCGo...

                                        2. I use a chimney, but there's a second purpose for the damn thing that's virtually unknown.

                                          I've got a BGE in my backyard. Love it, but when I only want to cook one or two things, it's a pain in the ass. I'm not going to use it if I just want a burger or two, or a steak. I mean, really. This, gentle friends is where the chimney comes in handy.

                                          Set up your chimney and let the coals get white-hot. At this point, the coals should be cooking at 800F+. Now throw a grill on top of it and bam, you have an instant super-hot grill at your disposal, awesome for anything that requires just a quick sear- especially steak. Once finished, I toss the coals into the BGE with the vents closed, so that they can be saved for the next job. Easy!

                                          3 Replies
                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                              You might want to tell Alton Brown. He's also into it.

                                            2. re: biggreenmatt

                                              Been doing that for at least 14-15 years...