Category Archives: Grilling

Traditional grilling techniques.

Charcoal Chimney Starter

In my last post, I discussed the difference between charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal. Now that you’ve chosen which fuel you will use, you must know how to properly light it. The first thing that probably comes to your mind is lighter fluid and a match. If that’s the case, then you have a long way to go before you can call yourself a Grill Master.

First, ditch the lighter fluid and stay away from the charcoal briquettes that have lighter fluid infused in them. Lighter fluid is toxic and can add a nasty taste to your food. In addition, using too much lighter fluid can result in a flare-up that could cause serious injuries.

Do yourself (and those you are cooking for) a favor and pick yourself up a chimney starter. A chimney is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get your charcoal ready to do its job. Basically, a chimney starter is a metal cylinder that has a rack on the bottom that the charcoal sits on. The rack has holes in it and underneath is where you put newspaper that will light the charcoal sitting above.

Chimney starters can be found at most hardware and big box home supply stores like Home Depot. They run about $20 bucks and they are well worth it. The only thing you need besides the chimney is a few pieces of newspaper and some matches and voila, you’ve got yourself a non-toxic way to light your charcoal.

Now, I’m not going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to use a chimney starter. If you can’t figure it out, you probably should leave the grilling to somebody else. However, what I will do is give you a couple of useful tips.

  1. Put the charcoal in the chimney before putting the newspaper in the bottom. If you put the newspaper in first, the soot from the charcoal bag will prevent the fire from reaching the charcoal above.
  2. Don’t use too much newspaper. I usually use three crumpled up pieces of newspaper, which is enough to get the charcoal started. Too much newspaper will prevent air from getting to the paper in the middle and you’ll find yourself adding more because it won’t burn all the way through.
  3. Light the newspaper in multiple places. This will ensure that you have all of the pieces of newspaper lit.
  4. Once you see flames coming out of the top of the chimney, your charcoal is ready to go. Don’t wait until all of the charcoal is grey or your just wasting it by burning it faster.

It usually takes a chimney between 10 – 15 minutes to fully light your charcoal. That is plenty of time to get your food prepped or to sit down and have a nice, cold beer.

Briquettes vs. Lump Charcoal

In thekruser’s first post, he lists some of the things that you must conquer before you can call yourself a Grill Master. One of the things he mentions is fuel. You might be thinking, “Fuel? You’re supposed to use gasoline when grilling? This guy is crazy.” No, he’s not talking about gasoline, fool. He’s referring to charcoal and I’m going to give you a quick lesson.

Two common types of charcoal are available on the market today, charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal.  There is a great debate on which type is better. Based on my own personal experience, I have found that both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Briquettes, like those made by Kingsford, seem to burn longer and more consistently than lump charcoal. The downside is that briquettes aren’t as easy to light and they don’t burn as hot as lump charcoal. A common misconception is that charcoal briquettes contain chemicals additives. While briquettes do contain binders to hold the crushed charcoal together, I’ve looked at the ingredients in Kingsford Original Briquetes and I don’t see anything that alarms me.

Lump charcoal, like briquettes, is made from pieces of wood that has been burned in an oxygen-controlled environment. The main difference is that once charred, the chunks are bagged and sold as-is. I’m no hippie, but I do like the fact that lump charcoal is natural. I also like that it lights faster, burns hotter and produces less ash than briquettes. The thing I don’t like is you don’t always know what you’re going to get in the bag. I don’t mean that you could find foreign objects in there, but you will find that the size of the chunks are inconsistent. In addition, lump charcoal seems to burn faster than briquettes, which means you will use more if you are cooking for long periods of time. The vents in your grill can control the rate of how fast it burns, but I’ll save that topic for another post.

So, which is better? Personally, I use briquettes in my smoker or in the grill when I’m cooking a bigger piece of meat, such as pork tenderloin. I prefer lump charcoal when cooking steak, chicken breasts, pork chops, etc.  The higher temperature allows me to get a nice sear on the meat, which locks in the juices.

Next time I will give you some tips on how to properly light your charcoal to get the best flavor. Until then, please feel free to comment below. I know there are strong opinions out there about both types of charcoal. I would love to know what you think.