A chimney starter, also called a charcoal chimney, is a device that is used to set either lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes alight. It is usually a steel cylinder about 8" (20 cm) in diameter and about 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) tall. Chimney starters have a plate or grate with several holes that is welded horizontally inside the cylinder about 3" (8 cm) from the bottom. The chimney has large holes drilled around its circumference below the grate. This is to allow air to flow up underneath the charcoal, which rests on top of the grate. They also have handles that are frequently insulated. The chimney starter works by placing newspaper underneath the grate and lighting it on fire. This fire rises through the holes in the grate and sets the charcoal alight. It is commonly used in situations where the use of charcoal lighter fluid, a toxic petroleum derivative, is inappropriate or banned. It is also used when extra charcoals are required while the grill is being used, such as when slowly cooking something for a few hours.
A type of chimney starter's basic device, named Automatic Dump Type Charcoal Lighter, was invented in the 1960s by Hugh King, Lavaughn Johnson, and Garner Byars of Corinth, Mississippi and marketed under the "Auto Fire" label.
Use of a chimney starter
A chimney starter is used by placing charcoal (as lump charcoal or briquettes) in the chimney so that they stack on top of the grate. Once the charcoal is all burning (it will appear glowing red in the bottom and ashed over on the top), the chimney is picked up by its handle and the lit charcoal dumped into the grill.
If a couple of pieces of lit charcoal are left in the chimney, and it is filled with unlit charcoal, it will quickly light the new batch, this time without the aid of fire lighters or paper, and without smoke.