Chimney starter

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A simple chimney starter in use

A chimney starter or charcoal chimney is a device for igniting charcoal lumps or briquettes. It consists of a metal tube with a grate to hold charcoal. The tube is typically cylindrical, but may also have other cross-sections.[1][2][3] The tube may also be made of combustible material designed to resist burning long enough for the coals to ignite.[3]

Early home-made versions in the 1950s, called kindle cans, were often made from metal coffee or juice cans with ventilation holes punched with a can opener.[4] They often did not have handles, and needed to be handled with tongs.

Commercial models are usually sheet steel cylinders about 8" (20 cm) in diameter and about 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) tall. A grate or mesh to hold charcoal is placed horizontally inside the cylinder about 3" (8 cm) from the bottom; this is sometimes conical.[5] Large holes around the bottom let air in. Modern commercial chimneys generally have insulated handles.

Patent drawing of a chimney starter

Various kinds of chimney starter have been patented over the years.[6][7]

Using a chimney starter[edit]

The chimney starter is used by placing kindling—typically paper—under the grate and charcoal over it. When the kindling is lit, it ignites the charcoal and creates a draft. Since the coals are held together, radiation heats adjacent coals, and convection heats coals higher in the stack. Once all the charcoal is burning (glowing red on the bottom and ashed over on the top), the chimney is lifted by its handle and the burning charcoal dumped into the grill.

If some burning charcoal remains in the chimney, adding new charcoal will quickly ignite it.


One can also cook directly over the chimney starter with an additional top grate. This provides high-intensity heat for fast searing.[8][9][1]

Japanese Fire starter

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Outset Collapsible Camping Grill and Chimney Starter", [1]
  2. ^ U.S. Design Patent 471762S1
  3. ^ a b U.S. Patent US20160075961A1, filed 2014
  4. ^ "The kindle can", Sunset, 116 (1956), p. 90
  5. ^ U.S. Patent No. 5,197,455A, "Charcoal starter", filed 1992
  6. ^ U.S. Patent No. US2920614A, Portable combined grill and charcoal starter, filed 1957
  7. ^ U.S. Patent No. 3,167,040, Automatic Dump Type Charcoal Lighter, filed 1962
  8. ^ Transcript of Good Eats episode
  9. ^ "Electric Smoker Guide". Wednesday, 22 August 2018