A chimney starter, also called a charcoal chimney, is a device that is used to ignite either lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes. 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 placed horizontally inside the cylinder about 3" (8 cm) from the bottom. The chimney has large holes around its circumference below the grate. This allows air to flow up underneath the charcoal, which rests atop the grate. Chimneys also have handles that are usually insulated. The chimney starter works by placing newspaper underneath the grate and igniting it. This fire rises through the grate and ignites the charcoal. It is commonly used where 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.
Using a chimney starter
A chimney starter is used by placing charcoal (lump charcoal or briquettes) in the chimney stacked atop the grate, then paper (or other fuel) is placed below the grate to ignite the charcoal. 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 a couple of pieces of burning charcoal are left in the chimney, and it is filled with unignited charcoal, it will quickly ignite the new batch, this time without the aid of fire lighters or paper, and without smoke.
A non-traditional use is to cook directly over or directly underneath the chimney starter, which provides a high-intensity heat-source for flash-searing fish or other foods.