Nothing beats the sight, sound, and scent of a barbecue crackling away on a hot summer’s day. Gas-powered grills may have the edge when it comes to convenience, but for the authentic experience, the only choice is a traditional charcoal barbecue.
And now thanks to the invention of the charcoal chimney starters it’s not even a challenge to get your briquettes or lumpwood fuel evenly lit. The days of soaking the whole lot in some sort of paraffin lighting agent and fanning the flames for 45 minutes are long gone. It’s no exaggeration to describe this simple cooking gadget as a total game-changer.
The process is as simple as the design of the chimney starter itself – simply fill with your chosen fuel, light a fire underneath and wait until everything is glowing, then pour out into your grill. It works perfectly every time, even if your barbecue is interrupted by unseasonal drizzle.
You could always make one from a large tin of baked beans (once empty of course) – but the advantage of spending a little extra on a properly designed chimney massively outweighs the expense. These all feature heat-shielding and handles that won’t give you third-degree burns, for example.
While you’re considering improving your barbecue game, since we’ll all be spending a bit more time at home this summer, now’s also a great time to get the patio cleaned, or pick a gazebo and some new furniture to keep your guests comfortable.
Best charcoal chimney starters UK
Weber Chimney Starter
Not necessarily the original chimney starter but without doubt, the best Weber item features two handles behind a heat shield to help you aim and pour the hot coals into your grill without burning yourself. Large enough (conveniently) to fill one Weber kettle barbecue, it also features a cone-shaped element at the bottom to ensure the maximum surface area above the firelighters. I've owned one of these for three years and it's worked flawlessly the whole time. Despite leaving it out in the rain on more than one occasion.
Pros Correct size for a Weber grill, long top handle keeps your hand away from the heat
Cons Not great when part-filled, expensive
Denmay BBQ Collapsible Charcoal Chimney Starter
Best chimney starter for camping trips
One downside of a chimney starter is the sheer amount of space it takes up, whether in your shed or in the back of the car on the way to a camping trip. This folding version promises to solve that problem by collapsing into a small package, while all the time offering the same functionality as a normal chimney. Denmay also suggests the fact it's square means you can pour the coals more accurately out of the corner than you can with a round starter. The jury's out on that one.
Pros Takes up less space Perfect for camping
Cons Obviously can't be disassembled while hot, You'll need to clean it before packing it away
GFTime Chimney Starter
Best chimney starter for flexible fuel
With more space under the grill upon which the coals sit, this chimney starter claims to offer more flexibility when it comes to the lighting method. Namely, you can ball up a load of newspaper underneath and use that to ignite the coals. I've tried this with my Weber chimney a few times (usually when I've run out of lighter cubes) with mixed results, so if reusing waste paper instead of chemical lighter fuel is a priority for you, this is the ideal starter.
Pros Can use paper fuel to light it, large enough for a kettle barbecue
Cons Some owners claim the handle gets hot, expensive
Weber Compact Chimney Starter
Best chimney starter for smaller barbecues
One thing a large chimney starter can't claim to be any good at is lighting anything less than a full load of coals you can get away with half-filling them but usually, this means gaps for heat to wastefully escape through. Hence this smaller Weber chimney's inclusion in this list is perfect for those occasions when you want to cook just a few burgers, or like me, you haven't been paying attention to the barbecue and need to add a handful of coals to stop it going out.
Pros Great for smaller barbecues or when cooking for a short time
Cons Too small to fill a kettle barbecue alone, Means having two chimney starters
Tepro XL Chimney Starter
Best chimney starter for premium design
Even with shielding and heat-proof handles, there's still an inconvenient amount of sparks that get thrown up when you pour the coals from your chimney. This Tepro starter has a cleverly designed cowl to help suppress them, and an ergonomic handle that replaces the need for a second one on the top of the chimney. It looks quite posh too. Pros Less chance of getting a face-full of sparks, Premium design and finish
Cons Wooden handle will be vulnerable to the elements Won't stay looking that posh for long
AMOS Charcoal Chimney
Best budget chimney starter
If you're looking at this list and considering hack-sawing a tin of beans to make your own chimney starter then consider this keenly priced budget item first. One of the cheapest on he list it still packs in loads of useful features at a more palatable bottom line. No, it doesn't look as premium as the Weber or Tepro chimney, but it's going to get your coals nice and hot without burning your hands, so who cares?
Pros Cheap, gets the job done
Con Doesn't look as smart, plastic handle looks a bit flimsy
What should I use to light my chimney starter?
Weber Lighter Cubes
In theory, any combustible material will be enough to get your coals going but for the ultimate in reliable, stress-free ignition we reckon lighter cubes are the best choice, and particularly these Weber ones, which come in a resealable bag and resist even the most inclement of UK summertime weather.
Which is best, lumpwood or briquettes?
Again, thereu2019s a huge amount of personal preference at play here and thereu2019s something deeply satisfying about a kettle full of ticking, glowing lumpwood but if you want consistent results briquettes are hard to beat. They light evenly and burn at the same temperature, so thereu2019s less chance of developing a hot spot, and these Weber coals are made from waste wood and promise a three-hour burn.
Adam Binnie is the Commercial Content Editor for Bauer Media, covering WhatsTheBest, Mother&Baby, Heat, Closer, Empire, Yours, MCN, CAR, and Parkers.co.uk.
Subscribe to the What’s The Best Newsletter to keep up to date with more of the latest reviews and recommendations from the What’s The Best team.