Basic BBQ Tips: The Chimney Starter

Chimney Starter
Strangely in life the harder the things you learn to do the easier it to forget how you did it, remember riding a bike?

BBQ is just the same!

The hardest thing I found was lighting the BBQ. Open the bag of charcoal put directly into the BBQ then squirt with lighting fluid, BOOM big ball of flames and two minutes later it goes out, add more fluid and fan the flames, moving charcoal about and burning your fingers whilst having helpful comments like “people are arriving in 15 minutes”.

If this sounds familiar read on …..

Enter the game changer, the humble chimney starter. My preferred method is fill the chimney starter with charcoal (lump or briquettes) but never instant light charcoal.

Light two eco firelighters and pop the chimney starter on top. Twenty minutes later you have perfect lit charcoal ready for instant use….that easy

Wow they must be pricey? Cant be that easy? Well most cost between £8 – £20 and last for ages, and it really is that simple, like riding a bike….

Smoking on your Charcoal BBQ

Smoking Chunk on Charcoal
Smoking on a charcoal BBQ is a great way to get started and learn the basics of smoking. My first attempts at smoking over charcoal were on my Weber Kettle and with a little practice, you can get great results. You can add wood to your charcoal or briquettes for any direct or indirect cooking method to ramp up the flavour.

Should you use wood chips or chunks?

Cherry Smoking Chunks

Depending on the flavour or intensity of smoke you are aiming for, you can use chips or chunks when smoking on a charcoal BBQ. Both are placed directly onto the coals. Wood chips should be soaked for about 20-30 minutes before adding them to the coals. They are smaller in size and if you don’t soak them, they will burn quickly giving you very little smoke. When the wood chips are wet, they should give around 10-15 minutes of smoke so if you are aiming for a mild smoky flavour they are perfect. They are also perfect for shorter cooks or if you are cooking direct

Chunks are larger and will therefore burn for a longer time. One or two chunks added to the coals can provide around 1 hour of smoke. Some people may choose to soak the chunks before adding them to the coals but in my opinion this isn’t necessary. Dry wood will produce a cleaner smoke and if they burn a little quicker, you can always add another chunk.

Tips for smoking on a Charcoal BBQ

When I talk to anyone who is interested in learning how to smoke, I always recommend they start smoking on a charcoal BBQ they already have. You can do almost any form of smoking on a Kettle BBQ and whilst they may not be as easy to manage as a dedicated smoker, you can get very similar results.

Aim to be subtle with your smoke and treat it like any other flavour you add to your food. By all means you can add a little extra if you like the flavour but too much will result in your food tasting and looking like it was in a house fire!

I like to think of it this way.

Let’s say you add a rub to a whole chicken before putting in onto the BBQ to roast. You would never dream of going back and adding more rub every 15 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked. The flavour of the chicken would be overpowered by the layers of rub and result in a rather unpleasant meal! The same rules apply to smoke. 15 minutes of smoke at the very beginning of the cook is enough to give you a great flavour but you will still be able to taste your seasoning and more importantly the meat.

The smoke will only penetrate into the meat whilst the outer surface isn’t sealed. After 20-30 minutes at normal roasting temperatures, the smoke will struggle to get into the meat so there is little point in adding more. Food that is cooking low and slow will take longer to seal so can therefore take on more smoke but remember not to be too heavy handed.

Another important factor to remember is airflow. If you are cooking indirect and want to add smoke, the position of your lid vent is crucial. The same can be said for any indirect cooking. Your lid vent should always be placed directly over your food to ensure the air is drawn in through the bottom vent, through the coals and wood then it passes over your food before exiting the BBQ through the lid vent. If the vent is placed over the coals, the airflow will be through the coals then straight up and out through the vent.The caveat to this setup is that the hood thermometer may now be placed directly over the coals giving you a false reading as to the actual temperature at grill level where your food is placed. I would recommend you have a grill level thermometer to get accurate temperature readings.

A great place to start!

A kettle BBQ is the ideal beginners BBQ as you can do almost any form of cooking on it including smoking. Something like the Weber 57cm Mastertouch has all the features you need to learn all aspects of BBQ. When smoking on a charcoal BBQ, a lid is essential and hinged cooking grates make it very easy to add more coals or wood chips without having to remove your cooking grate from the BBQ.You can easily learn the basics of smoking on a kettle before moving up to a dedicated smoker. Start with adding a few wood chips or chunks to your current cooks and experimenting with different flavours before moving on to some of the bigger cooks like ribs or brisket.

Click to Download your Smoking Wood Chart
By adding a little bit of smoke at the start, then building from there, you will slowly learn what wood flavours you like and how strong you like them. To help you match the different wood flavours with your meat, we have put together a chart with some of the most common smoking woods showing their strength and what meats they go well with. 

Click here to download your FREE smoking wood chart in pdf format

There are many other varieties of smoking wood but this is a great selection to get you started and help you learn the different levels of flavour.


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Chimney Starter: An Essential Accessory

Lit Chimney Starter with Charcoal

An Essential

For anyone with a ‘natural’ BBQ where you need to light either charcoal or briquettes a Chimney Starter is an essential item to own.

What is a Chimney Starter and How to they work?

A chimney starter is by far one of the easiest ways to light the charcoal for your BBQ.

The old method of placing a few fire lighters under a stack of charcoal then dousing it with lighter fuel not only adds a bad flavour to your food, but it can take a long time before your coals are ready to cook on. Add to that the fact that not all the charcoal will light at the same rate and it can easily stress you out before the first piece of meat hits the grill!

A chimney starter takes away all that annoyance as it will light all your charcoal evenly and quickly. It becomes especially useful when lighting briquettes as they are notoriously harder to light that standard lumpwood charcoal.

So how do they work?

You simply fill your desired amount of charcoal into the chimney starter. Then place some form of lighter on the charcoal grate of your BBQ and set the chimney starter on top of it.

The starter is designed to draw air through the bottom, up through your charcoal and out the top (like a chimney). The rush of air flowing through the coals lights them up quickly and as they are all held together in the cylinder, they are evenly lit all the way through.

You will know your coals are ready when the top layer of charcoal has turned white and the flames are dancing at the top.

Using a BBQ Glove, simply pour the lit coals into the BBQ and add your cooking grate. After a few minutes with the lid on to pre-heat your cooking grate, you are ready to cook.

A full chimney starter of lumpwood charcoal should light in around 10-15 minutes. Briquettes can take up to 20-25 minutes to get a full chimney going.

A lot of people moved away from charcoal BBQ’s as they were such a pain to light but this simply isn’t an issue any more. It is recommended that you pre-heat your Gas BBQ for around 15 minutes before cooking so the time difference between the two is negligible.

Adding the right amount of fuel

Another great benefit of a chimney starter is that they allow you to measure the amount of charcoal you are adding to your BBQ so you will quickly learn how much fuel is needed to achieve a desired temperature.

By keeping track of the level the chimney was filled to and the resulting grill temperature, it can make it easier to hit your target temperature i.e. ½ chimney starter of briquettes = 160-180C….. Ideal for roasting when setup for indirect cooking.

I’ve never talked to someone who has purchased a chimney starter and didn’t think it was one of the best investments they had ever made. They make getting a fire going really easy and hassle free allowing you to concentrate on the things that matter, cooking your food!

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