How to Build Your Own Charcoal Chimney Starter

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Charcoal started in an open grill can take a long time to heat up to cooking temperature. A charcoal chimney starter speeds up the heating process by retaining the charcoal's heat in a small space and drawing oxygen through the charcoal continuously to help it burn faster. Commercial charcoal chimney starters cost $30 or more, but you can easily make your own for free.

Things You'll Need

  • Large metal coffee can, or #10 metal food-service can
  • Can opener
  • "Church key" can opener with pointed triangular end
  • 2 coat hangers (optional)
  • Drill with 1/8-inch drill bit (optional)
  • Wire cutters (optional)
  • Pliers
  • Work gloves
  • Put on work gloves. You will be cutting metal and you could cut your fingers on sharp metal edges.

  • Wash and dry an empty coffee can or #10 food service can. If the can is full, use a can opener to remove the top lid of the can, pour the can's contents into another container, then wash and dry the can.

  • Turn the can on its side. Using a "church key" can opener, punch triangular holes into the can around the bottom edge of the sides of the can, spaced about two inches apart.

  • Start your charcoal in the can. Then, wearing gloves, use pliers to grab the top of the can and tip the charcoal out into the grill, being careful not to let the charcoal touch your gloves. Or refine your charcoal chimney starter by proceeding to the following steps.

  • Remove the bottom of the can so that you can lift the can straight off of the lit charcoal, leaving the charcoal in the grill. Use the can opener to remove the bottom of the can the same way you removed the top of the can earlier.

  • Suspend wire mesh two inches up from the bottom of the can to create extra air space under the charcoal and help it heat up even more quickly. Use a drill with a 1/8-inch drill bit to drill holes around the can, about two inches up from the bottom and about two inches apart. Straighten a wire coat hanger and cut it into 8-inch pieces with wire cutters. Use the pliers to make a tight curl in one end of each piece. Thread the pieces through the holes in the can so that they cross over each other and don't leave any spaces between them large enough for a piece of charcoal to fall through. Use the pliers to make a tight curl in the other end of the wire so that it won't fall out of the can. If you use a wire mesh you will have to tip the can over to remove the lit charcoal.

  • Create a wire handle for the side of the charcoal chimney. Use a drill with a 1/8-inch drill bit to drill two holes in one side of the can, one hole about 1/2 inch from the top and one hole about an inch from the bottom of the can. The holes should line up vertically along one side of the can. Straighten a wire coat hanger and cut a 12-inch length from it (make it longer or shorter for the size of the handle you would like). Use pliers to make a tight curl in one end of the wire. Thread the wire through the top hole from the inside of the can to the outside, bend the wire into a handle, and thread the other end into the bottom hole. Use the pliers to make a tight curl in the other end of the wire.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not reach into the can with bare hands. You might cut yourself on the sharp metal edges inside. Always use gloves to handle the can when it contains lit coals. Do not use the charcoal chimney starter on grass or on a flammable surface.

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