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Joined by our passion for meat, beer, cards and meat, we created a compitition bbq team to partake in just that.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

BBQ Tools - Charcoal Chimney Starter

BBQ Tools - Charcoal Chimney Starter

Remember the days when your dad used to see how much lighter fluid he could squirt on top of a pile of charcoal placed in the middle of the grill? Then throw a match from 5 feet away so the 15 foot tall flame wouldn't burn his eyebrows off? OK - maybe it was just my dad - but I doubt it. The coals still took years before we could finally put the meat on because they had to be white - it was a rule. More wives tales - these days are over!

Enter the charcoal chimney. Now, this isn't a new device. In fact - my original BBQ mentor - Biggest Daddy Black - or Grandpa - used an old coffee can with all kinds of nail holes poked in it. Of course, he still used lighter fluid and had to use some crazy horse shoe tong things to pick the coffee can up so he wouldn't burn himself.

Today we have it easy. Run down to any hardware store and pick up a charcoal chimney. There are all kinds of brands but they all look basically the same - a large coffee looking can thing with all kinds of holes and a handle. I use the Weber model because - well - it looked the coolest and was still around $15.

Why use one of these contraptions? Two reasons:

  1. No one - and I mean no one should be using easy light, match lite, or whatever kind of charcoal rookies use that are pre-soaked in some type of accelerant so they don't use too much lighter fluid and burn their eye brows off.

  2. No one - and I still mean no one - should use lighter fluid. Period.
Why not? Because I don't care how cool Myron Mixon looks on the TV squirting a half bottle of lighter fluid on his coals - you don't want to have any of that lighter fluid flavor in your food. It's disgusting!

Other reasons:

  • It doesn't speed things up.

  • It costs money (that you could spend on beer or meat).

  • Now you have to store a hazardous fluid around the house.

  • It could ruin an otherwise great piece of meat.

  • It's cooler to use a BBQ "tool" - aka toy.

So if you can't use lighter fluid and you can't use charcoal pre soaked in lighter fluid, then how do you get the coals going?

A charcoal chimney of course! Doesn't matter if you want to light 1lb of charcoal or a whole 20lb bag. The charcoal chimney does the trick.

There are several ways to get the coals lit. You can see the bottom of the chimney is wide open and there is a space under the wire bottom to place some type of lighting device. Some people use newspaper or a paper plate but the thing that works best for me is two paper towels with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil poured into them. I like this set up because no matter how windy it is, the oil soaked paper towels don't go out. The oil also acts as an accelerant (food grade) and helps the paper towels produce a large hot flame that really gets the coals going quickly. The paper towels also don't produce the ash that news paper does.

The charcoal chimney holds about 5 lbs of charcoal when filled to the top. Once the paper towel is lit the charcoal will lite in just a few minutes. As soon as the charcoal is lit - you'll know because it will be on fire and hot - you can dump it into the grill.

The old rule that the coals have to be white is not true. Most people probably used this rule of thumb because they wanted to make sure the lighter fluid was burned off. Since we are no longer using lighter fluid, this rule is no more!

A full chimney of charcoal takes about 15 minutes before the flames reach the top and the entire chimney is ready. A few coals only take a few minutes before they're ready.

Once the coals are ready you can dump them into the grill. In the above picture, I have the grill set up for offset cooking - all the coals are on one side for a direct heat zone and the other 2/3 is set up for offset or indirect cooking.

Remember the white coal rule that is no more? Since we are not using lighter fluid or charcoal that is pre-soaked in accelerant, you can pour a few lit coals on a pile of unlit coals for a longer burn. This is called the minion method and the coals that are lit will slowly light the coals that are next to them. A 20lb bag of coals in the proper set up can burn for up to 18 hours.

Now you never have to buy lighter fluid or pre-soaked charcoal ever again!

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