Why Does My Charcoal Chimney Take So Long?

Patience is all well and good, but when you’re hungry and you’re eager to start the grill a slow starting charcoal chimney can quickly drain all that I have left. 

The truth is it’s normal for a charcoal chimney to take up to 30 minutes to get fully lit and ready to use. But, if your charcoal chimney is taking a long time, or if you just want to speed things up, there are a few things you can check to make sure your charcoal chimney is running at it’s best.

Let’s look at why a charcoal chimney could be taking so long and where all my patience went!

The time it takes charcoal to fully light in a charcoal varies depending on the type and quality of charcoal you are using, as well as how efficient your charcoal chimney starter is.

Weber’s RapidFire Chimney Starter advertises a 20-25 minutes time to light. Quite standard, but high quality.

Oklahoma Joe’s Half-Time Charcoal Starter states it lights charcoal in half the time compared to standard charcoal. This is because of its wide base, allowing more briquettes at the bottom to catch, but still takes roughly 15 minutes to light effectively.

Kingsford Heavy Duty Charcoal Starter which is completely standard in design still takes between 20-30 minutes.

In my experience, between my Weber Chimney starter and everyday brands I’ve picked up, the time it takes to get the charcoal fully lit is roughly 20-25 minutes. When it comes to lump charcoal vs. briquettes, lump is supposed to light more quickly, but the difference is hardly noticeable, if at all. 

What does make a difference is what you are using in the bottom chamber to ignite the charcoal.

Why Does My Charcoal Chimney Take So Long?

Putting the type of charcoal and type of charcoal chimney aside, there are several reasons why your charcoal chimney may be taking so long to light.

Not Using Enough Newspaper/Fire Starters

The key to lighting a charcoal chimney quickly is providing the first layer of charcoal enough constant heat to fully light. As the heat rises from the starters and the first layer of charcoal, it causes a chain reaction which continues to light each layer of charcoal until it’s all ready to go. The ventilation holes on the charcoal chimney allow each layer of charcoal to get sufficient oxygen to continue burning.

So, to get the reaction started you need enough constant heat, as well as it getting hot enough to light the first layer quickly.

Not Using The Right Fire Starter

Using crumpled up newspaper will always work, as long as you use enough of it. But, if you really want to light your charcoal chimney quickly and reliability then you can’t go past the tumbleweed style natural fire starters. They really make a difference when it comes to lighting charcoal.

These kinds of fire starters are essentially just thin bits of wood strung together in a cylinder shape, but they burn hot and burn for 15-20 minutes which is perfect timing for the whole lot of charcoal in the chimney to catch. 

Simply add one or two by themselves, or crumple up a few pieces of newspaper to provide the extra heat to start the reaction with the first layer of charcoal. Being completely all natural they’re a perfect substitute for a lighter cube, and also won’t leave you with any nasty lighter fluid taste on your food. You won’t go back once you’ve tried them.

Your Charcoal Is Wet Or Damp

It’s well known that if your charcoal is wet, it’s going to be virtually impossible to light, or stay lit. But, even if your charcoal is damp in the slightest it will still cause a large impact when trying to start your charcoal chimney. 

If your unlit charcoal is damp the incomplete combustion will lead to your charcoal smoking too much, lighting much slower, or your charcoal not lighting at all.

Always store your charcoal in an airtight container, stored covered in the driest conditions you can.

How Do I Know When My Charcoal Chimney Is Ready?

Adding Charcoal To Grill

It’s important not to rush the process when cooking with charcoal. If the charcoal isn’t ready it won’t burn hot enough or as consistently throughout the cook. 

You can tell charcoal is ready to use once there is a thin white layer of ash around it. Your charcoal chimney will be ready once at least 75% of the charcoal have this white ashy layer around them. You can leave the other 25% of the charcoal to combust when you pour it into your charcoal grill or smoker.

This will also shave off about 5 minutes of your charcoal chimney preparation time, which means you can get going that little bit quicker!

Can You Overfill a Charcoal Chimney?

Depending on the type and design of your charcoal chimney, overfilling your charcoal chimney may lead to slow or incomplete lighting. This is almost entirely dependent on the ventilation of the chimney.

One of the leading factors comes down to the amount and placement of the ventilation holes. Generally speaking you want enough ventilation to allow sufficient oxygen for the combustion process. These are ideally placed lower on the chimney too, as heat rises it’s more efficient to light the first layers adequately so it starts the reaction.

If your charcoal chimney is lacking in ventilation holes or is rather slim, then overfilling your charcoal chimney starter can smother your charcoal. Although it may still light eventually, it will definitely take a lot longer than it should to get things going.

For more information, check out the top 5 charcoal chimneys in the market.

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