Holy Smokes

Beautiful, ain’t he?

I mean, if you can get past the dreary little jacket of rust, and the melted plastic handle, and the whipped-dog, eyes-averted, kind of sad posture of a guy that has been forced to spend his life outside, alone, on a patio. In the fall, he catches dying leaves and plays home to a colony of spiders. In the winter, he sits out in the snow, frozen at odd angles, working on his…patina. In the spring, he emerges again, only to spend the next few months as a makeshift goal post in backyard soccer games, or as a receptacle for garden shears, empty seed packets, and bug-hunting kits. But in the summer, this ugly little customer asserts his true greatness. He becomes the single most important piece of cooking equipment we own. And how I love him.

It’s weird to think about now, all these years later, but there was a time when we didn’t understand one another. There was suspicion. There was fear. Was he some kind of mini-smoker? Did he require a certain level of expertise to operate? What was up with the upper and lower chambers, and what went where? How did one turn this thing on? Eight years ago, when at last we met, I was strictly a Match Light guy because my dad had been a strictly a Match Light guy, and anything else seemed like a giant hassle. Then, we moved into our house — and acquired a second child, not to mention a patio — and I immediately went out and bought a new Weber to celebrate. As I was walking down the aisle at Home Depot, our eyes met. I took him home with me. I know how that sounds, but it’s been good ever since. So good. Not a single meal has been grilled in our house without his help. He is my rock.

Here’s what I love about him:

  • Jenny and I are not kitchen gear people, and we are definitely not grilling gear people. We don’t have the 37,000 BTU gas grill with the burled walnut fixtures and the rotisserie attachment and the pull-out, self-cleaning cutting board and the Corinthian leather. We are embarrassingly Luddite in the utensil department, too — we lack proper grilling tongs or spatulas, and I have the singed knuckles to prove it. (This is what happens when you use a dessert fork to flip a ribeye.) What I’m getting at is: this is NOT an intimidating, geeked-out BBQ device. Anyone can figure this out.
  • When you use real hardwood charcoal (we’re partial to T. Joe’s briquettes), and you light it with a charcoal chimney, your food does not taste like chemicals or butane. Which I think is good.
  • It always, always works.
  • Using one of these things is, in fact, as easy as the pre-soaked Match Light stuff — and, really, only moderately more demanding than turning on the gas grill and getting your temperature right. In 59 words, here’s what you do: Stuff two sheets of newspaper into bottom chamber of chimney and then place it, paper side down, on the lower grate of grill. Fill top chamber with charcoal, all the way up. Light the paper through one of the holes at the bottom, wait fifteen minutes until coals are going gray around the edges, and pour them evenly into the grill. Done.
  • It’s cheap.

This is a long way of saying: If you like to grill, you should have yourself a charcoal chimney. Just stay the heck away from mine, or we’re going to have some problems. — Andy

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Emilee Whitehurst

When you are done using the chimney, don’t set it on an extra bathroom tile that you have carefully placed on the deck as a safe/flame proof place for it to cool down… did that last weekend and the chimney was just a little too hot … the tile exploded across my deck. Minor grilling fail.. delicious ribs… you win some, you loose some! (side note: no one was injured during this incident) Any advice on a place to set the coal hot chimney after dumping the coals (without burning a hole in your deck) .. is more than welcome!


We too love our chimney and it is easy enough our 15 y.o starts the fire for us frequently. We set it on the rack under the ash catcher after we dump the coals. I do secreatly dream of some grill set up with both gas and charcoal options for under 250.00…tehe ohhhh to dream!


Emilee — I’d bring a cookie sheet out and put the chimney down on that when the time comes. Our patio is brick, so it makes things easy.


We needed to replace our gas grill this year and decided to go with a Weber and a chimney. We’re now big grill snobs that look down our noses at all of our neighbors who only THINK they’re grilling but they’re just simply cooking on an outside STOVE! Love you guys!


So, remember how a long time ago you (or Jenny) had a post where you asked what ingredient (?) makes you skip a recipe? For me, it’s the word “grill”. We have a weber, and we have a charcoal dealy like yours that my dad left with us when he converted to a gas grill, but… we have seriously failed the 3-4 times we’ve tried to use it in the last 6 years. This year, I decided we’re just going to be a “broil” household. And then last week I broiled a flank steak when it was 100 outside, and wondered how much electricity I was wasting trying to get the oven hot and the kitchen <80 degrees…
All that to say, I can follow the directions that you guys give in your posts. So if you were, perhaps, inclined to post a grilling tutorial (just a starter, really) for those of us terrified of the grill, I would love it. (You know, including what comes after the stuff covered in this post.)




His long lost twin is out here on the west coast, residing in the backyard of a snobby chef who only grills with charcoal and his long-suffering wife and three children. 🙂


OOOH I love this guy. A much easier way to light charcole rather than using fluid and can turn anyone into a grill master!

PS: I read your newsletter, do I win the wine?

Ron Lieber

One of the best moments of last summer was when we showed up at our rental on the Cape and it actually had the chimney. Score. Dingbats did not mention this in the listing; they could have easily tacked on another $50/week for this. Honestly, I’d come close to buying one just for the week cuz I figured they wouldn’t have one.

PS: I read your newsletter, do I win the wine?

PPS: Andy, you really do this each weeknight? What time do the kids go to bed? If I had a patio, I’d worry that the extra 15-20 pushes dinner past the witching hour, assuming you get home after 630/7. Maybe Jenny lights it now that she has passed Women’s Studies.

PPPS: Mark Peterson rocks, doesn’t he? He shot a Luger story I worked on ages ago. We went meat-shopping with one of the first ladies of Luger at the crack o dawn in the meatpacking district.


Ron, not every night, no. Maybe 3 times a week? Sometimes 4? We grilled last night and didn’t eat until 8:15, but hey, it’s summer! Kids can sleep in and, luckily, we’re past the witching hour. And yeah, Jenny sometimes fires up the chimney ahead of time so we’re ready to go at a decent hour. Congrats on your big award, btw.


Love this! Thanks for the tips…I’m a newbie to the world of grilling.

PS: I read your newsletter, do I win the wine?


I agree that the chimney starter is one of the world’s greatest inventions. My only improvement on the normal process is to squirt the newspaper with some vegetable oil (same that you use to oil the grates) before loading in the charcoal. No nasty lighter fuel residue, and the chimney lights up like Vegas.