When I grill a package of reduced-for-quick-sale hamburgers, the last thing I want to taste (or pay for) is lighter fluid. That's why I start my coals with a chimney starter and a wad of old paper. How much did this fancy lighting method cost? Zippo. And I'm not referring to the brand of lighter either. Here's how to make one from repurposed materials:
- Start by locating a large tin can. I used an old-fashioned coffee container, but a large can of beans or even a thoroughly cleaned-out paint can will work. Then, find eight sheet metal screws (or whatever you have lying around).
- Put on some gloves because this sharp idea could cut you.
- Although a church key can opener might be a more fitting tool since we're about to make this can holier than Sunday, I used a drill to punch a ton of large openings in the bottom of the coffee can. These should be small enough that a chunk of charcoal won't fall through, but large enough to allow plenty of oxygen to reach the coals.
- Now grab a can opener and remove the holey bottom from the can. Then place it back inside and push it to the top, out of your way.
- Drill four screws into the side of the coffee can about 1/4 way up. Keep them all at the same level and place each screw directly across from one another so that you have one on each side.
- Press the holey bottom down onto the screws to create a shelf.
- Drill four more screws into the side of the coffee can above the others to sandwich the shelf in place.
- Last step is adding a handle. The possibilities are as limitless as most American's believe their credit cards to be. I happened to have two bolts and a scrap of wood left over from a deck I built, so I made my handle out of those, but I've heard other people have built a flimsy but usable handgrip out of a steel coat hanger. If you decide to follow my method, just drill two holes the same distance apart in both the can and the scrap wood. Then bolt the two together.
To use your new chimney starter, fill the can with charcoal and shove paper in the bottom. Light the paper and let it warm those coals. Once they glow red, spread them in your grill and start cooking. Bon appe-cheap! Not only did this save you 20 bucks on a store-bought chimney, but it probably took you less time to make than a drive to the store and back.
Photo credit: Jeff Yeager