Beer Can Charcoal Chimney

Later today I'm going to try my hand at barbecuing pork ribs, using Sifty/Pelaccio's recipe. The problem I've had with barbecuing using my Weber grill, though, is the part in every barbecue recipe where it says "add more fuel as needed."

How do you add a few briquettes of lit charcoal to a grill? For today, the answer is to slide it down the side, near the handle of the grill plate, where there's enough of a hole for a briquette to fit through (presumably, the ribs will be on the other side of the grill). How to get it started? That's what this post answers.

I have a normal charcoal chimney, which I love dearly. Works fast, no need for lighter fluid. However, you need to have ~10 briquettes at minimum for it to work. Given its large diameter, you don't get much of a chimney effect if you have fewer briquettes. For barbecuing a modest amount of meat on a modest grill, I need something to let me light three briquettes at a time. This is my solution:

I took a Miller Lite beer can and turned it into a charcoal mini-chimney. I used a variety of cutting/stripping pliers to chew the top off and to cut small holes around the base. I then drilled quarter-inch holes along the side, and right in the middle of the base. I left half of the tapered top on, to serve as a sort of guard when dumping out the briquettes, with the guard facing up. It is easy to hold and carry using kitchen tongs.

Does it work? The answer is: mostly.

In a test run this morning, I was able to light three briquettes successfully, and learned some lessons that I will apply this evening. Like any chimney, this one wants air, and lots of it. To get it started, I thought I'd put it on top of something, burn some newspaper underneath it, and be good. I had a terra cotta holder for those nifty mosquito coils, and tried using it.

The problem was that the mosquito coil holder couldn't draw in enough air to burn the newspaper I'd stuffed into it. A little lighter fluid fixed that problem...

After the lighter fluid burned off, though, a lot of somewhat charred newspaper remained, unburned, in the terra cotta thingy. It was blocking airflow into the chimney. Since I didn't have the grill going, I decided to take the chimney off the terra cotta pot and place it directly on the grill.

You can see there's a little bit of ash already. I let it sit on the grill and did not attempt to relight it. This worked well. 15-20 minutes later, the briquettes were ready.

Dumping them out was easy.

The can was smudged, but otherwise fine. So, I established:
  • you can create a charcoal mini-chimney with a beer can
  • with about a dozen holes in it, it seems to draw in enough air, provided it's on the proper surface
  • the can withstands the heat well enough
Some open questions remain, however. Can I get the coals started without using lighter fluid? Can I find a better surface for the chimney to sit on? What I'm going to try next is using the top of the terra cotta holder (which has holes in the center and a nice lip that fits well with the base of the can) and place it on some bricks, starting a bit of newspaper beneath it (and maybe putting some shredded paper in the chimney with the briquettes). I think the fire and then the chimney will both get sufficient airflow.

No comments:

Post a Comment