One of the more pleasurable aspects of summer living is sitting down with friends and family to a meal that's fresh from the backyard grill. In my household, the delectable aroma of barbecued chicken or grilled steaks and burgers is as standard as the inevitable summer heat.
If you, too, are a fan of fine-cooked outdoor fare, you might want to put together a homemade charcoal lighter. This handy device, which can easily be made from common household items, will produce a glowing bed of briquettes in about ten minutes ... a definite improvement over the time required to generate embers when using the more conventional "lighter fluid" method.
The workhorse of the igniter is simply an 8" scrap of 6"-diameter single-walled stovepipe. You'll also need a 14" length of 1/16" X 1" flat steel for the handle and another 12" or so length of the same material for the three legs (each prop measures approximately 3 1/2"). In the charcoal chimney (see Image Gallery), the legs were brazed to the inside of the stovepipe so that 2" of each leg protruded from the bottom of the cylinder. (If you prefer, you can attach the props with 1/8" POP rivets or No. 6 machine screws and nuts.) A section of 1/16" expanded metal screening fits in the bottom of the cylinder and is fastened by brazing (or with rivets or machine screws and nuts) ... and a coat of heat-resistant flat black paint gives the cooker its finishing touch.
When you've constructed the chimney, fill the igniter with briquettes until it's about two thirds full, set it on your outdoor grill, and place several sheets of crumpled newspaper underneath the cylinder's metal screening. When you light the paper, it will ignite the charcoal, and—because of the "chimney effect"—the briquettes will rapidly develop into glowing coals. When the embers are ready, simply dump them on the grill and prepare your feast. Be sure to use a barbecue glove when you transfer the coals, as the handle of the igniter is likely to be hot.
The charcoal igniter is not only nearly effortless to make but is also easy on the environment, since paper is the only fuel required. Another plus is that there's no lighter fluid odor to affect the grilled fare. The homemade igniter is less expensive to use than the fossil fuel fire, too, because old newspapers or other burnables are readily available and free for the asking (especially at picnics).
So if you've got a little time on your hands (and yesterday's paper), try cobbling up your own version of my charcoal igniter. You might just decide—as I have—that the igniter is the greatest invention since the discovery of fire!