So, we have enjoyed a couple of months of warm weather (sometimes downright hot) here in Michigan. Generally, the arrival of warm weather signals the commencement of outdoor grilling. Now, I am certainly not a grilling aficionado, but I attempt to put forth an honest effort for a properly grilled meal. Over the years, I have experimented with various grilling accessories to enhance my grilling experience. One evening while searching the Internet for grilling advice, I discovered an interesting accessory constructed to ignite charcoal briquettes via an electric current. The design is quite simple. A looped metal wand, it is activated by plugging it into an outlet. The cord is fairly short, so an extension cord is highly recommended. Fortunately, I not only have an outdoor extension cord – a heavy-duty 100 foot cord to be exact – but I am lucky to have a nearby outdoor electric outlet.
For years, my preferred method of igniting charcoal briquettes was employing the service of a chimney charcoal starter. However, I had grown tired of the fuss related to stuffing the chimney starter with newspaper and igniting it with a long stick lighter. Sometimes I had to deal with a pesky breeze and the ash produced from the burned newspaper irritated me. It took longer than I desired for all the charcoal briquettes to eventually become aflame, and I was not a fan of the smoke. The videos related to the electric charcoal starter seemed relatively easy and cleaner. And so, for $20.00 I was willing to evaluate its performance. The set-up was simple enough. I laid a briquette base inside my grill, inserted my electric wand, stacked more briquette in the form of an irregular pyramid, and finally plugged it into my outlet.
The safety directions on the package are clear. Do not leave it unattended. Do not leave it plugged into an outlet greater than the recommended time on the package (8 minutes was the guidance here) else you risk a possible explosion (oh damn). Do not leave it nestled in your lit briquettes – the extended time in the heat can damage the unit. After I plugged in the wand, I observed smoke a little after 30 seconds. I set my Google timer to 8 minutes so I would be notified to pull the plug. After a minute, the wand began to glow red. After the timer expired, I unplugged the unit and removed it from the hot coals. I placed the hot wand inside my chimney starter (still good for something) until it cooled off.
Granted, this was my first time using the Grill Mark Electric Charcoal Starter, so the thing may break down after a few more uses for all I know. Nevertheless, my first impression is very positive. Once my charcoal briquettes were lit, I simply removed the wand and tended to the hot coals with a fire iron to arrange them to their desired position. I closed my grill and directed the air flow to control the temperature. I would not recommend this electric charcoal starter for large amounts of briquettes or lump charcoal, as I am unsure if all of the charcoal would be able to be lit.
- No assembly required, simple design, and easy to use
- Ignites charcoal in 30+ seconds (ignition time may vary)
- No lighter fluid required, less smoke, less ash
- Short cord
- Lower wattage (500 watts) compared to other brands (600+ watts)
- No on/off switch or safety automatic shut-off
For small to medium size meals, this electric charcoal fire starter saved me a lot of preparation time and reduced the amount of smoke emanating from the grill. I picked mine up from Ace Hardware (I actually ran into a masked Calvin Johnson in the outdoor grilling aisle) for just $19.99. Keep in mind, the cord itself is very short, so an outdoor extension will be required for proper, safe usage.