There are many ways to light the charcoal for your charcoal smoker but I highly recommend using a charcoal chimney starter when performing this task. If I can go a step further, allow me to recommend the ones made by Weber as they are larger and more durable than most of the other brands that I have seen available.
You can find these at amazon.com or you might also be able to find one at Ace Hardware, Lowes, Home Depot, etc.
A charcoal chimney starter looks like a big metal cylinder with a handle. Upon closer inspection, you will notice that it has a wire frame bottom, intentional holes in the sides and a recessed area in the bottom.
All of these details are part of the design and are what makes it work so well.
Here's How It Works
Set the charcoal chimney bottom side up
Roll a section of newsprint into a burrito then place a couple of these into the recess as shown.
Turn the charcoal chimney over onto a hard surface or on top of the grate for safety.
Fill the chimney with charcoal about 3/4 full for best results. I prefer using lump charcoal but briquettes are just fine as well.
Light the paper through the holes in the bottom sides and let it sit and burn for about 7 minutes.
Let it burn for about 7 minutes or until the fire is coming out of the top and the coals are glowing orange.
Note: yes, I know these are briquettes all of a sudden while the above pictures are lump. For some reason, I lost the pictures of the finished lump charcoal so I used the pictures from another session where I used briquettes.
Pour the charcoal into the smoker and you are good to go. If it needs another batch, that can easily be done by repeating the steps above.
Alternate Method – Lighting the Charcoal Chimney Without Paper
Here's a method of starting the charcoal in the chimney without using paper. You simply set it on the burner of your grill and it works like a charm. Here's how to do that
Fill the chimney with charcoal
Place the chimney starter on the side burner of your grill with the flame on high
Once the flames are coming out of the top of the charcoal and the coals are glowing orange, it is done
Using the chimney starter makes it very easy to get the charcoal smoker or grill going without the need for lighter fluid or other flammable liquids. This is also perfect for the minion method where you place unlit charcoal in the bottom of the firebox and a batch of lit charcoal on top.
The minion method is explained in greater detail HERE