A charcoal chimney starter makes it easy and efficient to start coals. It's possible to light said coals without lighter fluid, but using a little bit may help them catch a tad bit faster. Generally, a chimneyfull of briquettes takes about an hour to light.
1. Place a small amount of crumpled newspaper in the vented underside of your charcoal chimney.
2. Pour coals to the top. If you're using lighter fluid, drizzle that in and shake the coals for even dispersement.
3. Set the chimney on the grate or charcoal pan of your smoker/grill, and light the newspaper at the bottom. If the grill is unavailable, set your chimney on a flat concrete surface, with a bucket of water nearby for emergencies. Asphalt, depending on how freshly it was laid, may melt from the heat underneath.
4. Once the smoke is continuously billowing... GREAT SUCCESS! This means the coals are lit. If they are not lit, lift up the chimney using an oven mitt, carefully add another crumpled newspaper to the bottom, and relight.
5. After a while, flames will be visible at the top of the coals. This means you're almost ready. In about ten minutes, the top coals should be whitish colored and the flames should no longer be visible.
6. Unlike our friend Rob here, always use an oven mitt to carefully pour your coals in the charcoal pan of your smoker/grill. Wait five or ten minutes or so with the smoker open, to keep the coals oxygenated and help "pre-heat" your smoker. Isn't "pre-heat" a dumb phrase? I refer to it as heating. Pre-heating is when I think to myself "I want to cook something."
7. Start placing soaked wood chunks or chips onto the hot coals to produce savory smoke, place the grill grate in the appropriate spot, and start a-cookin.
Remember, keep your smoker on a hard, flat, non-flammable surface with a bucket of water nearby just in case. Always use an oven mitt when handling coals or your grill grate.