Homemade Fire Starter Cubes

I’ve been using Weber’s FireStarters lighter cubes for years. They’re fantastic for getting a chimney or Vortex full of charcoal going in no time. At less than $0.15 a piece they’re an inexpensive way to get a fire going. But, I decided to see if I could make my own versions of the cubes. What I ended up with light very, very well and burn for a good amount of time. The final cost was less than $0.10 for each cube, not exactly a huge savings, but that was only part of my reason for the pursuit.

You need just 4 things to make these cubes.

Homemade Fire Starter Cubes
  • Wood chips (I found a big bag of alder wood chips on the clearance rack for $1. You can also substitute hamster cage liner from what I've heard)
  • 1 pound Household paraffin wax
  • 4 cardboard egg cartons (do NOT use Styrofoam cartons)
  • A small crock pot or double boiler
  1. Place the wax in the crock pot or double boiler over slowly boiling water until melted.
  2. Separate the bottom of the egg cartons and discard the tops.
  3. Fill each egg cavity with the wood chips. I started by only filling them 1/4th of the way through but later found that you can fill them completely.
  4. Add the wax until the cavity is full.
  5. Let cool overnight before cutting into individual cubes.
  6. To light, place under a chimney full of charcoal, open-side up (so that the melting wax doesn't drip down) and light with a match or lighter.

They don’t have to be perfect. Just fill them with wood, add the wax, and let cool. They burn for about 7 minutes, more than enough to light charcoal.

Chicken Wing Cookbook Updated!

Woo hoo! Just in time for the Super Bowl! I just wrapped up the total re-design of the Life’s A Tomato new free eCookbook of chicken wing recipes. It’s packed with over 50 recipes for the Char-Broil Big Easy, grill, smoker, deep fryer or oven! Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll find:

Harissa chicken wings
Enchilada chicken wings
Angry chicken wings
Buffalo chicken wings using the Vortex
Fiery Catalina wings

To download the new chicken wing cookbook, just click Our Free eCookbooks in the menu on the right.

New Chicken Wing Cookbook

New Char-Broil Big Easy Cookbook

It’s here! I just wrapped up the late 2017 Life’s A Tomato free cookbook of recipes for the Char-Broil Big Easy. Now with over 270 pages, it’s bigger than ever!

Here’s just a sample of what you’ll find:

Stubb’s Chicken Rub Chicken
Apple Ale Beer Can Chicken
Bacon BBQ Chicken Bombs
Beer-Can Cabbage
Baby potatoes
Daddy’s BBQ Chicken
Hot Dogs

To download the new Char-Broil Big Easy cookbook, just click Our Free eCookbooks in the menu on the right.




Roasted Hatch Chiles

I received an email the other day from our local Fresh Market saying they had cases of Hatch chiles available for order. Well, I thought, that’s something new for me, so I’ll do it. I’ve never prepared or cooked fresh Hatch chiles, I’ve just used the canned ones you get in the supermarket. My plan was to roast them all, and I did. I also got to find out how big a case of Hatch chiles is: 18 pounds. Over 150 peppers. Yep, over 150 peppers.
I fired up my largest charcoal grill and got to work. Batch after batch, I roasted the Hatch chiles until lightly charred. My plan was to only use a few of the roasted chiles immediately, so most went into bags and then the freezer for use later. After I got a system down roasting them was actually very easy. And boy, did it ever smell fantastic on the desk. I can getting a case of Hatch chiles becoming a yearly thing in our household.

I froze the chiles whole without removing stems, membranes or seeds. I found that they clean up quite easily when thawed and maybe (maybe) have more flavor that way. Plus, with 150+ peppers, I was definitely not up to cleaning that many peppers in one evening. Roasting them was enough of a chore!

Perhaps I should get one of those big chile roasters you see in serious pepper-roasting folk’s yards…. Hmmmm…. A new toy!

Roasted Hatch Chiles
  • Hatch chiles, rinsed, patted dry
  1. Fire up a grill for direct cooking. If using a gas grill add a few wood chunks or shavings to add a smoky flavor.
  2. Place the chiles directly over the fire.
  3. Roast the chiles until mostly blackened and slightly charred on all sides, rotating as needed. I tried to get the peppers about 80% charred so that they still had some of their pepper texture.
If using the peppers immediately
  1. Place peppers in a large resealable bag, container, or bowl covered with plastic wrap.
  2. Let sit for at least 15 minutes and then remove the stems, membranes, and seeds. Peel off the skin but do not rinse under running water.
If saving to freeze
  1. Place the peppers in large resealable bags.
  2. Seal and let sit out until cooled.
  3. Open the bags and remove as much air as possible. Re-seal and freeze until needed.
  4. To use, thaw the peppers then remove the stems, membranes, and seeds. Peel off the skin but do not place under running water.

Jarred Grilled Pickles

Want to surprise everyone at your next picnic or get-together? Bring a jar of grilled pickles. Everyone will want to know how you did it. You don’t have to admit how easy it is. The pickles do get a little char flavor, but not much. They still taste like, well, dill pickles, but with just slightly less crunch. The grilled red onions do add a nice light onion flavor.
jarred-grilled-picklesThese jarred grilled pickles are good for 5 days. And don’t feel like you have to grill only spears. Sliced pickles or even whole pickles can be grilled just as well. If you don’t want to grill the pickles but still want a hint of grilled flavor, just grill some red onion and then add that to a jar of pickles and refrigerate overnight.

If that’s enough, try pickling hot dogs too. They’re definitely different. And good!

Jarred Grilled Pickles
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 1 (26 ounce) jar dill pickle spears
  • 1 red onion, cut into 8 small wedges (you can keep the root end on to help keep the onion wedges together)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Drain the brine from the jar into a large bowl.
  2. Remove the pickles and lay onto a few sheets of paper towels. Dab with the paper towels to dry as well as you can.
  3. Transfer the pickles to another large bowl.
  4. Add the onion and drizzle with the oil. Toss gently to coat.
  5. Fire up your grill.
  6. Place pickles and onions onto the grill and grill on all sides until you get grill marks.
  7. Remove and let cool slightly before returning pickles to the jar.
  8. Add the onions and the reserved brine.
  9. Seal and refrigerate until ready to use within 5 days.


Multiple Bunk Bed Baskets on the Char-Broil Big Easy

I’m always on a search for ways to add more cooking capacity to my Char-Broil Big Easy. I started with my homemade Wingin’ator 3000, which works great but you do have to make it yourself. Then Char-Broil came out with a cooking rack that gave you 5 cooking levels. Sadly, the rack wasn’t available for sale for long. A reader of Life’s A Tomato mentioned something to me the other day that should’ve occurred to me long ago: you can use two of the Char-Broil Bunk Bed Baskets at once, giving you 3 cooking levels! Doh!
It’s as easy as it looks. Grab the basket that comes with your Big Easy and just lower two bunk bed baskets down into it, securing it with the handles on the sides. You’ll need to offset the two baskets by 90 degrees, otherwise the handles from the lower basket will interfere with the top basket. You can kind of see that in the picture on the right, above.

You’ll get about 3″ of cooking room on each level, plenty for wings or drumsticks. You can fit up to 6 chicken breasts on too, if they aren’t too huge. All in all, it’s a win-win!

The nice thing about this approach is that all of the baskets are dishwasher-safe, readily available, and easy to use. You don’t get quite as much cooking room as with a Wingin’ator 3000 or the (now unavailable) cooking rack, but 3 levels is plenty for a good cookout!

Love your Big Easy as much I love mine? Check out my Big Easy Add-Ons page and my free Big Easy eCookbook!

Quick Pickled Jalapeno Rings

I love when locally-grown jalapenos are at their peak. That’s the time to go grab a few pounds to make quick pickled jalapeno rings. They keep in the pantry forever, always on hand for a pizza, sandwich, salad, burger… hot dogs… everything!
Quick Pickled Jalapeno RingsYou can use this recipe for other peppers too, so go to your farmer’s market at peak pepper time and grab a variety.

Quick Pickled Jalapeno Rings
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 8-10 large or 20 small jalapeno peppers (it’s hard to be exact here, but it’s about a pound) rinsed, and sliced into thin rings
  1. In a nonreactive saucepan whisk together the vinegar, water, salt and cumin. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the salt dissolves.
  2. Sterilize the jars and lids.
  3. Pack each pint jar tightly with sliced pepper rings and one whole garlic clove each. Leave enough room at the top so the lid rests easily on the mouth of the jar.
  4. Add the hot brine to cover the pepper rings leaving about 1/4" space at the top of each jar.
  5. Use a skewer or chopstick to poke down into the jar, freeing any air bubbles.
  6. Clean the top of the jars. Add the tops and screw on the lids.
  7. Place into a hot water bath for 15 minutes then remove.
  8. Let cool and test that the jars are sealed.
  9. Store in a cool dark place for up a year.