Ruud van Nistelrooy scored twice, including a superb volley on the spin, to ensure Manchester United's post-Roy Keane era began with a victory.
After the United skipper's shock departure on Friday, former striker Alan Smith set about showing he can be his full-time replacement in midfield.
And he opened the scoring with a low shot, but after the break Darren Ambrose levelled with a looping drive.
Van Nistelrooy then struck twice in five minutes to seal United's win.
The Dutchman, who also had a first-half shot cleared off the line, showed sublime technique to chest the ball before swivelling and lashing the ball into the top corner in one movement to put United 2-1 up.
And the build-up to the goal was equally impressive.
Wayne Rooney - inspirational throughout - picked the ball up on the half-way line and ghosted past three players before delivering a flicked cross.
It came just five minutes after Charlton had clawed their way back into the match, having been thoroughly outplayed.
And it gave United fans something else to sing about - to add to their chorus of appreciation for Keane, who will clearly retain a special place in the fans' hearts.
His absence leaves a huge hole in United's midfield - although Charlton were not good enough to take advantage - and Smith will be keen to stake a claim to fill the void.
He will have done himself no harm with an industrious display and his first goal of the season.
However, he has a lot to learn, as demonstrated when he clashed with Mikael Silvestre as both men went for the ball.
The result was Charlton's equaliser as Ambrose exploited the space and was accurate with his aim from the edge of the box.
Smith, though, had already put United ahead by then, providing the finish after Rooney had been heavily involved.
The England striker's form has been sensational of late and here again he was full of pace, power, precision. Pure class.
The only thing missing was a goal, and perhaps he should have netted when he connected with Darren Fletcher's cross in the first half but he fired too high.
There was more ruthlessness about Van Nistelrooy's finishing although he was fortunate to see his tame shot wriggle out of Stephan Andersen's grasp and register for his second goal of the game.
Charlton boss Alan Curbishley: "For all United's so-called problems, it was a very strong side they put out and they looked on top of their game.
"We did say at half-time it was still game on, and we could turn it around.
"It was a massive disappointment that we got back into it and then suddenly have it snatched away from us."
Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson: "I thought our attacking play was excellent and we created a lot of opportunities.
"Rooney and Van Nistelrooy were great. Van Nistelrooy's finish for his first goal was unbelievable.
It was a great game, end to end and Charlton played well. They will play worse than that and win games."
Charlton: Andersen, Young, El Karkouri, Hreidarsson, Powell, Rommedahl (Thomas 63), Murphy, Kishishev (Bothroyd 77), Smertin, Ambrose, Bent.
Subs Not Used: Perry, Hughes, Myhre.
Goals: Ambrose 65.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Brown, Silvestre, Fletcher (Bardsley 89), Smith, Scholes, Ronaldo (Park 75), Rooney, van Nistelrooy (Richardson 85).
Subs Not Used: Howard, Rossi.
Booked: Brown, van Nistelrooy.
Goals: Smith 37, van Nistelrooy 70, 85.
Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).