Master the Art: How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill Safely and Effectively

So, you’ve just grilled up a storm, haven’t you? The steaks were succulent, the burgers were a hit, and those veggie kebabs were charred to perfection. Even the dog’s giving you those “Top Chef” eyes.

But now comes the part that no one really talks about at the BBQ party: the clean-up. And I’m not just talking about scraping the remnants of that marinade off the grates. Oh no, my fellow grill enthusiasts, I’m talking about learning how to put out a charcoal grill after you are done cooking.

Unlike a gas grill, a charcoal grill cannot be turned off by simply turning a knob. Extinguishing a grill isn’t just about preventing a reenactment of the Great Chicago Fire in your backyard. When done the right way, it can also allow you to reuse some of the used charcoal.

So what’s the best way to extinguish your charcoal grill?

The best way to extinguish your charcoal grill is to starve the coals of oxygen. Simply close the lid and all vents on the grill. This method safely suffocates the fire, preventing any chance of unexpected flare-ups or prolonged burning.

That’s the quick answer. Wanna learn more? Then let’s read on.

Table of Contents

Method 1 – Oxygen Starvation – The Safest Way to Put out A Charcoal Grill

This method is as simple as it sounds, but it’s also incredibly effective. You’re going to use your grill’s own design to your advantage here. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Wait for the flames to die down: First things first, let the flames die down. Trying to cover a grill that’s still flaring up is like trying to lasso a bull – it’s dangerous and you’re likely to get burned. So patience, grasshopper.
  2. Close the lid: Once the flames have died down, close your grill’s lid. This will trap the heat and start to reduce the oxygen levels.
  3. Shut the vents: Now, find your grill’s vents. They’re usually located on the bottom of your grill and sometimes also on the lid or the side. Close them all the way. This will cut off the oxygen supply, which is essential for a fire to keep burning.
  4. Wait: Now comes the hardest part – waiting. It’s like watching paint dry but with less color. It can take up to 48 hours for the coals to cool completely, so it’s essential you give it time. You don’t really need to babysit the grill for 48 hours, but you should make sure no one, especially kids or pets, can accidentally tip the hot grill over. Remember, safety first!
  5. Check the coals: Once you’ve waited (and waited some more), it’s time to check the coals. They should be cool by now. If they’re not, close that lid and give them more time.

And there you have it! The simplest, most straightforward way to extinguish your charcoal grill. Not as exciting as a Hollywood movie ending, I know, but hey, it’s a heck of a lot safer than dumping the coals on the lawn! This is also the method recommended by Kingsford.

Charcoal grill - put the lid on and close the vents
Charcoal grill – put the lid on and close the vents

Method 2 – Letting the Coals Burn Out

This method might sound like you’re just taking the “lazy man’s” route, but it’s a valid way. It may be your only option if you own a charcoal grill without a lid. Is there a downside? Yes, it’s a slow process and doesn’t leave any charcoal for reuse. But hey, sometimes we’ve got to make sacrifices for safety, right? Also, you should not leave the grill unattended if you are letting the fuel burn out on its own

Here are the easy steps to take:

  1. Let it be: That’s right, you’re just going to leave the grill alone. Let the coals burn out naturally. This is essentially the “set it and forget it” of grill extinguishing.
  2. Monitor the grill: While you’re letting the coals burn out, make sure the grill is in a safe place where it won’t be a fire hazard. And no, right next to the wooden garden shed isn’t a safe place! Don’t leave it alone.
  3. Wait for coals to cool: After the coals have burned out completely, wait for them to cool down. They will mostly turn into ash but some bits and pieces may still remain intact.
  4. Check the coals: Make sure they’re cool before you dispose of them. If they’re not, give them more time.

Depending on the type you used, you may be able to compost the burnt charcoal and ashes.

Method 3 – Using a Fireproof Metal Container

Lastly, we have a method that’s a bit more hands-on and requires a bit of caution. If done correctly, it can be a quick and safe way to extinguish your grill.

  1. Wait for the flames to die down: Just like in the first method, wait until there are no more flames. Only glowing coals should remain.
  2. Prepare a metal container: Get a fireproof metal container ready. This will be the new home for your hot coals.
  3. Transfer the coals: Using long-handled tongs, carefully transfer the coals into the container. Remember, these coals are still hot, so handle them with care!
  4. Let the coals cool: Allow the coals in the container to cool completely. This might take several hours, so patience is key.
  5. Dispose of the coals: Once they are completely cool, dispose of them appropriately or store them for another session if they are unburnt.

What NOT to Do: Common but Dangerous Mistakes

It’s time to shed some light on the common practices that might seem tempting but can cause more harm than good when it comes to dealing with burning charcoal.

Dousing with water

Water and fire are the oldest adversaries, right? Well, not so fast. While it might seem like a good idea to douse your grill with water, this can actually cause a lot of problems.

  • Steam and ash: Pouring water directly into the grill and on hot coals will produce a lot of hot steam and cause hot ashes to fly around, which could be harmful if inhaled or if they get in your eyes.
  • Thermal shock: The sudden change in temperature might damage your grill due to thermal shock.
  • Hard to clean: Wet ash becomes sticky and hard to clean. You don’t want to start your next BBQ with a messy grill, do you?
  • Rust: Most grills tend to rust due to moisture at some point in their lives, why would you speed up that process by dumping a bucket of water inside?

Dousing with sand

Another common but misguided method is dousing your coals with sand. This might work for a beach bonfire, but when it comes to your grill, it’s a no-go. The reason is simple – pouring sand into your grill is extremely messy and requires extensive cleanup afterward. Unless you’re trying to create a beach scene in your backyard, it’s best to avoid it. Leave this method for emergencies.

You could technically transfer the coals into a fireproof bucket and then douse them with sand. There’s one catch though – sand can also act as an insulator and will keep the coals hot for a long time. 

Throwing coals outside the grill

This one might sound absurd, but it happens. Some folks decide to throw coals outside of the grill. Not only is this dangerous, but it’s also damaging to the environment.

  • Fire hazard: Hot coals can easily start a fire if they come into contact with flammable materials. In summer, dry grass loves to catch on fire, and unless you want to see your garden and perhaps even your house on fire in a matter of minutes, then don’t do it. It’s not worth the risk. Even a single ember can start a fire.
  • Environmental harm: Discarded coals can harm local flora and fauna. Let’s keep nature beautiful, folks!

The Exception to the Rules: Way To Use Water Safely

Alright, we’ve been pretty harsh on the idea of dousing coals with water. But there’s an exception to every rule, right? So, let’s talk about how you can safely use water to extinguish your grill if you really need to. This method requires caution, but it can be done safely and effectively. There are two ways to go about it – you can either fill a bucket with water and dump the coals in there or put the coals in the bucket first and then spray them with water. The latter is the preferred method as it is safer and tends to better preserve both briquettes and lump charcoal for reuse.

  1. Wait for flames to die down: Just like in the previous methods, ensure that there are no active flames. We don’t want any unexpected flare-ups when we handle the coals.
  2. Prepare a metal bucket: Prepare a fireproof metal bucket, ideally an ash bucket designed to hold hot coals. Make sure it’s big enough to hold all your coals.
  3. Transfer the coals: Using long-handled tongs, carefully transfer the coals from your grill into the bucket. Remember, those coals are still hot, so treat them with respect!
  4. Spray the coals with water: When you hit coals with water, they’ll hiss and steam. Spray them until all the hissing stops before you proceed.
  5. Stir the coals: Stir the coals to ensure that they’re fully extinguished. Any hidden hot spots can be exposed and sprayed again this way.
  6. Let the coals cool: After you’re sure all coals are extinguished, let them cool completely in the bucket.
  7. Dispose of the coals: Once the coals are cool, you can safely dispose of them or let them fully dry for reuse. But remember, wet coals can be messy, so don’t forget to wear gloves!

While this method can be safe when done correctly, it should be a last resort.

Wrapping It Up: Key Takeaways

Well, there we have it, folks. We’ve journeyed through the highs and lows of extinguishing a charcoal grill, and I hope you’ve found it enlightening. But if there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that safety always comes first.

Remember, the best way to put out a charcoal grill is as simple as shutting the lid and closing all the vents. By doing this, you’re effectively starving the coals of oxygen and safely extinguishing the fire. No fuss, no mess, just a safely extinguished grill ready for your next BBQ extravaganza.

As grill masters, it’s not just about the sizzle and the smoke; it’s about taking care of your grill and ensuring it’s ready for many more BBQs to come. So here’s to safe grilling and even safer extinguishing. Until next time, happy grilling!

FAQ

Why is it bad to douse my grill with water?

While water can extinguish the fire, it can create a lot of steam and cause ashes to fly around, which could be harmful if inhaled or if they get in your eyes. Also, the sudden change in temperature might damage your grill, and the wet ash becomes hard to clean. That’s why it’s not the preferred method.

Can I reuse coals that have been extinguished and cooled?

Absolutely! If you’ve starved the coals of oxygen by closing the lid and vents, and they’ve cooled down completely, you can certainly reuse them for your next BBQ. Just make sure they’re kept dry.

How long does it usually take for the coals to burn out naturally?

The time it takes for coals to burn out naturally can vary, but you can usually expect it to take several hours. Always ensure the coals are completely cool before handling or disposing of them. It’s important to note that they should not be touched or disposed of until they are completely cool, as they can remain hot for a long period of time and pose a burn risk. The general recommendation is to wait for 48 hours before disposing of the charcoal.

Can I leave my grill unattended while the coals are cooling down?

While it’s safe to let the coals burn out naturally, it’s important to make sure your grill is in a safe location where it’s not a fire hazard. So while you don’t need to stand guard, you should keep a general eye on it.

Can charcoal briquettes be reused?

They can be reused but they are more difficult to preserve than lump charcoal due to the way they are manufactured. When exposed to water, they may start falling apart. So the best way to preserve them might be the oxygen starvation method.

What should I do if I need to put out my grill quickly and safely?

If you’re in a rush, transferring the coals to a fireproof metal container and pouring water directly onto them can help speed up the cooling process. You should still keep them inside the bucket for the recommended time before disposal.

Does the starvation method work with all grills?

No, unfortunately, it doesn’t. The grill has to have means to prevent oxygen from reaching the fuel. Many grills are sold without a lid.

Photo of author

John Carder

John Carder is the founder of FreshAirChef.com. He loves to cook outdoors, especially over a campfire. John has a lovely wife and two cats who he loves dearly. In his spare time, he likes to play soccer and paint; he's not particularly good at either, but he enjoys the process nonetheless. He also has silly long hair which often gets in his way while cooking!