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Sara Hansen

How To Prevent Grill Flare-Ups & How To Control One If It Gets Out Of Control

The goal of any grilling or smoking session is to cook delicious food and have fun doing it. So, the last thing you want is to end up with an overly charred piece of meat you have to throw out. Especially knowing it can be avoided. Grill flare-ups can happen quickly, often in seconds, if dripping fat or grease starts to get too hot. 

Most of the time, a grill flare-up will happen when you are cooking on a charcoal or wood-fueled grill since they don’t usually have drip guards like many gas grills do. But, flare-ups are still possible on a gas grill.

In this article, we’ll break down how to prevent grill flare-ups and how to put them out if you do encounter one that becomes an issue. Let’s take a look:


What Exactly Is A Grill Flare-Up?

Grill flare-ups are quick bursts of high-intensity flames that are often the result of fat and oil dripping onto hot coals or wood and igniting. A flare-up and a grease fire are not the same things. Quick, short flare-ups that happen from small drips can be common and are not usually a problem or something you have to worry about extinguishing. These often happen when placing fatty meat onto the grill, like chicken or steak, or when flipping the meat. 

If you have a small flare-up happen, the best thing to do is to move the food to another part of the grill and it will typically die down quickly. It is when a small flare-up grows and gets out of control that it can change into a grease fire and quickly turn into a problem. This usually happens when there is a buildup of grease and carbon in your grill.

There are several things you can do to prevent grill flare-ups from getting out of control.


Preventing Grill Flare-Ups From Happening


“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of sirloin.” 

Kevin Kolman - Weber Grills


Proactive habits that help prevent grill flare-ups will save you burnt food and heartache, and in the worst cases, a destroyed grill. Most of these habits come down to preventative maintenance and proper preparation. 

Here are some ways to prevent large grill flare-ups:

  • Keep your grill clean - The number one reason that a quick flare-up gets out of control is a dirty grill. Make the effort to deep clean your grill if needed and then help keep it clean between cooks. After each cooking session, turn the heat up high and burn off any food residue leftover on the grates. Also, use a grill brush or ball of aluminum foil to scrape the grates off to remove any carbon. You do not want to have a leftover buildup of grease and carbon when you go to light your grill next time.In a charcoal grill, make sure to thoroughly scrape out the interior of your grill when you are cleaning out the ashes. Also, make sure to clean out your grease pan after each cooking session. In a gas grill, make sure to clean/degrease the drip guards (diffusers) after each session.


  • Use the two-zone grill setup - When you have a two-zone grill setup, you have one side that has the fuel source and is the direct heat side and the other side is the indirect heat side without the fuel source. So, with a charcoal or wood grill, all of your charcoal or wood will be on one side of the grill, creating a high heat zone and a cooler zone. With a gas grill, leave half or one burner (depending on the size of the grill) off. This will create a safety zone and give you an area away from any flare-ups to move your food to and let them die out quickly.


two zone grill set up | how to prevent grill flare-upsSource: Two Zone Grill Setup from Weber Grills


  • Trim off excess fatFat and oil dripping is the main cause of grill flare-ups initially. So, trim off as much of the excess fat from your meat as you can without sacrificing too much flavor. By trimming off excess fat, you’ll help discourage flare-ups from occurring.
  • Use oil sparingly - If you are using oil or marinade, don’t go too crazy with it. Make sure the meat is not dripping when it goes onto the grill. 
  • Try to avoid the wind - Try to position your grill where you can avoid the wind as much as possible. A gust of wind into your grill will quickly stoke the fire and cause larger flare-ups. 
  • Build the right size fire - When using charcoal or wood as your fuel source, there is no need to overdo it with the amount that you use and create a huge, extremely hot fire. If you are grilling a couple of steaks, don’t use an entire large bag of briquettes. Try to proportion the amount of fuel and fire size for what you are actually grilling.


As you can see, it’s important to work these habits into your normal grilling routine. But, what happens if, somehow, you do end up with a serious flare-up and you find yourself with a grease fire on your hands? Just as important as prevention is knowing what to do in the chance this happens.


How To Put Out A Grease Fire Quickly

If you do end up with a grease fire, it is important to act quickly. First, remove your food from the grill to save what you can. One important thing to remember is that oxygen fuels fires. So, the first method to try and put out the fire is to close your grill lid and vents to suffocate the fire. (If you are cooking on a gas grill, turn off the burners right away as well.)

If the flames have started to die down, carefully look through one of the grill vents to see if it is safe to open the grill lid. If you still see flames and/or white billowing smoke, do not just throw the lid back open. You risk creating a flash fire when all that oxygen rushes back into the grill. When the flames have subsided or gone out, slowly open the lid partially to “burp” the grill before opening the lid all the way.

Another method to put out a grease fire, especially if it is getting more and more out of control, is to pour baking soda, a box of salt, or even sand on it to smother it. This won’t be the most ideal method due to the additional mess you’ll need to clean up after, but it works. (Make sure to check out our article on how to properly clean your grill)


grill flare-ups | how to prevent grill flare-ups | how to put out grill flare upsSource: LifeHacker


You DO NOT want to spray water on a grease fire. This can actually make it worse. Doing this can spread the grease around further since the water will not extinguish burning grease or fat and it will also cause ash to go everywhere.

If the fire continues to burn uncontrollably for 30 seconds and it coming out of the vents, this is the time for a fire extinguisher. Of course, if the fire is continuing to spread quickly, is too hot for you to get near it, or if the flames are reaching the gas hose or tank on a gas grill, get out of the area and call 911 immediately.


Be Proactive To Avoid Out Of Control Grill Flare-Ups

Knowing exactly what causes grill flare-ups, how to avoid them, and what to do if one gets out of control will help ensure your outdoor cooking goes smoothly. Prevention and preparation are key. Keeping your grill clean will prevent 90% of grill fires. 

When you don’t have to worry about a flare-up, you can focus on cooking like the top competition cookers do. 

You can get more of the inside scoop like we’ve covered in this article, as well as competition BBQ secrets, straight from the pros in the online grilling classes and barbecue cooking classes here at BBQ Champs Academy. Champion Grillmasters and Pitmasters will walk you through step-by-step to help you elevate your outdoor cooking game like never before. 

To get the full inside look, check out the All-Access pass now!

Sara Hansen

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