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How To Put Out A Charcoal Grill

There are few things that taste better than food grilled over burning charcoal, but you need to know how to put out a charcoal grill once you’re done cooking. While you want to go and enjoy that grilled food, the last thing you want is to worry about extinguishing that …

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By Jeremy Pike


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How To Put Out A Charcoal Grill
Extinguished Charcoal in Mikes Weber Kettle with Slow N Sear

There are few things that taste better than food grilled over burning charcoal, but you need to know how to put out a charcoal grill once you’re done cooking. While you want to go and enjoy that grilled food, the last thing you want is to worry about extinguishing that charcoal that just cooked your meal. In most circumstances you’ll have a lot of time to wait for the coals to extinguish, but sometimes you need to put them out quickly.

So how do you put out a charcoal grill? There are a few thoughts on how to put charcoal out, but it largely falls into two camps. Let the charcoal burn itself out, or manipulate the charcoal to extinguish more quickly. This can be done by removing the charcoal from the grill itself or smothering it out.

So what’s the best way to put out charcoal? Read on!

Why Do We Need To Put Out A Charcoal Grill After Cooking?

Charcoal Grill Cooking
Mikes BBQ Chicken on his Weber Kettle

Unless you nailed the exact amount of charcoal you needed for your grilling session, in most cases you’ll have burning embers and charcoal left over. Those burning coals need to be put out so you don’t end up with a fire from the grill getting knocked over. 

Another problem with leftover burning charcoal is it keeps your charcoal grill hot for a long time. You should always cover your grill to keep it protected from the elements. However, putting a cover on a hot grill is a bad idea. You don’t want to potentially melt the cover to your grill. 

If you’ve spent the majority of your grilling life using a gas grill, this is a pretty big difference. You’re used to simply shutting off the burners and the propane tank, then letting it cool before putting a cover on the grill. 

Unfortunately, there are more considerations to be made when putting out a charcoal grill. The supply of heat can’t just be switched off as a gas grill can. If there’s a lot of charcoal left burning in the grill, it can stay hot for hours. That’s a long time in which someone or something could bump into the grill and burn themselves or scatter burning coals and start a fire. Or maybe you’re camping somewhere and need to pack up and leave in a couple minutes. If time is of the essence, we have a method to help you as well.

Method #1: Letting The Charcoal Burn Out

One of the most common ways to extinguish a charcoal fire is simply letting it burn out. However, that doesn’t mean leaving all the vents and the lid wide open. A fire needs oxygen to burn, so the more oxygen gets to the coals, the longer and hotter they will burn. 

So you put out a charcoal grill by closing the lid and all vents and dampers to snuff the charcoal out. The drawback is that it will take time for the coals to extinguish fully. I have found that over time the bottom vents on a Weber Kettle lose their strong seal and the time to extinguish the coals takes longer.

The recommendation from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association is to let the grill sit closed and undisturbed for 48 hours to ensure everything is cold. That’s an incredibly long time and I can bet no one is waiting that long.

The biggest pro to this method is that it doesn’t take much effort. Once you remove your food, just close the lid and the vents. 

The biggest con is that it can take a very long time. Doing this also means you’ll waste some of your charcoal as it won’t stop burning down immediately. If you don’t want this process to take as long or waste as much charcoal, there are steps you can take. 

Tips to Reduce Cool Down Time of Charcoal Grill

  1. When you fire up your charcoal grill, only use as much charcoal as you need. Don’t use a full chimney of charcoal when half a chimney will do. If you’re new to charcoal grilling, this can take some trial and effort, and that’s okay. Starting out I always used too much charcoal.
  2. If you do discover that you still have plenty of charcoal left when you’ve finished cooking what you planned, you can grab some more food to throw on the grill grates. You can even toast some marshmallows if you have them handy. Just make use of how much charcoal you lit.

Once the charcoal is completely cooled, you can then cover the grill or clean out the ash to prepare for your next grilling session.

Reuse Leftover Charcoal

Don’t forget that you can reuse the remaining charcoal for your next cook. If some charcoal chunks are leftover after they are extinguished, you can simply use them in your next cook and throw them into the chimney with your fresh charcoal. Keep in mind that charcoal will degrade overtime especially when it is left in high humidity areas, so try to use that half burnt charcoal sooner than later.

Can I Douse My Charcoal Grill With Water?

I hear this question all the time and see it being asked in grilling and smoking forums.

Your first instinct might be to pour water on your coals in the charcoal grill. While this technically works, it also can be a safety hazard to both you and your grill. Water hitting hot charcoal can turn to steam which could give you a burn. It can even send hot ash into the air. Do not do this!

Depending on what type of charcoal grill you have, the thermal shock from the hot charcoal to (relatively) cold water could cause damage. If you like using a ceramic grill like a Big Green Egg, a Kamado Joe, or the Primo XL, that shock could cause cracking. 

Pouring water on burning charcoal can also cause a huge mess. All that ash will turn into basically mud in the bottom of the grill. Any excess moisture left over could also cause rust problems to develop. No one wants the bottom of their charcoal grill to rust out.

How to Use Water to Extinguish the Coals Quickly and Safely

That doesn’t mean water can’t play a role in putting out a charcoal grill. One way that some people use water is to remove pieces of charcoal and dunk them into a bucket of water. This will still produce some steam but not anywhere near the levels of pouring that same bucket of water into the bottom of the grill.

One potential pro to this method is that you might be able to salvage pieces of charcoal. If you’re using good-quality charcoal, it can be used again once it’s completely dry. Bargain-bin charcoal might fall apart when it gets wet. 

A potential downfall is that you’ll be reaching into a hot grill and handling burning charcoal. If you pursue this method, make sure that your bucket of water is right next to your grill. Also, use good grill gloves that will keep your hands protected from the heat. 

Another way to use water is to spritz the charcoal to accelerate the cooling process. Now this means you don’t have to remove the charcoal without the risk of a lot of steam at once. However, you’re trying to spray water around the inside of your grill. The potential for a mess is still there. Again, you can do it, but we do not recommend this method.

What if you’re trying to put out a charcoal grill that isn’t your own? Say, a grill at the park you’re having a picnic at or a party? What do you do then?

How To Put Out A Charcoal Grill At A Park

We’ve all seen those large metal grills at the local park. Who knows when the last time those grill grates were properly cleaned? Still, they’re better than not grilling at all (most times, anyways.) If you’ve lit a charcoal fire in one of these, you’ll want to know how to put it out properly because you don’t have 48 hours to sit around and wait.

The best way to put out a charcoal grill at a park is to treat it as a campfire. That means spreading out the ash and coals, dousing it with water, then stirring it and repeating until it’s cold. Then as an act of kindness to the next people, scrape out as much of the ashy mud mess as possible.

Ash Disposal

How To Put Out A Charcoal Grill
Charcoal Ash Collecting Below Slow n Sear

If you’ve elected to let the charcoal in your home grill die on its own, you’re going to have a good amount of ash to deal with. Now you need to figure out what to do with charcoal after grilling.

The best way to dispose of the ash is to form a large bowl out of aluminum foil to hold the ash and charcoal. Then put any remaining ash or bits of charcoal into the foil bowl, wrap it up tightly, and properly dispose of it in a metal can. Plastic is a no-no, you don’t want to risk melting it.

If you’ve got an ash pan on the bottom of your charcoal grill as I do, that’s great. You can push or knock any remaining ash into the pan, pull it, and then dump it into the foil bowl and throw it away. 

If your charcoal grill doesn’t have an ash pan, you’ll need a metal scoop to pick up all that ash and debris. Then repeat the above steps with the foil. 

Wrapping It Up (And Not Just The Old Ash And Charcoal)

Grilling on a charcoal grill is an amazing experience both in terms of cooking over a live fire and the taste of that food. However, it does take some extra care versus other ways of grilling. If you can be patient and keep people and animals away from your grill, the best way to put out a charcoal grill is to close the lid and all the vents to let it die out on its own.

If you find yourself in a bit of a bind, using water carefully is the way to go. Just be aware that there are some risks to pouring water into your charcoal grill or pulling charcoal out of your grill to submerge it in water.

If you’re looking for a way to light your charcoal grill that doesn’t involve using lighter fluid, check out our roundup of the best charcoal starters.

What’s your go-to way to put out your charcoal grill? Let us know in the comments!

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