How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill? Easy, Safe, and Efficient is the Goal

September 14, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Putting out charcoal is as easy as depriving the hot coals of the oxygen supply they need to keep burning. Simply put, close the vents and cover the grill with the lid to block any air from getting to the charcoal grill. Leave them closed until the grill and the coals have completely cooled. This could take between 1 - 5 hours depending on the size of the fire, the type of grill as well and prevailing weather conditions.

Every weekend for a decade now, I have hosted a family barbeque and while I have a gas grill on hand, my Weber Kettle 22-inch charcoal grill is my favorite because the resulting flavor of my barbeque is simply authentic and tasty.

Unlike a gas grill, there is no quick way to put out my Weber kettle charcoal grill quickly. Additionally, you also want to put out the hot charcoal safely. In this article, I will lay out in detail, the best way to put out a charcoal fire as well as how to ensure the leftover charcoal can be reused for a later barbeque. Let's do this...

how to put out charcoal grill

Step by Step Instructions for How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill Safely

As I have mentioned, the combustion of charcoal is facilitated by a steady oxygen supply. To power up or power down hot coals, you open and close the vents accordingly. To put out lit charcoal, therefore;

Cut the Oxygen Supply

Close the vents and cover the grill using its lid to completely keep out air and the lit coals will slowly use up all the available oxygen in the closed space. Without more oxygen supply, they stop combusting.

For this to work, your grill vents must be in perfect working condition. If they cannot completely close, the coals will simply continue to burn and your fire will not get extinguished.

A common complaint is that this method takes too long to extinguish hot coals but more often than not, the issue is a damaged vent or vents meaning that some air is still seeping into the coals allowing combustion to continue.

Even a small airway is sufficient to make your fire keep going for hours so ensure your vents are always in tip-top shape.

Move the Grill Away

Put the hot grill away at a safe distance from children, pets, or any objects since it can still cause injury and unwanted burns while it is cooling down. The grill may take four to eight hours to cool off this way depending on how much charcoal you had going.

Additionally, while your grill is cooling, it is not in use so it is just in the way making it a tripping hazard.

Grilled Patties on the Charcoal Grill

Clean Out the Ash

Once your charcoal grill has completely cooled down, use the ash dump or collector to collect the debris and place it all in a sheet of aluminum foil. Wrap up the debris securely and dump it in a metal trash can. Plastic cans could ignite if partially burned coals start to burn afresh.

If your charcoal grill does not have a metal ash pan or a removable ash dump simply collect the ash and debris using a brush and metal container or tray and place it on aluminum foil. Again, wrap up all that debris securely and dispose of it in a metal trash can.

In case the grill has not completely cooled down, just give it more time to avoid the unnecessary hassle of handling partially burned coals and hot ash. Partially burned coals can still reignite if exposed to oxygen which is what could happen if you clean out debris and place these partially burned coals in the trash.

Collect and Reuse Unburnt Coals

Some charcoal may still be leftover after this clean-up process and in such instances, you can collect the coals and lay them out on your grill grates for the next barbecue.

The best way to test which coal pieces can be used again is to pick each piece using tongs or between your fingers and apply slight pressure. The pieces that crumble away will join the ash. Reusable pieces will remain solid and you can place them in your grill for the next barbecue.

Top-quality charcoal comes at a premium so don't let perfectly reusable coals go to waste.

Place the grill cover on your charcoal grill and put it away. If it will take a while before your next cookout, put the reusable charcoal in an airtight container and store it.

The above procedure may seem tedious and long but it is the best and most efficient way to put out a charcoal grill and preserve reusable charcoal pieces. That said, there is more than one way to skin a cat - though I have always wondered why anyone would skin these lovely animals!

Is There a Faster Way to Put Out a Charcoal Grill?

Yes, there is... use water.

Water and fire are arch enemies so water is an easy solution to put out a charcoal grill, however, you shouldn’t just pour water directly on burning coals to put them out.

Person Grilling Skewers on the Charcoal Grill

If you can't wait for your charcoal grill to cool down over hours, then do this:

  1. Put cold water in a metal bucket. Half a bucket is sufficient. Place the bucket near the grill.
  2. Spread a large sheet of aluminum foil on a work table to collect the wet coals.
  3. Put on a pair of heat-resistant oven mitts or barbeque gloves to protect your hands and arm yourself with a pair of long-handled metal tongs.
  4. Using the tongs, pick up the burning coals and dunk them in the bucket one by one. Hold each piece under the water for about twenty to thirty seconds to put it out completely.
  5. Remember to keep your face away from the smoke and steam that will inevitably be emitted when you dip the burning charcoal in cold water.
  6. Once they have cooled, place the pieces on the aluminum foil. Do this for each piece big enough to be handled with tongs. Any coals that have not gone out will begin to reignite so just stick them in the water again.
  7. Once you are done, use a metal brush to sweep all the hot ash and debris into the ash dump leaving the grill grates clear and ready for another cook.
  8. Collect the ash onto an aluminum foil and wrap it up securely. Dispose of this in a metal trash can. Always remember to avoid plastics. Err on the side of caution always.
  9. The charcoal grill may stay hot for a while so be mindful that it still needs to cool down but it will cool down rapidly now that there is no more burning fuel to keep it hot.
  10. The coals you collected on the aluminum foil can be reused in your next cook but you must ensure they are completely dry and can ignite otherwise they will be useless if they are soaking wet when stored away.
  11. This method will only work if you are using some very good quality charcoal. I would recommend Masterbuilt Lump Charcoal for your next cookout. Lump charcoal can withstand being dunked in water like this but many varieties of cheap briquettes will crumble if they come into contact with water.

Why Can't I Just Douse My Charcoal Grill With Water?

I have seen many cooks put out a charcoal grill by pouring water directly on the hot charcoal grills and when one bath doesn't put out the coals, another round follows. Please don't do this and here's why:

You Will Damage Your Grill

Charcoal grilling is heat-intensive and the coals burn at high temperatures of up to 500 degrees. Pouring water on a grill that's burning this hot creates thermal shock owing to the sudden contraction of heated materials which will damage the grill by warping bending or cracking the grill.

Potential for Injury

If you have a large fire going, pouring water on the charcoal grill will send up a cloud of hot steam, smoke ash, and debris that could potentially cause burn injuries and terrible smoke inhalation.

Grilled Sausages on the Charcoal Grill

You Make a Bigger Mess

Depending on how much charcoal was on the grill, you could end up with a bigger cleaning job than you anticipated. If pouring water on your charcoal grill throws all that ash around the grill and the surrounding surface, you will have more work to do instead of less so it just beats the purpose.

Unless you are tailgating or camping and have to leave the site safe to avoid fires, backyard barbeques should not be put out like this.

Furthermore, consider the sludge you have to deal with at the bottom of the ashtray if you put out charcoal using this method. It is easier to handle the remaining ash in its dry state rather than when mixed with water.

How to Use Water to Extinguish Burning Charcoal?

If you are putting out a campfire then by all means just douse the coals with water to put them out. But on your charcoal grill, the best way to use water is to use a spray bottle to douse water on the burning charcoal.

By using a spray bottle you will be able to regulate how much water gets onto your grill keeping the quantity only to the necessary minimum.

This will also allow you to protect the grates from getting soaked and consequently warping, bending, or cracking.

Ensure you wear a pair of BBQ heat-resistant gloves since you will need to spray the water directly onto the coals which may force you to get your hand closer above the hot coals.

Keep in mind that you will not be able to put out a large fire using this method since it would take too long and therefore isn't practical.

Rounding Up...

The best way to put out a charcoal grill after you have finished cooking is to cover the grill with its lid and close all the vents effectively depriving the charcoal of the oxygen it needs to combust.

If you absolutely must put out the fire as soon as you are done, water is a good option but instead of dousing charcoal with water, dunk each burning piece big enough to be picked up, in water one by one and collect the remaining ash for disposal.

A mid-sized blaze can be put out using a spray bottle. This method ensures you do not damage your grill by targeting only the coals and not the metal body of your grill.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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