I often hear or read the question: Is it safe to use a charcoal grill on a wooden patio?
Same as with a gas grill there is always a risk of fire when cooking over live flame, but with the proper safety measures, a charcoal grill is perfectly safe on your patio.
Read on to discover a few top tips for preventing any damage to your wooden deck while grilling.
Use a Grill Mat
If you cook on a wooden patio and only do one thing I suggest in this article, it should be this: use a quality grill mat.
Grill mats come in all shapes and sizes; there is definitely one that is the right shape to fit under your grill. Grill mats are designed to protect your patio from not only sparks from your charcoal fire but from grease stains as well.
When shopping for a grill mat, don’t go with the cheapest one you can find. If you’ve splashed out on a top of the line charcoal grill and expensive wooden deck, don’t try to save on something as comparatively cheap yet essential as a grill mat.
Make sure you have one that is heavy enough to not blow around your grill and is also wide enough to extend a couple of inches each direction around your grill. Most importantly, make sure it is heavy enough to be fire resistant if an ember were to fall on it.
Such a grill mat will on it’s own make grilling on your wooden patio perfectly safe, and will prevent any damage to it too.
Keep Your Grill Clean and Free of Grease
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the leading causes of fire involving grills are a combination of failure to clean, having the grill too close to your home, and leaving the grill unattended.
By using a drip pan or water pan under your meat, especially fatty cuts like ribs or pork shoulder, you’re going to catch a lot of that flammable grease that would otherwise build up inside your grill. On top of using a drip pan, you can give your grill a thorough cleaning at least once a year.
Keep Your Grill Away from Your Home
This may seem like common sense, but make sure your charcoal grill is not up against your home, your deck, or any other combustible materials.
When I’m cooking, I make sure there is nothing within a 3-foot radius. I have a lot of greenery in my backyard, and I make sure there are no bushes or tree branches leaning too close either.
I do store my charcoal grill up against my home, but I never place it there until 24 hours after I’ve finished grilling and I know the charcoal is gone out.
Have a Fire Extinguisher (and Baking Powder) Nearby
You may consider yourself a grill-master, but don’t let your ego get in your way; always have a fire extinguisher readily available if you need it. Don’t keep it in the box in the basement, and always make sure it’s fully charged and ready to use. We keep ours in our kitchen which is just off our patio.
In addition to a fire extinguisher, baking powder can be used to smother a grease fire. I actually used some earlier this summer when I had some fat from a pork shoulder go up in flames on my grill (luckily I had removed the food when it started). I tried simply putting the cover on to smother the fire but it persisted. Within 5 seconds of sprinkling the baking powder on, the fire was out.
Above all else, never pour water on a grease fire.
Be Mindful of the Weather
If it is calling for 80MPH winds the day of your big backyard BBQ, and you plan to cook on your charcoal grill, maybe you should postpone. While the charcoal is safe lit inside your grill if the wind blows the grill over you’re going to have flaming charcoal on your patio. Not a good combination.
Use Two-Zone Indirect Cooking
Two-zone indirect grilling is when you set your grill up with a “hot” side and a “cool” side. When grilling with charcoal you can set this up by banking your charcoal to one side of your grill. Not only is this a great way to cook over an open flame, but it is an excellent way to avoid flare-ups.
Flare-ups happen when fat drips off the meat and onto the charcoal. It’s going to happen no matter what you do. If you’re cooking something really fatty like hamburgers it’s easy for it to get out of control.
By cooking with a two-zone indirect setup, you’re able to quickly move the meat to the “cool” side of the grill. Place your lid back on your grill, and after a couple of minutes, your flare-ups will have subsided.
Close all Vents When Finished
Once you’ve brought your food inside, close all air vents to your grill. Doing so shuts out oxygen to your lit charcoal and quickly smothers the fire. If your grill has some kind of ash catching device or sweeping system, use it once the grill has cooled.
However, resist the urge to dump your ash into any kind of garbage container right away. Instead, wait at least 24 hours after you’ve cooked to empty your ash from your grill.
Even then, it is a good practice to have a metal container you store your ash in after emptying your grill. Bag it and put it out to the curb (and away from your house) on garbage day.
What safety precautions do you take when you cook on your patio? We’d love to hear them so please leave a comment down below telling us your preventive techniques.
Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you use vigilance and common sense at all times when cooking with fire!