How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill Safely and Effectively

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When it comes to grilling, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better, more authentic way to cook your food than with a charcoal grill.

The smokey charcoal flavor that absorbs into your food adds incredible depth to your food and is impossible to replicate with other cooking methods.

The downside of grilling with charcoal?  You have to actively manage your charcoal fire, and when you’re through grilling – you have to put out your charcoal grill safely.

Fully extinguishing your charcoal fire is an important step that can’t be overlooked – and if you don’t know what to do it can be very messy.  In this article, we’ll show you exactly how to put out a charcoal grill safely and effectively.  This way, you can grill with confidence and maximize the efficiency of your grilling operation.

How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill – Overview

When it comes to how to put out a charcoal grill, I’ve found that many beginners think the way to do it quickly is to dump water on your coals until they’re extinguished.

While there are a few situations where you can get away with a method like this (more on that later), dumping water on your coals is NOT the way to get the job done.  If you do this, you’ll end up with a muddy disaster in your grill’s ash pan or worse – you risk permanent cracks and damage to your grill.

In reality, the process to safely put out a charcoal grill takes a little bit of time and patience.  Resisting the urge to cut corners and move quickly will lead to a safer grilling set up and a longer shelf life for your grill.

How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill: Top 3 Methods

There isn’t only one right way for how to put out a charcoal grill, there are a few different methods you can use.  Each different method requires a certain set of equipment to have on hand, and each takes a different amount of time to complete.

Method 1 – The Old Fashioned Way

If time is on your side, the best and most tried and true way to put out your fire is as follows:

Equipment Needed

  • Grill tongs – longer tongs are ideal
  • Aluminum foil
  • Ash scoop
  • Grill brush
  • Small bucket of water – as a safety precaution
  • Heat resistant BBQ gloves – optional but recommended for additional safety

Step by Step

Step 1: Close off all oxygen flow to your grill.  Most charcoal grills will have vents on the top and on the bottom of the cooking chamber.  Close these vents so that no oxygen flow reaches your coals – doing this will help suffocate the fire.  Make sure your grill lid is closed.

Charcoal can take quite a long time to fully cool down.  In many cases, it can take up to 48 hours for charcoal to extinguish – although sometimes it can go quicker depending on how big your fire was.

Step 2: Remove briquettes and ash.  After the 48 hours have passed, it’s time to remove the burnt out charcoal briquettes and ash.  Scoop out your ashes and carefully pour them onto a large sheet of aluminum foil.  With your grill tongs, pick out your leftover briquettes and place them onto your foil.

It’s important to note here that you should be extremely careful when handling the briquettes.  Even if 48 hours has passed, there is a chance they could still be running hot and burn to the touch with bare skin.  Be sure to use grill tongs when handling your briquettes – and if they’re still hot you can individually dip them into your bucket of water to ensure they are fully put out.

If you want to reuse briquettes that still have some life in them, place them to the side on a separate piece of foil for the time being.

Step 3: Dispose of your aluminum packet.  Once all scooped ash and briquettes have been placed onto your aluminum foil, wrap up the foil into a packet.  From there, place the packet into an outdoor trash can so that you don’t stink up the inside of your home.  Avoid plastic trash cans if your charcoals are still warm.

Step 4: Clean your grill.  If you want to set yourself up for success the next time you grill, it’s important to spend a few minutes cleaning out your grill.  Ash build up can lead to clogged vents and other problems too.  With a grill brush, thoroughly scrub and scrape your grill grates and cooking chamber.  After that, give extra attention to your vents to ensure that they are clear and ready to operate smoothly for your next cook.

After your grill has been thoroughly cleaned, place any briquettes that you have set aside for reuse back into your grill.  Then close your lid, and cover your grill.  It’s now ready for the next use!

Method 2 – How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill Quickly

If you want to speed the process up, it’s definitely doable – if a little bit tedious.  The caveat is that you need to take even more care during the process, and you’ll need a little bit more equipment on hand.  The upside of this method is that you’re likely to save a higher proportion of your charcoal for reuse.

Equipment Needed

  • Grill tongs – longer tongs are ideal
  • Large bucket of water
  • Aluminum foil
  • Non flammable surface – could be more foil or a cookie sheet
  • Ash scoop
  • Grill brush
  • Heat resistant BBQ gloves – optional but recommended for additional safety

Step by Step

Step 1: Close off all oxygen flow to your grill.  Similarly, the first step here is for you to close off all of your vents to prevent oxygen from feeding your fire.

Step 2: Close your grill lid and wait for about an hour.  During this time, prepare a large bucket of water, and grab your tongs and aluminum foil.

Step 3: One by one, grab each briquette with your grill tongs and submerge them in the bucket of water.  It might sound incredibly tedious, but the safest way to do this is to submerge only one coal at a time.  Submerge each briquette for about a minute, then once it’s fully extinguished remove it from the water bucket and place on foil or a cookie sheet to dry.

Step 4: Once the briquettes have dried, place them in a fireproof container.  These coals are now ready for reuse.  You can also place them back inside of your grill after you’ve completed the rest of the steps.

Step 5: Remove ash and clean your grill.  Scoop ash into an aluminum foil packet and dispose.  Then, clean your grill grates, cooking chamber, and grill vents so that they are ready for the next cookout.

Method 3 – Use Only With an Open Pit

There are a handful of situations where you can get away with dumping water over your charcoal fire to put it out.  I want to reemphasize though that you should never, ever do this on a standalone or built in charcoal grill.

If you have an open pit charcoal fire though (at a campsite for example), you can carefully pour water over your coals to speed up the process.  Pour your water over one section of coals at a time, making sure that you evenly distribute the water flow over the entire bed of coals.

When is It Safe to Put My Grill Cover On?

As soon as you’ve closed your vents and the lid to your charcoal grill, it’s actually safe to put your grill’s cover on – even though the coals will remain hot for about 48 hours.  And we’d recommend doing that right away to prevent the possibility of rusting or damage from the weather.

After the 48 hour period of allowing your coals to cool, you can remove the cover to complete the process of cleaning and extinguishing your coals.  After all of that is done, the cover can go right back on.

Why Can’t You Pour Water Over Your Charcoals?

There are two reasons you shouldn’t ever just pour water over your coals as a method for how to put out a charcoal grill.

The first simply has to do with the fact that it will result in a mess.  Your ash pan will turn into a cake of mud, and the splashage will likely cause a huge mess too.  Even though it might sound counterintuitive, dumping water over your charcoal fire is just going to add to the amount of work you have to do.

The second, and more serious reason, has to do with the health of your grill.  Your grill’s cooking chamber isn’t designed for sudden, drastic changes in temperature.  Pouring cold water over a scorching hot charcoal fire can lead to some serious damage via thermal shock, including cracking, inside of your grill.  Porcelain enameled grill chambers and cooking grates especially will be prone to cracking if you dump water over your coals.

A Quick Note on Vents

Oxygen is the fuel that keeps charcoal grill fires going.  The constant draft of air flow through grill vents is what keeps your charcoal grill hot, and manipulating air vents allow you to control your grill’s ambient temperature.

When it comes to how to put out a charcoal grill, the absolute most important thing you need to make sure you do is close your grill vents.  It’s the only way to safely and effectively extinguish your flames.

How to Put Out a Charcoal Kamado Grill

A type of charcoal grill that has exploded in popularity over recent years is the kamado grill.  These cookers are made with a ceramic, egg shaped cooking chamber, and are known for their spectacular insulation and overall performance.

Kamado grills are fueled by charcoal, but a specific type of it.  They utilize lump charcoal, which is essentially a naturally processed, organic style of coal that burns hot and extremely clean.  Minimal ash is produced when you burn lump charcoal.

The steps for how to put out a kamado grill are for all intents and purposes the same as putting out other charcoal grills.  Simply close your vents to eliminate any airflow to your charcoal.

The big difference with kamado grills is that it only takes about 30 minutes for your coals to extinguish.  Part of the reduced time can be attributed to the nature of lump charcoal, and part of it has to do with the design of the ceramic cooker.  You can read more about the difference between charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal right here.

It’s extremely important with a kamado grill that you don’t suddenly open your vents after you’ve closed them.  Doing so will cause a quick inflow of oxygen that can lead to a dangerous grill flare up.

Final Thoughts

If you came to this article wondering how to put out a charcoal grill, I hope you now feel confident in your ability to do it safely and effectively.

At the end of the day, it’s a process that shouldn’t be rushed and is just part of the nature of cooking on a charcoal grill.  The reward of delicious, traditional smokey flavor on your food is well worth the trouble though.

Did we miss something in this guide to how to put out a charcoal grill?  Have any other methods we don’t know about?  Let us know about it in the comments section below.