Charcoal grilling is the purest form of barbecue cooking, with its beautifully authentic aromas and flavors that it imparts on your food. It does have one big drawback though: The cleanup operation needed after you use it.

It’s not just the potential debris and clutter though – it’s also the process of extinguishing the whole thing. It’s messier, trickier and more dangerous than it looks.

It’s important to put charcoal out at the earliest opportunity once you’ve finished using your grill. It helps save fuel considerably, while also helping prevent any risk of it flaring up and burning anything near it. Especially if you have pets or children nearby.

Charcoal grills can be put out simply by closing the lids and vents on your grill, cutting off all oxygen to the coals. It will then take up to 2 days for the coals to fully cool down, but this method of allowing it to rest is far safer than trying to use water to extinguish it.

Need to up your charcoal lighting game? Check out my easy guide here.


What do I need to put out a charcoal grill?

To extinguish burning charcoal properly, you’ll need some level of skill in handling it. To do this right, you’ll need a few tools at your disposal. Here are the main essentials:

  • Heat proof oven mitts
  • A bucket of water
  • Metal spatula or trowel
  • Aluminum foil
  • Wire brush
  • A pair of long tongs
  • Fire extinguisher (class B, K or ABC)
  • Can of baking soda for alternative use


Step 1: Shut the grill down

Begin by putting on heat proof oven mitts and ensure that they are heat resistant enough to prevent excessive temperatures from reaching you.

Remove the rack from your grill and slowly close the lid. If your grill has vents then make sure that they are also closed. This ensures that all avenues of oxygen to get into the chamber are covered, preventing any additional airflow to fuel the fire.

Coals can always take a very long time to cool down, and it’s also not always clear if they’re still burning or not, I recommend leaving the grill for up to 48 hours, with all vents closed. While it might not take this long to extinguish, it’s important to be absolutely certain.


Step 2: Remove ashes and briquettes

Once the 48 hours have passed and your grill has completely cooled down, you can remove the burned out briquettes and ashes.

Use an ash removal bucket to scoop up the ashes. Tip them onto a large sheet of aluminum foil prior to disposing of them. Wrap the sheet up carefully and dispose of it in a metal trash can or carrier. Any sign of an ember can put plastic at risk of burning or melting, so avoid using a plastic garbage can or bin at all costs.

charcoal wrapped in aluminum and placed in metallic bin

Photo: Kingsford

When transferring the wrapped up aluminum – however cold the briquettes may seem to be – it is advisable that you hold them using a pair of tongs from the grill to the can. We want to reduce the risk of any heat or flare up burning or hurting you.

Alternatively, instead of having to wait all that time for the briquettes to cool down, you can still remove them together with the ash using a pair of long-handled tongs. However in doing so, another important precaution is to use separate metallic containers to accommodate the ash and the briquettes. If the coals are still very hot, it means that they will continue burning in the metallic container and generate more ashes. The best alternative in this case is to remove them one by one and dip into a bucket of water.


Step 3: Avoid water

I hate to hammer this point home too much, but any kind of use of a charcoal grill can be hazardous. I strongly recommend against pouring or spraying water directly onto your BBQ while it shows any sign of heat. Always wait until it has completely cooled down, even if this is 48 hours down the line. Coals burn at very high temperatures, and dousing them with water can lead to cracks in your grill. Another danger created by pouring water directly onto coals is that it will create harsh levels of steam and will disperse hot ash, in turn causing nasty burns.


Step 4: Clean the grill out

Use a metal spatula or a trowel to sweep off the remaining ash from the grill. This should be followed by a thorough clean-up of the chamber. Pay careful attention to the vents since that is where some ashes are likely to enter, potentially creating an obstruction for your next grill-off.

On the lower parts of the grill, and especially on the grates, be sure to use a wire brush. At your own preferred intervals, clean the grates using soap and water. It’s important to lubricate these parts using silicone spray. The spray acts as a good anti-rusting agent, thus improving the lifespan of your charcoal grill.


Step 5: Return leftover briquettes

When they have completely cooled down, put the cold briquettes back in the bottom halve of your grill so that we can use them again next time. Be sure to use a pair of tongs.



How do I put out charcoal for reuse?

You might find that quite a lot of charcoal is leftover after grilling, and in which case it’d be a real shame and a waste to dispose of it all. To cut down on this waste, you can reuse the charcoal quite easily.

To do this, prepare a large container of water. Remove the charcoal from the grill and submerge each piece in water to ensure that it’s fully extinguished. Allow each charcoal to rest submerged in the water for 30 to 60 seconds before removing, and transferring to a non-flammable surface to allow it to dry.

Once these are dry they can be stored in a fireproof container and reused for your next cook-off.


Is there a faster way to cool down my charcoal grill?

In short, not really. I’ve seen some people suggesting simply spraying or pouring water on to the coals to cool them down faster, but this is just too risky as the sudden temperature imbalance will risk cracking your BBQ chamber and any porcelain inside the grill (e.g. a lot of BBQ grates are porcelain coated).

Yes, waiting for up to 48 hours for it completely cool down is tedious, but it’s the safest way to make certain that both you and your grill are safe.


How soon after I finish grilling should I put my grill cover on?

Right away! Once the lid and vents are both closed, it’s perfectly safe to put your grill cover on. Leaving your grill exposed for up to 48 hours without a cover will leave it vulnerable to damage or rust.

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