How To Put Out a Charcoal Grill Safely

Updated: May 10, 2023

Safety first, always. With a few tools and tricks, it's easy to put out a charcoal grill at home or on the road.

A couple of years ago I was competing in a barbecue contest in eastern Wisconsin. I was in a rush to put out my charcoal grill and pack up so I could hit the road and get home. That’s when I made a dangerous mistake. By not disposing of my hot coals safely, I started a fire!

Thankfully, a couple of other competitors stepped in and helped me put it out before it got out of hand. From that day on, I’ve taken fire management more seriously. You should, too.

Here are the best ways to safely put out a charcoal grill, and how to safely dispose of and reuse charcoal.

Tools and Equipment

Putting Out the Coals

Depending on where you are, you may have plenty of time, or not enough.

At home, with plenty of time

  • After you’ve removed all the food from the grill, close the lid and all the vents. Wear insulated gloves or mitts because the vents can be hot! This step takes time, sometimes as long as a whole day. But your coals will eventually go out.
  • Do NOT pour or spray water on your coals to put them out faster. The water can become extremely hot, billowing steam that could burn you or others. Dirty, dusty water also can splash out onto your deck or wherever you’re cooking, leaving a mess. Same with ash dust if it gets wet.

Away from home and need to act quickly

  • On the competition barbecue circuit, my fellow competitors and I are always anxious to pack up and head home when the contest is over. That’s why many of us carry a small metal trash can.
  • When I’m ready to pack up, I put on my insulated mitts, dump all the hot coals and ashes in the trash can and tightly close the lid. This is far more airtight than any grill, so it puts out the fire and cools quickly. By the time I have everything else cleaned and packed up, the trash can is cool enough to pick it up by the handles and put it in my truck bed. Don’t put the can inside your vehicle unless the can is cool to the touch. How long that takes depends on how many coals you had and how much was left to burn.
  • If you’re somewhere with built-in fire pits, you could dump your coals in one so you don’t have to haul them home. But it’s vital to make sure they’re out before you walk away.
  • As mentioned earlier, avoid using water, unless you dumped coals in a fire pit. If the coals are still too hot to leave behind, you can slowly pour water in the pit to extinguish them. Be careful with any steam.

Disposing of and Reusing Coals

If you’re at home and the coals are completely out and cooled off, here’s what to do:

  • Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on a table next to your grill. Grab metal tongs, pick out the pieces of charcoal that haven’t burned down very much and place them on the foil.
  • If your grill is small and light enough to pick up, dump the ash into a disposable bag you can put in your home trash can. If your grill is too heavy, use a metal ash shovel to scoop it out into a bag you can dispose of.
  • Put the pieces of charcoal you set aside back in your grill. Next time you fire it up, put a layer of new charcoal on top of the saved coals. This will not only save you money by using less new charcoal, you’ll also have less to clean out and dispose of each time.