The Best Ways to Prevent (and Control) Grill Flare-Ups

Keeping those flames at bay is the key to both well-cooked food and safety.

Published June 10, 2022.

There’s nothing like food cooked on a grill. Those char marks and smoky flavor just can’t be replicated indoors. Plus, cooking al fresco is the best. Fresh air, a drink in hand, all while making a great meal? A dream. 

The not-so-great part of grilling? Those scary flare-ups that can fly up at you at a moment’s notice.

Typically caused by drops of marinade or fats combining with the flames below, flare-ups are a natural part of grilling. But that doesn’t make them any less alarming. What’s worse, they can also affect the flavor of your food. Though small flare-ups are important for adding grilled flavor, too many flare-ups or ones that are too big could be the difference between a beautifully charred burger and a burned, acidic-tastic hockey puck.

But don't worry. We've got plenty of ways to tame those flames.

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1. Trim Excess Fat

When getting your meat ready to grill, trim it carefully and remove any excess fat that you don’t need. This will prevent too much fat from dripping onto the flames.

2. Pat Your Meat Dry

To avoid oily marinade falling into the fire, be sure to let the extra liquid drip off, and also pat your meat dry of all excess marinade with paper towels before placing it on the grill. If you marinaded properly, you don’t need to worry about losing any flavor.

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3. Cover Your Grill

Even after taking these preventative steps, flare-ups are still bound to happen. An easy way to extinguish these dangerous flames is to just briefly cover your grill. By removing the source of oxygen, the flame should die down very quickly. We don’t recommend using a squirt bottle of water to tame flare-ups, as this method could end up covering your food in ashes.

4. Keep a Cooler Side

Keeping one side of the grill hot while the other side remains relatively cool is a nice trick for protecting your food from flare-ups. By having this cooler side, you now have a safe place to put your food during a flare-up without having to worry about your food burning.

  • For a charcoal grill: Distribute the lit coals over half of the grill, piling them in an even layer. Leave the other half of the grill free of coals.
  • For a gas grill: After preheating the grill, adjust the primary burner to the desired temperature, and turn off the other burner(s).

5. Add an Aluminum Pan

If cooking on a charcoal grill, another trick is to create a double-banked fire by dividing the lit coals into two steeply banked piles on opposite sides of the grill, leaving the center free of coals. You can then place a disposable aluminum pan in the empty center to catch drips and prevent flare-ups. 

6. Have the Right Equipment

If you do inevitably have a flare-up, it’s important to have a few pieces of essential equipment on hand. A nice pair of grill gloves will protect your hands while dealing with flare-ups, while a long pair of grill tongs will help keep your body as far from the dangerous flames as possible.

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Bonus: Clean Your Grease Trap

Many gas grills have grease traps underneath. While this doesn't necessarily have to do with flare-ups, a dirty grease trap can cause your grill to catch fire, and can be straight-up dangerous. Before you start cooking, remove the shallow pan from your grill and give it a good cleaning if it’s looking dirty. And to make clean-up easier in the future, line the trap with aluminum foil before use.

So how often should you be cleaning the grease trap? According to Cook’s Illustrated Executive Food Editor Keith Dresser, this can vary depending on how often you use your grill and what you’ve cooked.

“I would certainly recommend checking after cooking something that was quite fatty, like sausage,” he says. “If you’re an average griller, probably once a month is fine. If you grill more often, maybe twice a month.”

Now you can enjoy perfectly grilled food safely and without the fear of a burnt exterior. Happy grilling!

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