It’s a perfect summer afternoon. The kids are playing in the yard, you’re kicked back enjoying a beer, and the burgers are cooking on the grill.
Then you go to flip the burgers and are met with flames shooting up through the grates. If it only lasts a few seconds, it is probably just a flare-up, but if it doesn’t stop and is intense, you likely have a grease fire.
What happened? It was the perfect backyard BBQ, and now all of your burgers are charred, and your grill is more like a firepit.
Usually, there is only one reason for your gas grill to catch on fire.
The main reason gas grills catch on fire is due to grease buildup inside of the grill. When grills aren’t cleaned properly, grease builds up in the firebox, on the burners, and in other areas of the grill. The grease can vaporize and ignite, causing a grease fire. If you have a grease fire in your gas grill, turn off the gas and open the lid to allow the grease to burn off.
According to NFPA data, gas grills account for 84% of grill fires. And 33% of the gas grill fires that resulted in structure fires were caused by failure to clean them.
Grease fires are easy to prevent in your grill. I’ll cover what you need to do to avoid them and what to do if you are faced with one.
Why Your Gas Grill Keeps Catching on Fire
Gas grills are designed to produce a flame, so you may think it is always on fire. While it is technically accurate that you have a fire going, it is a controlled fire, and only the gas that is being supplied as the fuel is burning.
When referring to a gas grill catching on fire, it is a fire that is no longer controlled by the design of the grill.
Grease Buildup on Grill Surfaces
With repeated use of your grill, grease builds up on the grill’s surfaces. This grease comes from the fat in the meats you are grilling. As the meat heats up, the fat melts and drips to the surfaces below. When the grill is turned off, the grease solidifies on your grill surfaces.
Over time, with sufficient grease buildup, the grease can liquify, subsequently vaporize, and be ignited by the flame in your grill resulting in a grease fire.
If you are grilling excessively fatty meats, the dripping may be sufficient to cause a small grease fire on its own. This is one of the reasons an operating grill should never be left unattended.
Grease Buildup in Drip Pan
The drip pan below your grill is easy to forget about. You can’t see it as well as you can see the inside of the firebox. And because it is out of sight, it is more likely to have unsafe amounts of grease accumulate there.
Depending on your grill’s design, if the grease in the drip pan catches on fire, it can be a more dangerous situation. This is because the drip pan is outside of the firebox, which can help contain a grease fire in most occurrences.
If you have a cabinet below your grill that contains the grease management system, your drip tray could overflow out of sight. And if the grease in the catch pan catches fire, it can spread to those other areas.
Other Reasons Gas Grill Fires
Grease fires are the most common reason for fires related to gas grills. While other causes are less common, they can be just as dangerous, if not more.
A mechanical issue, like a rusted out burner, could lead to excessive gas flow resulting in a larger fire than the grill is designed for.
Having any combustible materials in or near the grill can also result in a fire from your gas grill. Make sure your grill isn’t near any structures or other materials that can catch fire.
Finally, the most severe gas grill fire can be the result of a gas leak. A leak can allow the flammable gases to accumulate, leading to a fireball or explosion when you light your grill.
How to Prevent Gas Grill Fires
If you have more flare-ups than usual, you haven’t cleaned your grill in some time, or you can see excessive grease buildup on your grill’s surfaces, you should be doing more to prevent the potential for a fire.
Clean Grates Before Use
When you preheat your grill, you should heat it up on high for 10-15 minutes. Doing this will help burn off the residue from prior use on the grates and other grill surfaces.
After your grill has heated up, use a grill brush to clean the grates. Take the grill brush and dip it in water before using it on the grates. This will effectively steam clean the grates before putting any food on it.
And always look down below the grates for any buildup of grease and other residues. If you see this, it is a good indicator you need to do a more thorough cleaning.
Check Drip Pan Frequently
Depending on how often you grill, the frequency of checking the drip pan may vary. However, it is a good idea to check it each time before you fire up your grill. It only takes a few seconds.
Sometimes rodents like to get in there too. They can displace the drip pan, so it is also a good check to see it is installed correctly. And keeping it clean helps deter inviting them from checking it out.
And when you swap out your drip pans, ensure you check the system that diverts grease and droppings into them. Sometimes those openings will get clogged with debris resulting in additional grease buildup within the firebox.
Perform Routine Deep Cleaning
Again, the frequency of your grill requiring a more thorough cleaning will depend on how much you use it.
At a minimum, you should give it a more thorough cleaning a couple of times a year. But if you grill multiple times a week, it should be more often. Ensure the gas is shut off at the source before
This cleaning should include taking any removable items out of the firebox (grates, smokebox, flavor bars, etc.) so you can identify and remove any grease accumulations. Using a good degreaser can help make this activity much more manageable.
If you have a power washer, you can use it to assist with cleaning your grill. Just be sure to use a lower pressure nozzle, so you don’t cause any damage.
Check Your Grill for Leaks
Finally, checking for any gas leaks can help to prevent gas grill fires. Anytime you break a connection in the gas supply line, you should perform a leak test.
Apply soapy water to the connections and turn on the gas. If any bubbles form, shut off the gas, fix the connection, and reperform the leak test.
It is also a good idea to perform a leak test after you complete the deep cleaning of your grill.
Other Ways to Prevent Gas Grill Fires
- Keep your grill away from structures and other combustibles
- Don’t grill in high wind
- When grilling higher fat content food, keep the lid open
- Never leave an operating grill unattended
What to Do if Your Grill Is on Fire?
If you have a gas grill fire that is larger than a typical flare-up, the most important thing to remember is don’t panic. Panicking usually leads to actions that can make matters worse.
Do Not Use Water
As you’ve likely heard many times before, oil and water don’t mix.
Using water on a grease fire can help spread the fire. Water will displace the grease, and if the water flashes to steam, it can carry the grease (and fire) with it.
Turn Off the Gas
If you can safely approach the grill, turn off the burner controllers. Alternatively, you can shut off the gas supply at the tank or gas line shut off valve.
Open or Close the Lid?
In most cases with a grease fire, you want to smother the fire by removing its source of oxygen. In the kitchen, this would typically be done by covering it with a pan.
However, unlike a charcoal grill with vents you can close, gas grills have vents and other openings that allow air inside that can’t be closed. And most gas grill grease fires start with the lid closed due to the heat building up.
Because of this, as long as there aren’t any combustible sources nearby, the lid can remain open to allow the remaining grease to burn off.
Whatever you do, don’t try and move a grill that is operating or on fire!
Use Salt or Baking Soda
If you aren’t comfortable letting the fire burn itself out, you can use salt or baking soda to put out a grease fire. However, only consider using baking soda for a small fire and salt for a moderate fire because of the amount it will require.
Use a Fire Extinguisher If Necessary
If shutting the gas off and letting the grease burn off doesn’t result in the fire going down and you don’t have enough baking soda, use a Class B fire extinguisher. Class B fire extinguishers are made for use on flammable liquids and are the type you should have in your kitchen or garage.
If you can’t shut off the gas, you feel the fire is out of control, or it is likely to spread to a structure, call 911.
In fact, if you feel the need to go look for a fire extinguisher, that is a good sign you should call 911. It is best to have professional help on the way in case you can’t find one, or it isn’t enough to put the fire out.
Conclusion on Gas Grills Catching on Fire
Gas grill fires can create a scary situation if you haven’t dealt with one before.
However, in most cases, they are entirely preventable.
And if they happen frequently, it is a likely sign that you have a buildup of grease.
By keeping your grill clean, in good working condition, and operating it safely, you can minimize the likelihood of a gas grill fire.