How to Prevent Flare-ups On Your Grill: Causes, Cures & Prevention

Has this ever happened to you? You’re outside grilling, having a great time, when you go to flip your burgers and a small burst of fire flares up around your food.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an expert, flare-ups can take anyone by surprise, but what exactly causes these intense bursts of flame? How do you prevent flare-ups? And what do you do in the event that a little flare-up turns into something bigger? Stick around, cause today, we’re tackling your most important questions about flare-ups. 

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • What causes flare-ups when you’re grilling?
  • What to do when you experience a flare-up?
  • How to prevent flare-ups from happening?

What Causes Flare-ups On the Grill?

What exactly causes flare-ups? Most of the time, flare-ups are a result of fat or oils dripping down through the grill grates, and onto hot coals, wood, or your fuel source.

shellfish on the grill

When oils and fats drip down into the fire, you may encounter a brief jump of the flame called a flare-up.

When you’re cooking burgers for example, the fat contained within the patties separates (or “renders”) from the meat and drips down onto the flame, causing a brief flare-up. 

A similar thing happens with foods slathered in marinades or coated in oil. The oils drip down over the fire, causing quick, intense bursts of fire.

What to Do If You Experience a Flare-up

The first few times you grill, flare-ups might take you by surprise. But the more you grill, the more you’ll find that a short, quick flare-up is fairly common, and no cause for concern.

grilling with wood and charcoal

Don’t let flare-ups discourage you from enjoying your grill. The more you cook, the more comfortable you’ll become.

If you do encounter a flare-up though, here’s what to do:


If you experience a flare-up use your tongs or a spatula to move your food to a cooler part of the grill that isn’t over direct heat.


A warming rack is a fair option if space is tight. Without those drippings falling through the grates below, a small flare-up usually dies down quickly.

Related Article: What’s the difference between direct heat & indirect heat?

What to do if a Flare-up Becomes a Grease Fire

So what happens if a small flare-up turns into something bigger like a grease fire?

smoke billowing from the openings in a grill lid

Fire feeds on oxygen. If a flare-up turns into a fire, you need to cut off the supply of oxygen.

When grease, residue and carbon have a chance to build up in your grill, it increases the chance that a flare-up turns into something more serious like a grease fire. If this happens to you, there are two important things to remember:

  1. Grease fires feed on oxygen. If you encounter a grease, fire your best bet is to cut off its oxygen supply. First close the lid. Then, if you can safely reach the burner knob on your grill, shut it off to cut off the gas supply. If it’s a charcoal grill, close all the air vents. When you starve the fire of oxygen, it will most likely extinguish itself. Your food may be lost, but better your food than something more important. 
  2. Whatever you do, DO NOT put water on a grease fire. Or any liquid for that matter. Unlike most fires, water doesn’t extinguish a grease fire, but instead has a reverse effect. Water can actually spread a grease fire and increase the chances that it turns into a more severe problem. Instead, keep a container of baking soda nearby to throw on the flame. Baking soda (or salt in a pinch) deprives fire of oxygen. Just be sure it’s baking soda, and not combustible materials like baking powder, flour, or biscuit mix.
man with his hand on the handle of a Nexgrill lid

If you experience a grease fire, keep calm. Close the lid. Turn off the burners. Close the vents. And whatever you do, don’t put water on it. (Use baking soda instead.)

How to Prevent Flare-ups in the First Place

You might be saying “Okay great, I know what to do if a flare-up happens, but how do I prevent them from ever happening in the first place?”

Glad you asked, because there are several things you can do to prevent flare-ups: 

  • Keep your grill clean. All that residue, leftover grease, and carbon from past cookouts are like a feeding frenzy for fire. When it gets hot enough inside your grill, all that debris is just asking to become a flare-up. With a clean grill though, there’s no residue to burn, meaning there’s far less chance of encountering a flare-up.

Related Article: How to Maintain Your Gas Grill

  • Trim the fat on your food. Fat equals flavor, so we don’t want to get too carried away here, but trimming excess fatty tissue off your steaks, burgers, chicken, and chops leaves less fat to render, fewer drippings to fall through the grates, and less chance of a flare-up.
  • Set up your grill for two-zone heat. For charcoal, that means keeping all your coals on one side of the grill. For gas, that means lighting one section of burners, and leaving the other section off. This way you have somewhere cool to move your food if a flare-up occurs.
  • Avoid windy conditions. By now you know that oxygen feeds fire. When it’s windy out, there’s a better chance of oxygen being forced into the firebox and fanning the flames within. If you can avoid windy conditions, there’s a better chance you can avoid unwelcome flare-ups.
man grilling on a nexgrill

Whether you’re grilling with charcoal or cooking with gas, flare-ups aren’t totally uncommon. And when they do happen, they’re easy to manage with a few quick steps.

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