Using a charcoal grill on a wooden deck can be done, but you should use precautions. I recently received an email from one of my readers and he was wondering about the safety of using a charcoal grill on a wood deck. Well, to be honest, apart from my water smoker which is also fired by charcoal, I always use my Weber grills on my wooden deck.
I even use my Brinkmann Trailmaster Limited Edition offset smoker on my wooden deck. Since my smoker has a much larger footprint than my Weber Grills, I needed to purchase two deck protective mats for my smoker. Out of all of my grilling with charcoal accessories, the most important ones pertain to grilling safety.
But there are a few grilling safety tips that you should definitely follow when using charcoal on any wooden deck.
Charcoal Grill on a Wooden Deck – Is it Safe?
1. Give Plenty of Distance from the Walls of your Home or Deck Railing
The first precaution that you should take is to ensure that your grill is safely away from the outside walls of your home. I use a Weber Rapidfire chimney starter that you can read about in this article and when I light it(since it is sitting in my grill), I try to move it at least 3 feet away from the outside walls of my home.
You can check your local fire code for how far you must keep a grill from the walls of your home. A general consensus is to keep your charcoal grill at least 3 feet from siding, deck rails, and eaves. It is also recommended that you keep a 3 feet safe zone around your grill in order to keep children and pets safe at all times.
2. Buy a Fire-Resistant Grill Mat
A fire-resistant charcoal grill deck mat is a must if you are using a charcoal grill or an offset smoker on a wooden deck. I actually purchased two Resilia charcoal grill mats and place them side by side underneath my Brinkmann Trailmaster offset smoker which works perfectly when I am smoking meats on my stick burner. One works fine underneath my Weber kettle grills, either my 18″ or 22″ kettle.
A charcoal grill mat gives me an added sense of security in the case of lit charcoal inadvertently coming out of the ash pan and coming in contact with my wooden deck. It will happen believe me. It will also even protect my deck from splatters.
3. Be Vigilant Especially when the Charcoal is Lighting
I detail how to light a grill with a chimney starter in this post and there is one point when you should always be outside and next to your grill. That is when the flames from the chimney starter begin to shoot out of the top of the unit. As you can see from the article mentioned above, I place my chimney starter on the lower grate of my Weber Smokey Joe (detailed here) or my Weber One Touch (written about here).
From my experience, this is the safest and most appropriate method for lighting a chimney starter. The best part is that once the charcoal is ready to pour, all you have to do is lift it up and pour it onto the bottom grate. You don’t have to move it which could result in hot charcoal from falling onto your wooden deck.
4. Never use Lighter Fluid when Lighting Charcoal
Years ago when I was a young child my father used to douse the charcoal with what appeared to be almost a full container of lighter fluid. As a result, when he tossed a match onto the soaked charcoal it would erupt in flames. This practice is antiquated and a chimney starter should be used to light charcoal as mentioned in #3 above.
A chimney starter is a much safer option. With a chimney starter the charcoal is lit in a slower, more systematic method without any eruption of flames caused by lighter fluid. And not only that, you won’t have to deal with the lighter fluid affecting the flavor and taste of your grilled foods!
5. Ensure that you Shut the Top and Bottom Vents when Done Grilling
When I am done cooking I always make sure that I shut both the top and bottom vents of my charcoal grill. Since I re-use charcoal every time I grill, this will prevent the charcoal from burning out so that I can use some of the charcoal the next time I grill. Charcoal briquettes can be expensive so I try not to waste any charcoal if at all possible. If you’ve ever wondered can you reuse charcoal briquettes, the answer is certainly yes.
Shutting the vents will also eliminate the air flow which should extinguish the burning process. This is the safest thing that you can do after you grill. While you are at it, give your cooking grate a quick swipe with your grill brush so that it is relatively clean the next time you grill.
6. Check the Ash Pan for Dangerous Ashes
Since the Weber grills that I own have an ash pan, I always check the pan during the cooking process and after I am done cooking. I also have a spray bottle of water available at all times and usually spray any ashes in the ash pan that are left over just in case they get blown onto my deck or onto the ground below.
Not only will the spray bottle extinguish any lit ashes, it will also ensure that the ashes don’t get blown onto your deck since the water will coagulate the ashes in the pan leaving them as more of a solid than a powder-like form. Another option, and probably the best option, is to shut all vents, grab the ash pan wearing grill gloves, and pour the ashes back into the charcoal grill after your cook. This will keep the ashes contained allowing them to cool overnight without running the risk of them being blown inadvertently onto the deck.
7. Check the Weather Forecast
I love to grill in all kinds of weather but there is one weather condition that will make me avoid using my charcoal grill. And that one is high winds! High winds can easily blow over a charcoal grill which could be a disaster especially when the charcoal is lighting in the chimney starter. It’s a simple situation to avoid and you should never use your charcoal grill when high winds are forecasted.
8. Always use a Drip Pan with Offset Grilling (will Prevent Grease Build-up)
One of the major mistakes that novice charcoal grillers make is to forget to place a drip pan under any meat, fish, or vegetables that are on the grill when they are using an offset grilling technique. Offset grilling typically means that the heat source isn’t directly under the food so the grill acts more like an oven and more slowly cooks the food.
If you forget to place a drip pan underneath the food then drippings from the food can build up over time at the bottom of the charcoal grill. This could not only lead to a fire hazard but it could also gum up the ash removal mechanism. I had to replace my Weber One Touch Cleaning System because i inadvertently forgot to use a drip pan and the mechanism seized up so bad it had to be cut off and replaced. I certainly learned my lesson!
9. Keep the Inside of your Grill Free from Grease
One of the most flammable materials that could be found within a charcoal grill is the build-up of grease from previous cooks. This is typically found more often within a smoker as the drippings from spare ribs, pork butt, or brisket can tend to build up at the bottom of the smoker. But the same thing can happen within a charcoal grill especially if the proper use of a drip pan is not implemented. With offset grilling where the actual charcoal or heat source is not directly under the meat, fish, or vegetables, it is imperative to utilize a drip pan under the food so that grease does not build up over time.
But it certainly would make a lot of sense to always keep an eye on the bottom of your grill for any build-up of grease so that a flare-up doesn’t occur. You can use a metal putty knife to scrape out the inside of a charcoal grill or smoker. With my charcoal grills I always utilize a drip pan to prevent any build-up of grease.
Unfortunately I learned my lesson the hard way as I was negligent in removing grease build-up in my Brinkmann offset smoker. During one of my cooks the grease caught fire underneath the pork butt I was smoking. Thankfully I was able to put out the fire easily enough with some baking soda but, if left unattended, it could have been a lot worse.
As a result, I always keep a close eye on any accumulation of grease at the bottom of my charcoal grills and smokers.
10. Have a Fire Extinguisher Close By
There is really no reason to take any chances when using your grill on a wood deck. Chances are you already have at least one fire extinguisher in your home. Just make sure it is close by just in case a hot coal comes in contact with your wood deck. It could lead to a fire which can be completely extinguished quickly and safely.
11. Always Keep Baking Soda within Reach
Baking soda can be used to put out a grease fire. As mentioned in #9 above, I had to extinguish a grease fire in my Brinkmann Trailmaster Limited Edition Smoker recently by smothering the fire with baking soda. It worked like a charm. It’s a simple and inexpensive solution and product you should always have on-hand. You just never know when you’re going to need it!
12. Hose down your Wooden Deck or Keep a Hose On Hand
I’ve heard from some of my readers, assuming it is during the warm seasons, that they actually keep their hoses at the ready and oftentimes will hose down the deck slightly just as a precaution prior to cooking. It’s a really good idea and just may give you that peace of mind you are looking for when it comes to a potential fire issue.
If you don’t go as far as hosing down your deck, maybe just keep your hose turned on and accessible to you just so you won’t have any potential fire concerns. This is also a great idea if you are using an outside fire pit.
Here are some more charcoal grill mats to check out
(Click on any of the grill mat’s name for more details)
Can I use a Charcoal Grill on my Porch?
Well, the obvious question would be is the porch enclosed or not? You should never use a charcoal grill in an enclosed area. The same obviously goes for a propane grill. You’re just asking for trouble. Always use your charcoal grill or propane grill outside.
Is it Safe to Grill on a Covered Deck?
If the charcoal grill is underneath an extended roofline on a deck, and not in an enclosed area, it should be OK to use a charcoal grill in this scenario. This also depends on the distance from your grill to the extended roofline above. In this scenario it may make more sense to double the 3 feet minimum safe zone to 6 feet when it comes to an extended roof line above your grill. Just use common sense, and don’t take any unnecessary chances when it comes to potential fire hazards.
Summary of Using a Charcoal Grill on a Wooden Deck
As you have read above, there are many precautions you can take when you are charcoal cooking on a deck that is natural wood. You can never be too careful especially when it comes to a potential fire situation.
If you are at all concerned about using a charcoal grill on a wooden deck you just might want to invest in one of the grill mats above. It will not only give you peace of mind but it could also prevent a fire. Add to that the precautions mentioned above and it should make your experience more enjoyable and safer for many years of charcoal grilling and barbecue!
Bob started this passion site, Life with Grilling, in 2012. Life with Grilling has been a trusted source for grilling and barbecue tips, techniques, and accessories for over 10 years. Bob has been charcoal grilling for most of his adult life and smoking meats using a personally-configured stick-burner Brinkmann smoker since 2012.
His passion for charcoal grilling was instilled into him by his father who used charcoal on a basic grill to cook for his family on warm summer nights. Charcoal grilling and tending to his smoker has been a happy pastime of Bob’s, especially as he enters his retirement years. His love of all things grilling and smoking has allowed him to review the best charcoal grills and grilling accessories available in the martketplace and to develop many recipes, grilling tips, and techniques over the years. He is eager to share his lifelong grilling experiences and expertise through Life with Grilling!