What is the best way to extinguish a barbecue fire?

At long last winter has released its grip and by all accounts the fickle British weather is set to skip the Spring season and plough straight into Summer. Time to dust off the Barbie, pull the sun loungers out of storage and rifle the cupboards to find the sun creams lying unused after last years washout.

We Brits are not that great when it comes to barbecues because to be frank we get very little practice so it’s best to be prepared should things go wrong. The question is what is the best way to extinguish barbecue fires?


When it comes to a choice of fire extinguisher there are some issues worth knowing. A water fire extinguisher is really not suitable. The fire is likely fuelled by burning animal fats from the steaks, burgers and sausages and oil fires and water just do not mix. Using water will spray the fire and burning oil in mini explosions. Foam extinguishers, including the multipurpose ABF version recommended for kitchen and chip pan fires are a better choice but the chemicals used means there is no chance of rescuing your meal once the fire is out.

A Carbon Dioxide fire extinguisher is also problematic. They work best in a closed environment where they can exclude the oxygen and smother the fire but in the open air, particularly if there is a breeze the gas dissipates quickly. Contrary to what you might think although the discharged CO2 is ice cold it does not significantly cool the fire or its source so reignition is a danger.

You then have the various sizes of dry powder fire extinguisher. There is no question that a 1Kg or 2Kg dry powder will extinguish the average barbecue fire but the powder does leave a messy residue and the space around the fire will be filled with a cloud of fine dust that will settle everywhere.

So all extinguishers have some downsides but if you go this route then an AFFF foam or combined ABF is the better and most economical choice. The ABF can double up to safeguard the kitchen environment as a bonus.

Personally I would leave the fire extinguishers indoors and opt for a fire blanket of sufficient size to cover the whole barbecue. The 1.8 x 1.2 metre is the ideal size for all but the most elaborate models and can be quickly deployed to blanket and smother the flames. More than likely once the fire is out you can also retrieve most of the food even if it is a tad well done!

Have a safe summer.