Cooking on Your Deck

Thanksgiving is on the way, and so are the annual reports of deck and house fires from people cooking outside. Having an outdoor kitchen, a grill, or even a fire pit on your deck is what makes a deck a great place to entertain. But how do you cook out safely on a deck?

  • Never use charcoal on any kind of wooden or composite deck. Metal decks are fine, but charcoal can and will set fire to wood, and even small lumps of burning coal or sparks will mar or melt any kind of composite. Stick to propane.
  • Clean your deck before you grill. Get rid of fallen twigs, leaves, paper, and any items that are combustible. A stray spark can easily set them on fire.
  • Make sure the grill is at least ten feet away from deck railings, siding, and any other combustible items, as well as out from under eaves and away from trees.
  • If you are using wood or charcoal, store lighter fluid inside your house, not on the deck. Use a grill mat so you protect your deck from stains, sparks, grease.
  • Never leave your grill, firepit or stove unattended. Flareups from food, or even food catching on fire can create a hazard. Never leave a lit grill unattended, and don’t ask children to watch the grill for you. They just don’t have the judgment needed to make a safe decision if they need to.
  • Get rid of grease or fat buildup on the grill as needed. Caked on grease not only negatively affects the taste of your food, it can be a fire hazard as well. Clean your grate as needed. It’s easier to clean after grilling as the warmth and heat of the grill makes cleaning faster.
  • Check your propane connections before and after grilling. Be very careful with propane cylinders, including checking for leaks, cracks and blockages in the hose (spiders love propane and often build their nests in the hoses, blocking the gas).

While the idea of deep fat frying a turkey on your new deck sounds like a good idea. It’s generally not. U.S. fire departments respond to more than 1,000 fires each year in which a deep-fryer is involved. The National Fire Protection Association says deep fryer fires result in more than $15 million in property damage each year and hot oil splatter can cause serious burns to an adult or life-threatening injuries to a child.

Deck Mats

Many people who grill on their decks use a grill mat underneath their grill to protect their deck. Grill mats are a great option. Most cost under $50 and prevent grease stains as well as spark damage. While mats are a great help, they can discolor the deck underneath if not moved or cleaned under regularly. Most homeowners remove the mat when not grilling to avoid darkening the deck underneath. Other options for safety and for stain prevention are to use a sheet of pressure treated plywood cut to size or a sheet of aluminum diamond plate. Grill mats come in a variety of materials, sizes, and shapes including vinyl, metal, or special heat and fire resistant fibers.

Special heat and fire resistant grill mat from Lowes.
Metal Diamond Plate VInyl Grill Mat available at Lowes, Home Depot etc.

Fire Extinguishers

Having one or more fire extinguishers on deck is always more than just a good idea. In many states, it’s the law. Fire extinguishers can save your deck and your house in case of a fire. If you use any kind of open flame, from candles or lanterns to a fire pit or fireplace, have easily accessible fire extinguishers available. Make sure the extinguisher is rated for the most likely fire type you may have. Extinguishers come in four classes:

A is for “Ash” – Ordinary solid combustibles
B is for “Barrel” – Flammable liquids and gases
C is for “Current” – Energized electrical equipment
D is for “Dynamite” – Combustible metals

Multipurpose extinguishers, labeled as A-B, B-C, or A-B-C can be used on different types of fires and will be labeled with more than one class. An A-B extinguisher, for instance, may be used on ordinary solid combustible fires and on flammable liquids and gases fires. An A-B-C extinguisher is best for decks and home use. Don’t skimp on size either. Buy the largest extinguisher you can easily hold. The spray only lasts for 5-10 seconds in a smaller extinguisher – rarely enough time to put out a larger fire. When using any fire extinguisher, remember to aim the spray at the base of the fire, not at the flames.

Grill Placement

If you entertain often, and you do so while grilling, position your grill so it is perpendicular to the dining area. That helps keep the cook involved in both the party and the cooking. It also keeps the grill hood positioned so it’s not in the way, and the cook can grill without having his or her back turned to their guests.

Arrange your grill so it is perpendicular, or close to it, and positioned so the cook can still interact with guests, and the grill hood faces away from traffic patterns when opened. Your deck should be a relaxing, fun site for entertaining year round. If you choose to roast a turkey in hot oil this year, best to do it in your driveway or another area where it won’t pose a fire hazard! Happy holidays!