Essentials to Barbecuing on Your Deck Safely

My research and focus is on using a barbeque on your deck. I have read a lot of cooking blogs gathering information about grilling/barbecuing. My focus is not on what’s being cooked but on your deck. How can we safely grill on your deck?

Yes, you can Barbeque or grill on a wood or composite deck. Your grill must be a min. 3’ from any combustible material (recommended 10’), ensure sufficient ventilation along with protecting the decking from heat and sparks.

I have barbequed for many years but never grilled anything, or so I thought. Well, researching I discovered there is a distinct difference between grilling and Barbequing. Marybeth Feutz from my fearless kitchenOpens in a new tab. explained it best for me. So technically

Temperature does come into play while cooking on your deck, but for the rest of this article, I will be using the terms interchangeably, in your cooking, this will matter but our focus is your deck. I want you to have years of enjoyable cooking outdoor on your deck. The deck is my concern not the temperature you cook your meat.

When Barbequing or Grilling on a deck, there are three things of concern distance from combustibles material, protection of the decking and ventilation.

A simple given, we do not want to start a fire, your cooking with fire, let’s keep it to cooking not burning. Anything that could burn needs to be kept a safe distance away, for it won’t burn or melt. I will explain more about melting later.

Deck’s are a thing of beauty. Let’s keep it this way. Cooking with fire should not involve destroying your deck. Protection can be achieved through distant and protective material.

I want you to grill another day if you die that will not happen. The exhaust from any fire produces chemicals that can be deadly; ventilation is essential. But even if you don’t die, if your deck becomes smoke-stained and every time you step out, and it feels like your stepping into an ashtray, it will lessen the appeal of your deck. Not to mention if you smoke out the house, your spouse will never let you barbeque again, and that would be sad.

Fuel for the Fire

Regardless of the temperature, your cooking on your deck the fuel source comes with varying risks. Gas fuel like Propane and Natural gas are the safest fuel sources with limited sparks and a greater degree of fire control. Burning charcoal, Wood or Briquets in your grill include more risk of sparks and flare-ups. Gas barbeques are better suited to smaller decks as they require less clearance.

Grilling or Barbequing on a Wood or Composite Deck.

A word of caution for non-gas barbeques. The risk of sparks is high, and wood easily burns, with an ignition point of 350°F [176°C] with spontaneous combustion at 600°F [236°C]. Remember grilling is 500-550°F[260-288°C], your grill is hot enough to start your wood deck on fire. TrexOpens in a new tab. composite decking becoming soft at 176°F [80°C]. It doesn’t take much to damage your deck. Protecting against sparks and or heat is important.

Yes, I know there are exceptions. My neighbour has been grilling with charcoal, 2’ from his house for years on his wood deck and has never burnt his deck down. But as my shop teacher loved to say

“Just because you did it once and never got hurt doesn’t mean it was safe.”

Shop Teacher Dan

Gas barbeques are safer on your deck with fewer sparks, but heat is still an issue. The stand does provide distance between the decking and the fire decreasing the chance of fire or damage.

A larger concern is grease. Grease dripped on either wood, or composite decking can stain it. Quickly cleaning of the most composite decking will limit staining but is still a risk. Wood is much harder to clean as wood quickly soaks up grease, making it very hard to clean. Creating greater issues when it comes time to stain your deck as the grease will prevent the stainOpens in a new tab. from adhering.

A simple solution is a grill or barbeque matOpens in a new tab. for underneath. It will both protect your decking from grease stains and damage. Being fire retardant, keeping your deck safe regardless of temperature you’re grilling at. Also, after a few years of use, it is much easier and cheaper to replace than decking boards.

Clearances required for Grilling or Barbequing on a Wood or Composite Deck

Almost any government website, both American and Canadian, will recommend 10’ clearance from all combustible material like your house, deck railing and trees. For your own safety and comfort keeping your barbeque at least ten away from all your house’s windows will just make your life better. But there are some exceptions to this rule depending on fuel source, barbeque manufacturer requirements and material.

Let’s talk through some of these exceptions

Clearance based on barbeques based on Fuel Source.

Most grill manufacturers of propane and natural gas barbeque will recommend a minimum of two feet [60 cm] clearance around your grill. Webber, for example, recommends two feet clearance. Some will go as close as 12” clearance but check with the manufacture manualOpens in a new tab. first. The distance increased with charcoal barbeques.

Ten feet clearance is still required with combustible items like branches. With the increased risk of sparks from non-gas grills, 10’ clearance is highly recommended. Before you fire up your grill, always a good idea to take a quick look around to see if any branches have become closer to your grill.

Clearance Based for Grills based on Material around your Deck

As I mention before wood can ignite at grilling temperatures. Any wood on your house or deck, like railing you must take care that the heat from your barbeque does not burn them. When in doubt, give them the 10 feet clearance. Another test is while your barbeque is on, place your hand on the material around it if it becomes hot to the touch. The barbeque is to close. Move it before things become really hot.

Vinyl Siding at Greatest Risk.

Melted siding is the most common damage caused by barbeques. I don’t know how many houses I have seen with melted vinyl siding. The problem is it melts so easy. Vinyl siding can start melting at 160-165°F [71-74°C], your grill is not even warm yet but can damage your siding. Highly recommend ten feet clearance for vinyl siding. Some barbeques are well shielded, limiting heat escape but the risk is high. It only takes one flare-up to damage the siding. Check with the manufacture recommended clearance before you melt your siding.

Deck Railing Material affects Clearance required for a Barbeque

Very common, especially for smaller decks of the back of the house, is to push the barbeque close to the deck railing to allow room for grilling and clearanceOpens in a new tab. from the house. How close you can safely place your barbeque to the railing depends on the railing material.

Composite Railing

It can be damaged as low as 176°F [80°C]. Clearance is essential with composite railing. Whatever distant is required for the air to cool down, that’s its minimum. Composite railing is expensive, don’t destroy it. With most barbeque recommending three feet clearance from combustible material, place the grill with at least that much space. A quick safety touch would be a good idea. If the railing is becoming hot to the touch, move the barbeque.

Wood Railing

Slightly higher ignition point then composite but still burnable. Wood railing can be blackened at only 350°F [176°C]. Your grill’s side can be hotter than this. Allow enough room as not to overheat the wood. Again, the three feet clearance is a safe starting point.

Aluminum Railing

Now this one is tricky. Your barbeque is metal, and the heat does not damage it. So, how close can you be to metal, aluminum railings? Aluminum melts at 1220°F [660.3°C]. At that temperature, your steak is burning. So, the chance of melting your aluminum railing is low. The paint on the railing can be damaged as low as 200°F [90°C] but most are painted with more durable paint. Your greatest risk here is paint damage. Chance is low that aluminum railing will burn or melt from your barbeque, but it’s possible to damage the paint. You know your risk tolerance, position the barbeque accordingly.

A Grill’s smoke needs somewhere to go

Often overlooked when setting up your barbeque on your deck is the fact that it smokes. No, there are not big billowing clouds rising from your barbeque, unless you left that tinfoil wrap on just a little too long. But even a clean-burning barbeque still creates smoke. Ventilation is not a concern with an open deck, as long as the barbeque is at least ten feet away from any open windows. Ensuring the smoke doesn’t drift into your house.

Grilling under a porch roof

Ventilation is key. There are limitations when barbequing under a roof. You do not want to trap smoke, which is both unpleasant and dangerous. Without somewhere for the smoke to go, it will permeate your deck, giving it an unpleasant smoke smell long after supper is done. The other concern is carbon monoxide, the silent killer. Grilling a few minutes on your covered deck is unlikely to trap enough carbon monoxide to kill you but there are negative symptoms. MayoOpens in a new tab. Clinic lists these signs and symptoms if you have any of these while barbeque immediately gets some fresh air.

  • Dull headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness

To avoid all this, your deck roof ceiling needs to be at least nine feet. Giving the smoke amble room to move. Open deck walls are also important when grilling under a roof to allow air circulation taking away the smoke created by your barbeque. Placing your barbeque near an outside wall area, with a good cross breeze will help to the smoke away.

Gas barbeques are safer to use under a roof as they burn more consistently. The joy and challenge of charcoal grilling is fire management, but this also creates the possibility of increase smoke. This increase in smoke can make your deck an unpleasant place to be.

Protect underneath, give room on the sides, and space above for your Barbeque. If you do all this, deck grilling will be a pleasure. The enjoyable reason that you built your deck. Don’t forget you can still grill in the winter on your deck, bringing summer eats inside. Happy grilling.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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