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Milk on a Grease Fire?

sixelagogo Sep 12, 2007 03:36 AM

In the cooking class I teach, we've been going over safety in the kitchen. When we got to what to do if you have a grease fire, one of the students said, "throw milk on it!" Before I could admonish him, he claimed to learn this fact from another teacher who had been teaching this remedy for years...I'm of the belief that, next to water, it's the dummest thing you could toss on a grease fire, but maybe I'm wrong...After 20 minutes of searching the web, I haven't found a clear answer..Can someone please give me the straight dope?

  1. Gio Mar 20, 2013 05:32 AM

    To this 2007 thread I'll add this How To, hoping someone who needs to know will see it:

    Kitchen Safety: How to Put Out a Grease Fire

    There are a few comments following the article suggesting using salt to quell the fire. A couple of days ago as I watched an old episode of Iron Chef America, one of Bobby Flay's sou chefs had a flash fire and Flay poured salt from a box on the fire, sou chef then quickly covered the pan with a baking sheet, and the fire went out.

    The pan was over a grill with no room on either side otherwise I suppose he would have turned off the flame too.

    1. t
      tastesgoodwhatisit Mar 20, 2013 03:04 AM

      Looking at all the responses I'd say that under the right circumstances, something like milk or flour could work. But it would depend on the size of the fire, the total amount of grease, the depth of the grease, the amount of the milk or flour and exactly how it is added to the fire.

      Getting any one of those wrong will result in a fire-ball explosion splatter scenario that ends badly for all concerned.

      Taking into consideration the fact that when something has just burst out in flames people rarely stop to measure and calculate relative volumes and surface areas and carefully determine and follow the best of many possible approaches, the most practical advice, by far, then becomes "don't dump liquid or flammable powders on a grease fire, ever".

      1. m
        mistermarm0t Mar 19, 2013 12:53 PM

        Watch the Mythbusters episode 'Greased Lightning' to see a grease fire explosion when adding just a few ounces of water (or milk) to a burning grease fire.

        Milk will boil at about 215 degrees but a burning grease fire will be 400+ degrees and so when the milk hits the grease it will instantly boil and expand spraying grease everywhere which will become an aerosol causing a fire burst 10 or 15 feet high.

        If you want to be engulfed in flames then go ahead and use milk on a grease fire.

        You throw a large lid or top and if you are cooking with grease before you even start you make sure you have the proper lid.

        1. l
          lgss Dec 22, 2009 04:21 PM

          I don't know about milk on a grease fire but the subject line reminded me of an episode of Myth Busters where they do experiments related to myths about grease fires.

          1. c
            chefbeth Dec 22, 2009 02:57 PM

            It's going to depend, in part, on the kind of grease fire. As some posters have mentioned, if you have a grease fire in a broiler or a grill, enough salt or baking soda will work because you are able to smother the fire.

            Most liquids (including water and milk) are lighter in weight than grease -- it's going to fall to the bottom of the burning grease where the high temperatures will cause it to boil. It's the steam from the boiling that appears to explode, and that spreads the burning droplets of grease around. At that point you've got a serious problem (and I hope you've already called the fire department.)

            If you've got a container of hot oil (turkey fryers, a pan with more than a half inch of fat or a deep fryer) then you need to deprive it of oxygen or use the proper fire extinguisher (AND call the fire department!) As mentioned above, you would need a large amount of non-flammable material to smother it, and you may spread the fire in the meantime. Liquids here are NOT AN OPTION.

            A note on flour -- for those unbelievers who think that flour is not flammable, well, you may have to see it to believe it. And trust me, you don't want that. We've all poured flour from a bag into a storage container, and we've all seen how much flour dust starts floating around. It's the flour dust that can combust -- kinda like gas fumes.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chefbeth
              The Ranger Dec 23, 2009 01:53 PM

              > Most liquids (including water and milk) are lighter in weight than
              > grease -- it's going to fall to the bottom of the burning grease
              > where the high temperatures will cause it to boil.

              Did you mean "most liquids are heavier in weight than grease" than the "lighter in weight you typed? That would make more sense to the remaining text.

            2. pikawicca Dec 20, 2009 06:47 PM

              I put out a grease fire in a neighbor's kitchen with baking soda. Workied a treat, minimal clean up.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pikawicca
                almansa Dec 22, 2009 11:09 AM

                Yup. I always keep baking soda handy. Milk works, but only in certain situations and it scares the hell out of me because it seems to get worse before it gets better.

              2. r
                rneedham1 Dec 19, 2009 06:11 PM

                Well ... its a tough one to answer ... as a retired chemistry teacher, "logic" would suggest that since milk contains water ... it would be a disaster to pour on a grease fire ... however, since it is homogonized, the "water properties" in relationship to a grease fire are non-existant ... my "retirement job" is working as a chef in a restaurant with our grill/grease section not in a kitchen ... but in the center of the restaurant, in full view, and close to patrons .. we have had several "grease flareups" in the past year ... and patrons were surprised to see me douse the fire with milk .. I keep a half gallon in the cooler near the grill ... a fire extinguisher is also there ... I have not needed to use the extinguisher!!!

                Rick Needham
                Harrisburg, PA

                1 Reply
                1. re: rneedham1
                  sixelagogo Dec 20, 2009 04:44 AM

                  no kidding???? does the %fat matter?

                2. t
                  Tina A. Apr 16, 2009 01:13 PM

                  Check out this video. Also, you can always call your local Fire Dept. and I'm sure they will tell you all the facts about how to put out a grease fire.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Tina A.
                    alkapal May 19, 2009 05:36 AM

                    tina, you meant to post a link to some video?

                    1. re: alkapal
                      Fritter May 21, 2009 02:55 AM

                      I've put out hundreds of grease fires with baking Soda. Swing broiler drip pans easily catch fire so a grease fire in a professional kitchen is not an uncommon event. In many commercial kitchens you will find boxes of baking soda near the broiler. It does not take a lot of it to extinguish a fire. Just as effective and a lot less mess to clean up than a fire extinguisher.

                  2. s
                    skibrew210 Oct 11, 2008 02:07 AM

                    I've been working at a big upscale steakhouse in Nyc for many years and of course, the broilers burn very hot. There have been fires that develope in the broilers and the ovens from grease that spills to the bottom. Usually the broiler man (who is very experienced) will let it burn out, without doing anything. Sometimes he will throw salt on it. Ive seen it get pretty bad, and he was yelling for someone to get him milk. Ive seen him do it many times and it always worked. I asked him about it, and he told me its the best thing to use, and then went on to tell me, never use water, which i already knew. I can only say that it works and seen it first hand many times. If you are unsure, use it as a last hand resort if necessary. If my oven was on fire, im goin for the milk!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: skibrew210
                      ThreeGigs Oct 12, 2008 12:48 AM

                      On a BROILER fire, milk works because it bubbles and foams and dilutes the grease. However, don't forget that the amount of grease in a broiler is a lot different than the amount used in a deep fryer or frying pan. If the grease spatters a bit in the broiler when you toss milk on it, no problem because it's surrounded by lots of metal. Salt works because it 'soaks up' the grease but doesn't 'wick' it, so the fire runs out of fuel.

                      However if you throw milk in a frying-pan grease fire, you'll get a steam explosion, vaporized oil and a rather large fireball, same as water.

                    2. sixelagogo Oct 24, 2007 03:49 AM

                      so what about baking powder vs. soda? I keep digging up that baking powder will explode as well, but not soda.....

                      and no, nobody's dusting the greasfire with flour...we're talking a dump directly on the source of the fire...for that matter, what about cornmeal? sugar? I think i may need to test out these theories outside oneday.

                      yes, the lid/upsidedown pan is always the first choice, but if the fire spreads, you need more options..

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: sixelagogo
                        KaimukiMan Oct 24, 2007 12:21 PM

                        if you don't have a fire extinguisher handy your only other option is to call 911 and get the hell out of there while you can.

                        1. re: sixelagogo
                          Selective food1e May 20, 2009 03:48 PM

                          Flour, sugar and cornmeal are all explosive when aerosolised . Sugar not as much, because it is a larger grain and it would just burn the finer the powder the more explosive. That is why coal dust, and coffee creamer are so explosive.

                        2. alkapal Oct 24, 2007 03:34 AM

                          From the Stafford County VIrginia Fire and Rescue Department:

                          1. bkhuna Oct 23, 2007 08:11 PM

                            Put a lid on it!

                            1. podunkboy Oct 23, 2007 04:39 PM

                              Living around grain elevators, there are periodic stories about grain dust explosions, where a tiny static spark from mechanical equipment can instantly turn a cloud of harmless flour dust into a rather effective explosive. I would imagine aerosolized flour would be likewise flammable.
                              When I worked in fast food, I was introduced to the foam extinguisher system that was installed above the cooking area, but was told NOT to pull it in case of a fire if it was just the fryer burning, due to the incredible mess it would leave. We kept the fryer covers at the ready, and were told to just drop them on the fryer if it caught fire, and it would put it right out, as they fit virtually air-tight.
                              And in most fire training I've had since then, grease and most flammables of significant volume I've been told smother if you can or Class B extinguisher, which should deprive the fire of oxygen without dispersing the flammable material.

                              1. l
                                LARaven Oct 23, 2007 03:45 PM

                                About the flour thing....yeah bad idea. My friend had a grease fire one and went to grab the baking soda she kept by the stove for such emergencies but her husband and brother had taken it to use to clean something, so she grabbed some Bisquick figuring oh its probably got baking soda in it.....made the fire worse.

                                1. sixelagogo Oct 23, 2007 03:19 PM

                                  Ok, now I'm wondering if I'm totally giving bad info...I told the kids to smother a grease fire with anything dense and NOT liquid...Flour, sugar, anything...why the heck would flour explode if you dumped 5 lbs. of it on a fire? For that matter, why would baking powder explode, as I've read in several sites, and not baking soda...isn't baking powder really baking soda with a little cream-o-tartar in it to make it react twice?

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: sixelagogo
                                    raytamsgv Oct 23, 2007 03:39 PM

                                    It's a matter of the amount of material and the time required to put the material on the fire. For example, water can quench any grease fire, but as I mentioned earlier, you need to put a whole lot of water at the same time onto the fire. If you don't, the heat of the fire will vaporize it before the water has a chance to lower the temperature of the fuel. Also, you have to make sure that the water doesn't spread the fire to come into contact with more fuel. If you put just a bit on, it won't cool down the fuel to stop the fire, but it may spread the grease to come into contact with more fuel (e.g. more grease, towels, etc).

                                    The same holds true of flour. If you dump 100 pounds all at the same time, it might work, but you'd need to drop it as a solid block. Otherwise, the bits and pieces will ignite as you are dropping the flour, which is simply adding fuel and heat to the fire. A 2x4 can extinguish a small fire, but imagine what would happen if you dropped the same quantity of scattered newspapers of onto the fire.

                                    The reason why sand/dirt works pretty well at extinguishing fires is that they don't generally ignite at the temperature of most fires. By shoveling enough sand/dirt, you deprive the fire of oxygen, which extinguishes the fire even though the sand/dirt will be hot.

                                    1. re: raytamsgv
                                      coastie Oct 23, 2007 09:14 PM

                                      oil and water don't mix. When u throw a liquid on a grease fire it causes the hot grease to jump. That same spitting process that happens when you fry happens on a massive scale causing the fire to spread. Some dry ingredients are more flamable than others - flour is essentially really dry plant material, generally quite burnablle - it might work it might smother the fire but if it doesn't its fuel.

                                    2. re: sixelagogo
                                      Scrapironchef Oct 23, 2007 04:19 PM

                                      A five pound bag of flour in monolithic form is not very flammable - however individual flour grains suspended in the air are just below gasoline danger-wise. Throwing flour on a fire will usually result in a cloud of flour and an even bigger fire. Salt and baking soda won't burn at temperatures usually found in kitchens and are a safe bet.

                                    3. coastie Oct 23, 2007 08:47 AM

                                      NEVER a liquid. Post reccomending correct fire extinguisher are correct. Smothering is teh way to go - a small fire might be contained with a pot lid. A handy ingredient in most homes a kitchens is baking soda. A form of this is in many fire extinguishers.
                                      Dumping a lot of it on the fire will smother it. I have had sucess with that several times. I keep a laundry sized container in the kitchen at all times because who wants to pull the fire system if you don't need to?

                                      1. Gio Oct 23, 2007 08:38 AM

                                        I should think the Fire Chief, or indeed any Fire Fighter in your town, would be the person to ask for proper information. The Internet is fraught with misinformation.

                                        1. evans Sep 14, 2007 03:20 PM

                                          maybe he meant powdered milk. Enough of that would work. ;-)


                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: evans
                                            Scrapironchef Oct 23, 2007 08:32 AM

                                            I would think powdered milk would be only slightly less flammable than flour.

                                            1. re: Scrapironchef
                                              Selective food1e May 20, 2009 03:42 PM

                                              Powdered milk is much more flammable than flour because of the fat content. It is a better fuel than starch

                                            2. re: evans
                                              coastie Oct 23, 2007 08:42 AM

                                              powdered milk makes pretty sparks when it burns I think its pretty combustable.
                                              Sprinkled almost empty package into the fire as a kid , it sparked . Betting its the fat.

                                              1. re: coastie
                                                nkeane Oct 11, 2008 11:40 AM

                                                its actually because its such a fine particle. In fact, if you ever want to have fun camping, bring the biggest container of that fake, non-dairy creamer you can find and throw handfuls of it into the fire! A nice fire ball will be produced. Just about anything that has been refined into an extremely fine powder is combustable(think grain silo explosions). I would think powdered milk would work if you dump it on quickly. If it gets to atomized, it will burn/explode! as far as liquid milk, well thats just tasty, white water.......just as bad of an idea as water.

                                                1. re: nkeane
                                                  alkapal May 19, 2009 05:34 AM

                                                  i like the campfire fireball idea --as long as it is not in drought season.

                                            3. raytamsgv Sep 13, 2007 02:41 PM

                                              As they used to teach us in grade school, fire needs three items: fuel, oxygen, and temperature. theoretically, if you put enough water/milk on it, it will go out eventually, because water will cool down fuel so that it no longer burns. Thus, it would be extinguished.

                                              However, unless you have a tremendous constant deluge (i.e. an entire kitchen fitted with a sprinkler system), the water will almost certainly cause the fire to spread, which would expose it to more fuel. The temperature would not go down significantly, so the fire spreads.

                                              1. k
                                                KTinNYC Sep 12, 2007 09:41 AM

                                                I'm not a scientist and I don't play one on the internet but what is the big difference btwn water and milk? Milk is made up primarily of water, protein, fat and lactose. Water being nearly 90% of the total. What component would put out a grease fire?

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: KTinNYC
                                                  sixelagogo Sep 13, 2007 03:58 AM

                                                  I have no idea and think the same..which is why I'm totally disturbed that a fellow teacher would be teaching this "safety" tip.

                                                2. JMF Sep 12, 2007 04:31 AM

                                                  I agree with you. It would be just as bad as using water and will spread the flames just as much. Sounds like another one of those silly or dangerous kitchen myths.

                                                  You have to suffocate a grease fire by covering it with some non-flammable like a pot lid or a special fire extinguishing non-flammable blanket, or dumping baking soda or salt on it, or using a Class B fire extinguisher. Although there is some disagreement on fire extinguishers for grease fires because they can sometimes spread the fire. I saw that happen once and it took awhile for the extinguisher to put the fire out.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: JMF
                                                    alkapal Oct 23, 2007 05:37 AM

                                                    didn't i hear somewhere that throwing flour on it makes it explode?
                                                    milk is just as bad as water.

                                                    a useful link for fire safety for all hounds: (and I was correct, NO FLOUR!)


                                                    But his site gives bad info (says to use flour!:

                                                    some extinguishers are made for kitchen fires. was the fire extinguisher you saw, jmf, a special one that would supposedly deal with grease fires? if so, that is worrisome.

                                                    1. re: alkapal
                                                      al b. darned Apr 16, 2009 07:43 PM

                                                      didn't i hear somewhere that throwing flour on it makes it explode?

                                                      Yup! That is essentially what happens. Ever see a picture of the aftermath of a grain silo explosion? Bombs have doe less damage.

                                                    2. re: JMF
                                                      The Ranger Oct 12, 2008 08:46 AM

                                                      I used a "personal" Class B fire extinguisher on a grease fire one night a couple decades ago. It did the job but it was like holding a blunderbuss; the two-second blast was enough to blow the cast iron pot off the stove and send extinguishing powder throughout every corner of my apartment. Clean-up was a drag but I know it would've been a lot worse without it. I have two under my sink (currently) that I keep charged for such emergencies.

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