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Dinner went up in flames....

  • e

...literally. Beef ribs on the grill...and they caught fire. Dinner is ruined. :( Has this ever happened to anyone else?

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  1. I don't grill much so little opportunity for it to happen to me, but I've seen it happen when others are grilling.

    Spectacular, but disappointing, I know. It's one reason I've always insisted that grills be kept well away from the actual house - I wasn't there when it happened, but a friend set his siding on fire this way.

    1. One question: Were you grilling the ribs with sauce on them? That could explain it.

      Sorry it happened to you.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Caroline1

        Yes, I had brushed some sauce on them. But I didn't think excessively.

        1. re: E_M

          Unless a barbecue sauce is marked "Sugar Free," all rich red tomatoey barbecue sauces are loaded with sugar, and sugar is very flammable. Traditionally, the barbecue sauce is painted (or mopped) on during the last few minutes of grilling, and then watched like a hawk!

          Frankly, grilling is not the best way to cook beef ribs in my opinion. The bones heat up quickly, the meat is thin over the ribs and thicker between which results in a sad mix of extremely dried out and fairly satisfactory meat. For best results, beef ribs (and pork ribs) are best smoked and even then, the barbecue sauce (which is different than a rub) is applied late in the cooking game.

          I'm going to set a lot of purists to screaming here, but my favorite method for cooking beef ribs is to boil them in slabs in a huge pot with some quartered onions and handful of unpeeled cloves of garlic. When the meat has pulled well away from the bone and it's nearly butter tender, remove the ribs carefully (they will fall off the bone easily so use bottom support under them, such as a skimmer or slotted spoon, as well as tongs to get them out of the cooking liquid). Cut into individual ribs, line them up on their sides (spoon-fashion) in a roasting pan but don't crowd them. Drench them with barbecue sauce. LOTS of barbecue sauce. I make my own from scratch, but in a pinch I have been known to use Bull's-eye Original Barbecue Sauce. Slide the pan full of sauced ribs into a VERY HOT oven and allow the sauce to brown just a bit. Remove from oven and serve. I like mine with plain white rice with the sauce from the pan as "gravy."

          An alternative is to cook as above, then cut into individual ribs and grill them over very hot indirect coals while continually turning and brushing lightly with layers of sauce and letting it build. Indirect coals because you do not want the flammable barbecue sauce falling on live coals or you'll have the same problem you just did! If you have a gas grill, you're probably better off using your oven. Slather with barbecue sauce and turn often. But you have to be very careful with this if you don't want another bon fire. Good luck!

      2. I suppose the grill went up in flame and not just the ribs. Probably excessive amount of fat dripped into the flame and started the fire. Or the sauce did (as Caroline suggested). I have seen this happened, but not personally.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Yes, this was the consensus, that some fat dripped.

          The flames were quite impressive.

          What do I do next time? Brush less sauce on them? Brush sauce on them and finish them in the broiler? Never try this again since I started at 12:30 in the afternoon and by 5:30 my dinner was a charred mess?

          1. re: E_M

            What do I do next time? Cook using indirect heat, and use a drip pan.

            1. re: E_M


              I want to describe what possibly happened. It was a two-steps event. 1) Something dripped into the flame which makes the flame to jump up and touch the meat, and then 2) something on the meat was easily ignitable and caught on fire.

              Melted fat/oil dripping into the flame can fuel the flame and make it jumps up and touches the meat. Fat and oil on the meat can catch on fire, but usually not easily. On the other hand, sugar-rich sauce can readily catch on fire.

              So there are at least three methods to minimize the food catches on fire. First, it is to use a drip pan as Alan suggested. This eliminates the oil/fat dripping down to the flame. However, many people love direct flame. Second, you can raise the distance/height between the grill surface and the fire. This makes it more difficult for the flame to jump up to the meat. Third, and I think most important, is to put the sugar-rich sauce at the end. When you are grilling there is a stage where the fat starts melting and dripping to the flame and causes a lot visual and audio effects. :D

              I don’t want to apply sugar sauce before or at this stage. At some time later, you will notice the dripping slows down and this is the time to apply your sauce. It isn’t just about how much sauce you applied, but when you applied it. In fact, most sugar-rich sauces are called “finishing sauces” and they are meant to be applied at the end. Even they don't catch on fire, they turn excessively black and that is not the point for these sauces. Here is a quote:

              ‘Number three: "You should not put on barbecue sauce too early, only in the last few minutes of cooking," he advised, noting that this is particularly critical with a sauce that contains sugar. "It'll burn right up."’


              I don't mean you cannot apply any sauce in the beginning. You can certainly apply the basting and mopping sauces early as they don't have sugar in them.

          2. Sometimes when I'm grilling a steak, I'm actually hoping for flames to start shooting up from the grill ... so much the better to create a niced charred crust while leaving the middle nice and rare.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ipsedixit

              ipse, i know that char you get on the steak from a flare-up is tasty, but it's also a concentrated dose of carcinogenic compounds so i wouldn't suggest aiming for it too often ;)

            2. Sorry about your dinner E_M, I have done this once... the first time I made french fries I had no idea what I was doing, so I filled a pot with oil almost all the way up, cranked up the burner to max, and dumped in a load of wet raw cut potatoes. The oil overflowed and set the burner on fire, melting a plastic spatula into the stovetop. I decided to keep going after extinguishing the flames, and was rewarded with perfectly cooked, dark golden fries! Maybe the hasty removal of the flaming pot, followed by more frying after the fire was out, unwittingly approximated the famous double-fry process?

              1 Reply
              1. I feel your pain. And I can honestly say we lost our grill a couple of years ago due to the sweetness of the sauce. For us it was a lesson learned! (Oh - and we were doing ribs as well)

                1. Thanks everyone for your advice. In response to some of your points...

                  Actually, I did smoke them for the first 4 hours. The last hour was mopping with sauce at a high heat. Ok, ok, I probably didn't watch them as closely as I should have.

                  The sauce was sugar free. It is an organic local brand. I specifically used it because (it tastes good and) it has no sugar.

                  Indirect grilling would have, in hindsight, been better. However, I have a gas grille. In order to use the wood chips, I smoked them, wrapped them in foil, poked the foil, and laid the package on the ceramic coals below the metal rack. How could I have done this in an indirect method or with a drip pan? Wouldn't the drip pan have blocked the smoke from rising to the grates?

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: E_M

                    Sorry, I posted my above response right when you were posting this one. Sound like you did pretty much everything correct and really know your stuffs. Maybe it is just bad luck. Sometime you can do everything correct and things still turn out bad and other times you do everything wrong and things turn out ok. What can you do, right?

                    I suggest you go to your local Catholic church and confess your sins and ask for forgiveness. Just a joke. :)

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I don't have to...they were cleansed in the fire!

                      I don't know my stuff, trust me. I followed the directions in the cookbook, that's all.

                      1. re: E_M

                        "I don't have to...they were cleansed in the fire!"

                        Ha ha ha. That is a really good one.

                    2. re: E_M

                      Bummer! As CK says, sometimes you do everything right and it still goes wrong. I am blessed. When such things happen to me, I have dozens of Texas BBQ places nearby, and some of them even deliver! '-)

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Ok... are you trying to make him feels worse now -- saying that you can have good BBQ anytime you want. :P

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Her...and my problem is that it's so hard to find beef ribs. I don't eat pork.

                          I know the grill is a manly tool. Maybe I should cede it back to my Dad to operate. He's never burnt anything...or should I say, he has never set fire to dinner.

                          The sauce DID have molasses in it. Could that have caught fire?

                          1. re: E_M

                            Isn't like setting foods on fire very manly? Look at Paul:


                            I believe there are many versions of molasses, but even the last press (third?) has much sugar in it: "A large portion of the calories in this food come from sugars."


                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              It is manly! Unfortunately, me staring openmouthed, totally agape and speechless at the flames was simply wussy. I didn't know WHAT to do. Eventually Dad had to pour water on the meat. What a mess.

                              I thought molasses came from trees, so while it is a sugar, I wasn't sure if it is sugar itself that is flammable, or just sugar from a cane.

                              1. re: E_M


                                Sound like the flame must be pretty big then. For a small flame, you can try to just close the lid and the fire will usually die out fairly quick and you can still have the meal.

                                I forgot to ask this. Were you cooking the meat with the lid closed, and when you opened the lid the meat just suddenly burst into flame? Or was the lid opened at all time? It is often easier to get the meat burst into flame by opening a previously close lid by introducing a sudden rush of air.

                                Most supermarket molasses come from canes and beets... They are by products during the sugar refinement. Molasses from cane or molasses from wood can be flammable. I am not saying that is what causes the fire though.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  I really don't know. I was supposed to keep the temperature at 400, and suddenly I noticed it was approaching 600 (and the knobs were still set to a low setting.) So, I thought I could regulate the temperate a little by opening the top. When I did I saw the flames. Whether they were on fire before I opened the lid I don't know.

                                  Duh. Of course, the oxygen didn't help.

                                  The sauce was an an organic, local brand. So I don't know what kind of molasses they used.

                                  1. re: E_M


                                    That explains a lot. At 600oF in a closed grill, it is above the flash point for oil and fat. The moment the lid was opened, the rush of oxygen helped ignite the oil/fat. The molasses has a lower still flash point and probably was the first thing get ignited and cause everything went up to flame. However, even without the molassess, it probably would have happened. The molassess just made it easier.

                                    Based on my understanding, it would have been a big flame too because of the built up of fuel.

                                2. re: E_M

                                  "I thought molasses came from trees, so while it is a sugar, I wasn't sure if it is sugar itself that is flammable, or just sugar from a cane."..............E_M

                                  You're thinking of maple syrup. It comes from trees. Molasses comes from sugar cane, and is several steps behind the refined white sugar we use most commonly. But all forms of natural sweeteners -- sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. -- will burn easily, including go up in flames.

                                  Sounds to me from reading your discussion with CK, like you had a "fire" going inside the closed grill before you opened it. If you had the gas grill set for 400F and the inside temperature climbed to 600F with the grill closed, the increase in heat most likely came from the intense smoldering of the burning meat/barbecue sauce. When you opened the hood, something very akin to what firemen call a "backdraft" in a burning building happened. Until you opened the hood, there was a low volume of controlled air getting inside the grill to support the gas burners. When you opened it, the added oxygen just made it possible for what was already burning in a high temp smolder to flash to life. VERY lucky no one was hurt, especially the cook! But think of the price of the ruined meat as tuition... You'll know next time!

                                  Oh, and for the record, baking soda is an excellent fire extinguisher. The advantage of using it on food is that you can wash it off and still eat the food, *if* anything edible is left. '-)

                                3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  (I was feeling so EMPOWERED, cooking on the grill, which has heretofore been the sole domain of Dad. That's one reason why I am so disappointed.)

                                  1. re: E_M

                                    I'm sure I sound like an old fogey but the grill person should stay with the meat on the grill the entire time. This was an avoidable mistake.
                                    The thread about baking a sweet potato in a toaster oven gave me the heebie jeebies. Toaster ovens are second to holiday candles for causing household fires, and nobody is going to stand around watching a potato bake. I can watch meat cook.

                        2. Oh, I've set fire to food loads of times. So many I've become rather complacent about it...