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When the heat of a charcoal grill gets too hot, what is the best way to douse the fire; the objective being to lower the temperature without putting the fire out completely?

How much water should be used when burning charcoal in a very primitive grill or pit without a lid or adjustable vents, and how should it be added (poured, sprayed, etc.)?

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I often find it difficult to get water sprayed on the coals instead of the meat. What I do is simply putting the lid on the grill for some time. The lack of oxygen starves the fire. –  johnny Apr 26 '11 at 7:49
    
Thanks @johnny. Actually-- I referred to the Weber format only to provide a sense of the size. In actual fact I'm wondering how to reduce the heat on a very primitive grill (or pit) without a lid or vents. Sorry for the confusion. I have edited the question to clarify. –  Zippy Apr 26 '11 at 10:24
    
Ok, then I'd use a spray can with water. Set the nozzle somewhere between mist and "solid" water (avoid ash flying around) –  johnny Apr 26 '11 at 12:36
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I'm sorry, spray can doesn't really mean what I thought. I can't find a picture either. What I suggest you use is the same as you spray water on plants and flowers with. Shower can? –  johnny Apr 26 '11 at 12:45
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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Instead of dousing the coals, in a primitive setup, you would be better served to manipulate distance from heat source as your form of temperature control. It can be as simple as adding or removing bricks to space your grill from your flame, or as complicated as a pulley-based system to raise or lower your grate.

Using water will cause your coals to smolder, which can give off creosote (less likely with charcoal than wood, but still a possibility). This can impart a rather nasty flavor into your food.

If you are unable to or uncomfortable with changing your grate distance, then salt or some other dry smothering agent would be viable.

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Add some coals over the hot ones and/or reduce airflow some other way (many grills have slits or vents to control airflow, play with those, close them partially).

Both should reduce heat output (adding coals of course will mean the grill will burn for longer and will eventually heat up again).

I'd not throw water or other liquids on it. Only makes a mess :)

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South American style toss salt over the coals. Works well, looks sassy, but makes a big salty mess

More practically just use fully combusted cold ashes from previous fires. Gently scatter them over hot coals to reduce airflow and lower temperature for a while. Use a large tin with big holes punched in the lid to makes handling and shaking easy, or just get messy and scatter by hand

Hardwood ashes that have been quickly sifted should not be too dusty so as to make a mess with the food

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Heaping some pre-soaked (apple, etc) wood atop the embers cools coals and creates steam and smoke. For more info, read up on smoking food in a barbeque.

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