I am using one of those small grills where the grate is only about an inch or two above the coals. When I cook something that doesn't have much grease (like vegetables), it is fine but the main thing I got the grill for is grilling mackerel. It's a fatty fish and drips grease on the coals, which then catches flames and carbonizes the outside of the fish while the inside remains uncooked.

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There is a reason we have this little (slightly bigger than a shoe box) grill and that's because we like to take it camping (where we also like to grill mackerel). I understand the problem might be solved by a bigger grill where the flames don't reach the food. Is there any technique to mitigate this situation with this little grill?

I do wait until the coals have no more flames and are almost out. Just a few seconds after I put fish on the grill, flames start from underneath it. I move the fish to a different part of the grill where there is no flames but flames start there after just a few seconds.

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    This is what squirt guns are for. Handled properly, they actually will keep the flames under control without killing the charcoal. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 23:48

3 Answers 3


Well these are not really techniques to prevent dripping fat from catching fire, as far as I know that is not easy to achieve, these are rather workarounds to minimize the damage.

  1. Use some sort of water sprinkler system like a squirt bottle, sprinkler bottle or vaporizing or a squeeze bottle over the flames. If used moderately directly aimed at the flame area, it will reduce the flames without killing the fire.
  2. Keep a box of ashes from previous fires around, when flames erupt sprinkle a little over the flame area. If used properly will have the same effect as the water above. It may be slightly less practical due to being harder to avoid inadvertently pouring ashes over the food, but its less likely to cool the fire.
  3. Catch the fat before it hits the embers. If what you are grilling can effectively be cooked with indirect heat, then place a tray, box or any wide catching container to collect the fat before it hits the fire. Possibly filled with water to be easier to clean afterwards. It is what most electric and indoors grills use.

If you have some sort of lid that you can put over the whole thing (but still allow some air in), then you can use indirect cooking -- pile the coals up on one side of the pan, the fish on the other.

You can then slowly heat it up to render most of the fat, and then move it over to the hot side if it's not cooked through.

If you put a smaller pan of water under the fish, it'll reduce the chance of the dripping fat to catch on fire, but the steam that's created means that it won't brown quite as well.


Unless you go with indirect cooking you cannot stop the grease from dripping on the coals. For that you pretty much need to have a cover.

If you have a (vented) cover it should starve out enough oxygen to stop the grease fire. It is also nice for temperature control.

Very shallow grills can be a problem even with cover.

I get you like the small size but that is working against you on flame control.

Even the squirt gun approach is harder on a shallow grill has you have to cool the coals more so you have more risk of putting them out.

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