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Why did my steak catch on fire? (Explained)

Why Did My Steak Catch On Fire?

Even the most experienced backyard chefs have had a steak catch on fire at some point in their outdoor cooking career. It’s usually the result of excess grease, oil, or rendered fat causing a grease fire on the surface of the meat. 

Making slight changes in your cooking style, by doing things like reducing the amount of oil you put on the steak, and more closely monitoring the temperature of the grill can usually prevent this from happening. 

You can buy an inexpensive infrared thermometer at a big box hardware store or in the kitchen section of most department stores. When you point and pull the trigger, a red dot appears, and the digital display tells you the accurate temperature of that surface. 

Most grease fires happen above 450 degrees. By keeping a clean grill, using only a light amount of oil on your steak, and keeping the temperature at the grates a little below 450 degrees, you greatly decrease the risk of your steak catching fire. 

If your steak is on fire, you need to move it off the heat or take it completely off the grill. Then close the lid and seal the dampers to suffocate the flames. 

How to Prevent Steak from Catching on Fire?

There’s an increased risk of a grease fire anytime the temperature of a stove, or grill exceeds 450 degrees. If there’s a little too much oil on a steak, the grease fire can even happen on the surface of the meat. 

At the same time, overly dirty grills that haven’t been sufficiently cleaned from the last cook are also more likely to have a grease fire. Sometimes this can even happen on greasy, dirty grill grates, and the flames transfer to the steak itself!

Monitoring the Temperature of the Cooking Device

Monitoring the temperature of a frying pan or grill grate can be tricky to do with just your eyes. If you know the surface has a light glaze of oil on it, and you see it starting to smoke, chances are good that it’s too hot for the type of oil you are using. 

If you’re grilling, you can’t really trust the thermometer on the lid to give you a truly accurate reading of the surface temperature of the grates. 

In times like this, the best tool to give you accurate temperature reading of just about any surface is an infrared thermometer. You simply point it at a surface, pull the trigger, and you will get a digital reading of the surface where the little red dot appears. 

Big box hardware store tends to have the best price on infrared thermometers, compared to restaurant supplies. They’re basically the same thing, just take a minute to check the package to make sure the temperature range includes temperatures of 100 degrees or more. 

Don’t Put Too Much Oil or Grease

Excess oil on the surface of the meat is probably the most common reason why a steak catches on fire. While a little bit of oil helps prevent the steak from sticking to the grill grates or the frying pan, you only need a small amount. 

For an average New York strip or ribeye steak you probably only need half a teaspoon of canola or vegetable oil to keep the meat from sticking. These are neutral-flavored oils that won’t affect the taste of the steak, and have a high smoke point, to further reduce the risk of an accidental grease fire.  

When Does Steak Usually Catch on Fire?

Steak usually catches on fire when there’s a little too much oil on the meat and the flames of the grill are high. 

Though dirty grill grates with a lot of grease left over from the last grilling session can also become prone to lighting on fire. This can make it easier for the flames to then light the rendered fat, grease, and oil on the surface of your steak. 

What You Should Do When Steak Catches Fire

If your steak catches on fire, you need to act fast to move it off the direct flame, then close the lid as well as seal the dampers. This will starve the flame of oxygen. If you have a gas grill, make sure to also turn off all the burner elements. 

If the entire firebox has burning charcoal, you should remove the steak immediately and wrap it in heavy-duty aluminum foil before sealing the grill lid. You can rest a clean tea towel over the steak which will help preserve the heat for a solid 15 minutes.

Once the flareup inside the grill is out, you can relight it at a slightly lower temperature. Giving the grates a good scrape down might also help prevent the risk of another out-of-control fire. 

What Temp Does Grease Catch Fire?

Most grease fires occur when common cooking oils like canola or vegetable oil are heated beyond 450 degrees. Though animal fats like lard and rendered fat on a particularly fatty piece of meat might start to burn around 350 to 375 degrees. 

Final Thoughts

We’ve all had our fair share of nasty grill-side flareups over the year. I may have even shrieked once like a little girl with a spider on her dress watching a beloved ribeye steak catch fire!

When a steak catches fire, the first thing to do is get it off the open flame. Then shut the lid and seal off the dampers. You can wrap the steak in heavy-duty aluminum foil and cover it with a tea towel to keep it warm while the flames snuffed out. 

To prevent your steak from catching on fire in the future, you need to reduce the oil you put on the meat, as well as monitor the temperature with an infrared thermometer. Ideally, you want the grill grates to hover just below 450 degrees to avoid future grease fires. 

In my experience, you can find the best price on an infrared thermometer at a big box hardware store or in the kitchen section of discount stores like Walmart or Target. Then all you have to do is pull the trigger and point. The digital display will tell you the surface temperature of anywhere the red dot appears.