Disposable Barbecues

Disposable Barbecues? Think Again

(Last Updated: February 20, 2020)

“Cook everything in the oven, then use the barbecue as an ashtray.” This is from the man, Gustaf von Feuerlichter, who first came up with the concept of the disposable grill in 1976. He had wanted to enjoy his barbecues at the beach just as much as he did in his backyard, but without bearing the bulk of his home appliance. As it would turn out, he finally admitted that these little convenience barbecues were not worth the while. 

Well, much as he has discounted the whole idea, this concept has picked up quite fast and units are selling off the shelves amidst calls to ban them to prevent wildfires. 

Let’s delve a little deeper to find out more about these ‘convenient’ grills. 

What is a disposable barbecue?

Also known as a throwaway picnic cooker or a disposable grill, a disposable barbecue is a type of a charcoal grill designed for a single-use purpose. It features a lightweight aluminum construction 

These are different from the compact-sized portable grills that are easy to carry around the difference being that the portable minis are designed for multiple uses and certainly higher in price. 

Other types of barbecues 

Disposable barbecues are just one type of barbecue grills. There are two other types of barbecues including: 

  1. Charcoal barbecues. The charcoal barbecue, as its name suggests, uses charcoal. Charcoal barbecues come in different shapes and sizes. While some are rectangular, round-shaped, and others squared, these units are designed to hold charcoal briquettes inside of them. As the briquettes burn, the heat that emanates from them rises up to grill the food item placed at the top on a grate. There are different types of charcoal grills including pellet grills, hibachi, braziers, tandoor ovens, cookers, kettle grills, barrel, and cart grills.
  2. Gas barbecues. Gas barbecues are a popular option arguably because they are easy to light and are clean, not producing much soot and smoke like their counterparts. These grills use either butane, propane gas, or natural gas. Gas barbecues also come in different shapes and sizes from small ones to the large industrial-sized ones used commercially. 

Gas grills cook food either directly with the flame being in direct contact with food to cook it or indirectly by heating the gas elements which in turn cook the foods. Others use infrared heat directed to a rotating skewer or a flat top surface on which food is placed and is heated from the bottom. 

How to use a disposable charcoal grill?

Disposable grills are popular among campers, outdoor enthusiasts, short-stay apartment dwellers, and those entertaining their peers occasionally. They are designed to be easy to use since you typically need them only once or twice and are used to grill steaks, chicken, sausages, vegetables, and more. They come packaged with everything you will need for your barbecue which is one advantage that they have over other types of grills. 

These units often take the design of a pit in which charcoal briquettes are placed. 

  • Once purchased, unwrap the grill
  • Light one corner of the starter sheet included in its package and let the fire spread to the rest of the sheet as it lights the charcoal briquettes. Check that coals are lit and producing consistent temperature with less smoke being produced. 
  • Place your grate and food items and let them grill, turning them from time to time to allow them to cook well. 
  • Once done, pour water or sand inside the grill to extinguish the hot charcoal. 

A disposable grill typically burns charcoal for up to one and a half hours consistently before dying out. However, if your meals aren’t ready, you can add in more briquettes to have it produce heat longer. Also, try not to cook your meals over the flame directly as they may burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside. 

On the other hand, one needs to be cautious during handling as this is one major cause of burns and other accidents. 

The advantages of disposable barbecues 

Some of the advantages associated with disposable barbecues include: 

  • They are the cheapest with prices going below $20 and make a good option for those unplanned parties that call for some barbecue.
  • They come packaged with everything you need for your barbecue including starter sheet, charcoal, grate or top, and a foil pan.  
  • They are simple to use and can be used anywhere from the apartment, backyard, or outdoor.
  • No clean-up needed after using them since you only need to dispose of them. 
  • They are pretty portable. 

Some operational disadvantages 

  • Disposable barbecues do not have an adjustable height like the others. You will need to place them on a support that suits you for you to grill your meats and veggies comfortably. 
  • Not all foods cook well on disposable barbecues. You may have to go for the lean, soft, or half-cooked foods which cook fast without dripping too much fat. 
  • You have to set up a good base for them because the heat can damage the surface. 

How are disposable barbecues harmful?

  • Disposable barbecues damage the surfaces they are placed. One reason why some people and institutions do not allow disposable grills in their spaces is because of the damage that these units cause. Wooden surfaces get charred and grass burnt when the hot bases of disposable barbecues come directly into contact with them. 
  • Disposable barbecues emit carbon monoxide. As long as the charcoal inside the grill is lighting, it will produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas when inhaled by humans as it prevents oxygen from being supplied in the body. Inhaling carbon monoxide makes one drowsy and if not addressed on time, ultimately causes death. While it may not be dangerous using the grills out in the open, some people tend to forget and use them in enclosed spaces like inside the tent, van, or other areas making it hazardous. 
  • They are a potential fire hazard. Disposable barbecues, when placed on dry vegetation, can cause wildfires which poses a risk to vegetation and animal, especially when camping in a forested area inhabited by wild animals, near grazing land, or farms with plants or livestock. Not only that, the cost associated with quelling down wildfires is certainly substantial. Animals such as birds, lizards, squirrels, insects, and others that may find it hard to escape in the event of a fire, eventually perish in the fire. 
  • Wildfires caused by disposable grills have a long-term effect on drinking water in the area. Accumulation of ash and fire debris as well as soil erosion all lower the quality of drinking water by changing its taste, smell, and color. It also becomes harder and costlier to manage water treatment systems. In addition, fire retardants used to slow down the spread of fire can introduce harmful chemicals like phosphate and nitrate into drinking water, making it unsafe for consumption. This, however, will depend greatly on the extent of wildfire, the landscape, the weather in the area, the ecosystem among other factors. 
  • Loss of valuable timber by wildfires. Wildfires can burn down forests with valuable timber. The sad truth is that once destroyed, such trees cannot be replaced particularly those that have been there for decades. 
  • Destruction of the natural beauty of an area by wildfires. There is no denying that after a wildfire, an area does not remain scenic and attractive as it was before and that it will take sometime before it fully recovers to become what it was before. This can also result in a loss of revenue in terms of fewer tourists visiting the area. 
  • Charcoal used in disposable barbecues promotes cutting down of trees which leads to desertification and ultimately a change in the climate. An increase in the purchase of disposable barbecues means an increase in the demand for charcoal. This may lead to unsustainable production of charcoal and unwarranted deforestation. 
  • Disposed barbecues pose a waste problem and promote a single-use throwaway culture. The single-use culture has been linked with the use of substandard materials in manufacturing and packaging, most of which are non-biodegradable and not environment-friendly. 

Safety tips when using disposable barbecues


  • When using a disposable barbecue, ensure that you place it safely off the ground on a surface which does not get destroyed by heat for instance bricks or cement slabs. Avoid placing them directly on grass or on wooden decks or benches as this will not only destroy the surfaces but also potentially cause a fire. 
  • Be sure to place your barbecue on an even surface to lower its chances of tipping over. 
  • Disposable barbecues are best used in the open or in well-ventilated areas, away from dry vegetation, buildings, sheds, caravans, motors, or in tents where they can pose a great risk in the event of an accident or through carbon monoxide poisoning.  
  • Carry a carbon monoxide alarm for emergency cases. However, this should not give you the reason to use your disposable barbecues in an enclosed area to warm your space. 
  • Disposable barbecues should never be left unattended. 
  • While using your disposable barbecue, always have some water, sand, or a fire extinguisher nearby to extinguish accidental fires before they spread. 
  • Always have a first aid kit with you to treat burns, scalds, or other injuries as soon as they happen.
  • Before disposing of your barbecue, let it cool completely then dispose of it in a bin rather than tossing it off in the open. Give it several hours of cooling and then pour some water to ensure that it has no trace of heat. 
  • Never pour out ashes on the ground. This is because it will not be easy to spot an amber that has not been extinguished completely. These could cause burns and fires. Instead, dispose of all the waste properly. 
  • Never dispose of a disposable barbecue in a recyclable bin as they are not recyclable. 
  • If you happen to go with kids to your camping trip, be extra cautious with them. Do not let them play or sit near the barbecue. It also helps to talk to them about the dangers of playing around a disposable barbecue especially after being lit. 
  • Before using a disposable barbecue, study the user manual making sure that you stick to the instructions as indicated by the manufacturer. 
  • Find out the bylaws or regulations which relate to fire and the use of barbecues in the destination you intend to visit. 
  • It is good to have information about the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, what to do if you suspect CO poisoning, as well as the emergency numbers that you can call. 

Symptoms of CO2 Poisoning 

You’ll never see, smell, or taste carbon monoxide yet it is among the gases with a hazard rating of 3 according to the US National Fire Protection Association. Such gases have a high potential of causing grave or permanent injury. 

Some common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Pain in the chest 
  • Shortness of breath

What to do in the event of a wildfire?

  • Remain as calm as you can
  • Call the emergency number 911
  • Lie flat on the floor
  • Cover yourself with a woolen blanket and wet it if possible
  • Keep the windows and vents of your car or home closed but do not lock them
  • Follow the directions of the evacuation team and leave when instructed to do so

Tackling the menace 

grilled veggies


Despite calls being made to ban disposable barbecues because of the dangers they pose, this is not an easy thing to do. However, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of accidents and fires caused by these barbecues. 

  • The manufacturer’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of manufacturers of disposable barbecues to include information and warnings about the dangers of carbon monoxide and instructions on the proper use of disposable barbecues on the packaging or instruction manual of these units. 
  • Quality manufacturing. Much as these are single-use products, they should be produced to the required safety standards. This includes using the appropriate type and quality of materials, making them stable, properly finishing their edges, and making the units stable or at least include a stable stand in their packaging. 
  • Include safety requirements, assembly, and use on the instruction manual. The instruction manual of each disposable unit needs to include safety precaution details as well as assembly and operational instructions. 
  • Complying with consumer safety regulations. Manufacturers must ensure that their products comply with the consumer safety regulations so that they will not pose an avoidable danger to users. 
  • Restrictions on the use of disposable barbecues in designated areas. The management of destinations should set laws and regulations which define or ban the use of disposable barbecues depending on the magnitude of the risk that they pose. For instance, disposable barbecues should not be used in private property.  
  • Provide information on safer alternatives. Consumers need to look for information on safer alternatives that they can use in place of disposable barbecues. They could, for instance, use empty metal tins or reusable portable barbecues. In addition, users should only purchase charcoal labeled ‘sustainable’ in order to promote sustainable tree-felling.


Disposable barbecues may be cheap, easy to use, and convenient but they are certainly a serious safety hazard. If not cautiously used, these units can be the cause of more serious damage than can be imagined. It is not just the responsibility of the end-users to watch how they use disposable grills. Manufacturers, the management of destinations, and the government should equally take the responsibility of creating awareness, enacting laws, and limiting the use of these grills in high-risk areas. It would also be prudent to promote the use of their little portable but not disposable counterparts in their place.

Leave a Comment