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Safety of open fire barbecue with galvanized mesh

A discussion started in 2002 and continuing through 2017 . . .


Q. Please let me know whether there is any hazard in using galvanized mesh over the open fire for barbecue. Will the fume or any substance from the Galvanized mesh in direct contact with the food while burning, contaminate the food such as steak or fish?

David Wong
- Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


A. Hi, David. If you are a manufacturer, you would want to nickel plate or ceramic coat, not galvanize, the components ... because zinc is not considered a food-safe surface. So the following assumes that you are an individual building one grill for yourself --

Zinc is an essential micronutrient, not a cumulatively toxic metal like cadmium, mercury, or lead; but are you sure it is actually zinc galvanizing, not a piece of cadmium plated scrap? When you use things for purposes for which they weren't intended, you may have the situation that you don't really know what they are. Further, there usually are no research studies of such things, so you are not going to get facts, only an educated guess (although sometimes you can find a WHO or similar report if you search hard and if the practice is widespread in the 3rd world).

Most things are a matter of degree. It is not considered a good idea to eat food off of a zinc surface, and I'd be leery of it the first time something was cooked on it, but if it struck me as the practical way to build this thing, I'd probably get the fire good and hot, then wash the grill after this initial exposure to the heat, then go with it.

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

(2004) -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Back Yard Barbecue

For years we have been using a "pig holder" made with galvanized steel poles, flat reinforcement bars, and chain link fabric on a homemade concrete block barbecue. The pig is butterflied and laid flat between two panels -- creating a sandwich that holds the pig in place and allows it to be flipped during the cooking process.

We have done this for years with no ill effects -- at least none that we know of. Now we hear that galvanized metal should NOT be used on cooking surfaces. Is there a way to burn off the coating before use? Could we grind off the coating from the flat support bars and use an aluminum or aluminum-coated steel chain link fabric for our mesh? (Only the chain link fabric and the support bars touch the meat, and only in a limited way.) Is there any other type of chain link or wire mesh material that would be more suitable? No axe to grind here -- we just don't want anyone getting sick at one of our parties.

Thanks for your help!

Glenn Lindgren
barbecue - Eagan, Minnesota, USA


Q. I have recently switched to hardwood in my B.B.Q instead of propane or charcoal.The problem is the ash and small pieces of wood fall through the bottom of my B.B.Q. Would I be able to use a galvanized steel mesh on the bottom of the B.B.Q to catch the embers?
The steel would not come in contact with the food but I wonder if the heat from the flame would affect the finish and any chemicals would leech into the food anyway ?

Victor Foley
Consumer/handyman - Laval, Quebec, Canada

A. Hi, Glenn. We appended your inquiry to a very similar one which has already been answered. Yes, aluminum coated fencing would probably be preferable if readily available; but, if not, burning off the galvanizing would be more than sufficient for me personally.

Hi, Victor. I personally would not worry at all about such minimal use of zinc. Again, I'm just the operator of this metal finishing site, certainly not an epidemiologist :-)


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

May 18, 2009

Q. This is a Hobbyist type question. I do a lot of outdoor cooking and BBQing. I recently purchased a 4' X 8' sheet of expanded metal to serve as a cooking grate. The metal came with a tag that warned of dust and vapor from welding, burning and cutting. I use only non-coated common steel pieces for cooking or BBQing. However, I noticed that the tag also warned of trace amounts of Lead and other heavy metals. I always wear particle and dust masks along with other PPE while burning, cutting, grinding or welding. Now I am interested in any harmful vapors or metals that can enter food while using these metal grates for cooking. BBQers are always instructed to season their equipment (and I do) for corrosion protection. Does this also help with any off-gassing? Also. The temps that are used in the cooking process are well below melt points. Most Hobbyists cook between 225 °F and 350 °F.
Is there any harm from using any specific metals for these purposes? For instance, I use mild steel walk way grating as cooking grates. I also use common non-coated steel angle iron and expanded metal for the same purposes. Should I be worried? Any precautions?

Lendon Haggard
hobbyist - Trinity, Alabama

A. Hi, Lendon. If the supplier's lawyers or a government agency felt it was advisable to label this metal and to warn you of the dangers of welding, burning, or cutting it, it just isn't reasonable to expect a third party -- who doesn't even know exactly what it is -- to assure you that, not only are the labels completely wrong, but it's even okay to eat off of it :-)

Sorry, and Regards,

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

June 3, 2010 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I want to use a galvanized steel ring (36" diameter/ 8" height) as a fire pit ring and I am concerned about the toxicity of the galvanized metal when regularly introduced to the heat of a fire. is it safe to uses as a fire pit ring? If it is, is it still safe to use if the kids are cooking hot dogs and roasting marshmallows? Most of the time I love my kids - don't want to poison them? Not yet at least. Thanks.

Arthur szczokot
contractor - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

June 3, 2010

Hi, Arthur. I've repeatedly offered my personal opinion on this thread, and on dozens of similar threads. It's time for someone else to give their take on it, rather than me just offering ever finer, ever more subtle, nuances on what is just my individual personal opinion :-)

Good luck and Regards,

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

June 19, 2012

Q. Hey, I have built a sausage smoker out of galvanized iron. I just wanted to know if I put an open fire in the smoker to burn of any toxic stuff. Is it then alright for me to use or should I just change the sheeting and be done with it?

Harry Foundas
- South Australia

July 20, 2012

Q. I have wrapped the outside of my fire ring with light gauge aluminum. will it give off harmful vapors?

Jim Wilson
- Beaver Falls Pennsylvania USA

November 1, 2014


Jose Carrizal
weekend outdoor cook - Baytown Texas

November 2014

A. Hi Jose. The ash tray on my wood stove is galvanized metal.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Galvanized aluminum and grilling

March 4, 2015

Q. I recently used a piece of galvanized aluminum left from duct work to line and cover a hole in the bottom of my grill. The charcoal grates were about four inches above this sheet of aluminum obviously holding the charcoal. Is there a risk that the food was contaminated and if so what would have been the symptoms for those that consumed the food and finally would this exposure be something to see a doctor for? Thanks for your help, feeling very stupid for using the aluminum, Tobias.

Tobias Schirmer
Hobbyist - Belleville, Illinois

March 2015

A. Hi Tobias. I'm a bit confused regarding what you think the material is. Galvanized duct work would be steel sheet metal with a coating of zinc on it. There is such a thing as aluminized metal, which is steel with a coating of aluminum on it, but it's less common and I doubt that the duct work was made out of it.

People often wrap their corn, potatoes, fish, and other foods in aluminum foil for grilling, so certainly there is no issue with aluminum. But as said above, it's a bad idea to use materials in food preparation that weren't intended for the purpose though ... still, I can't really imagine this galvanized ductwork liner, covering a hole, doing the slightest harm to anyone. Zinc is an essential micronutrient, not a poison.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

June 16, 2015

Please Note>>

According to Wikipedia, Zinc IS poisonous if an excess amount is present in the human body...

Even though zinc is an essential requirement for a healthy body, excess zinc can be harmful, and cause zinc toxicity. Such toxicity levels have been seen to occur at ingestion of greater than 225 mg of Zinc. Excessive absorption of zinc can suppress copper and iron absorption.


Zinc toxicity =>

Thank you, and God Bless - Safe & Happy grilling this summer everyone!

Bartholemew Jones
- Birmingham, Alabama USA

thumbs up signYes, of course, Bartholemew. Paracelsus doubled down on that idea 500 years ago with "Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.


pic of Ted Mooney
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

November 10, 2016

A. If you have any concerns about zinc, buy what surface you want to use at a farm supply place, like Fleet Farm or TSC; their galvanized steel products are usually "hot-dipped galvanized" which you can recognize by the "feathery" appearance to the coating (instead of a smooth surface) that only hot-dipped galvanized zinc has. It is easy (and can be either fun or dangerous) to remove the galvanizing with DILUTED Muriatic acid (add one part acid to 6-10 parts COLD water. Do not add the WATER TO the ACID. Do NOT use hot water. It will bubble like crazy (GOGGLES) and etch off the zinc but the bubbling slows way down when only the iron is left. The bubbles are hydrogen gas so no open flames or sparks. Been there, done that. Got the singed hair to show for it.
BTW: why mix the two that way? It CAN can very hot very fast if they mix too fast. Which do you want spraying up in your face? Hot water with some acid in it? Or hot acid with some water in it?

Glenn Leighton
science teacher - Ely, Minnesota usa

February 21, 2017

Q. Hello, my question is, Is it safe use a nickel plated or zinc plated tubing as a smoke stack for my BBQ smoker grill that I'm building,

Eric Coram
equipment maint. - washington dc

March 25, 2017

Q. Hi. I recently bought a small (2x2) square sheet of zinc coated steel to place over a rusty portion of my smoker box. I have sanded it, but my question is, is sanding enough to remove the zinc coating. I'm worried about the heat causing fumes that could contaminate the food. Any help is really appreciated.

Raymond Tannock
- Somers Point, New Jersey

March 2017

A. Hi Raymond. Not to worry. Your question can sort of be compared to asking whether taking a baby aspirin is safe since we know that swallowing a bottleful of aspirin is dangerous. Zinc is an essential micronutrient, not a toxin. The "zinc problem" affects welders and others who heat large quantities of zinc to it's vaporization point and then inhale the resulting clouds of fumes and suffer an overdose.


pic of Ted Mooney
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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