Safe grilling with friends and family in the backyard is a classic outdoor pastime. But if you’re not prepared, unsafe grilling can result in dangerous consequences. Instead of memorable backyard barbeques you might end up with unforgettable fire-related disasters. Before you light the ignition and throw that meat on the grill, it is important to create a safe and secure grilling environment.
It is safe to use a gas grill when they are properly used and maintained. Many people do not realize you have to maintain your grill. A little bit of maintenance on the grill can avoid potential disasters.
Every year, local fire departments respond to over 10,000 grill-related fires in homes and other locations. From 2014-2018, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) reported 10,600 annual grill-related fires resulting in an average of nearly $150 million in direct property damage. With the following tips, you can ensure that your next big cookout goes smoothly and — most importantly — safely.
Safe Grilling Starts Here
1. Read the Owner’s Manual
“I don’t need the directions.”
We all know someone who has said this (maybe it was you!) but when operating a potentially dangerous piece of equipment, we can’t stress this one enough: read the owner’s manual. Whether you have a general knowledge of grilling or years of experience, you can never know or learn too much.
As similar as one grill may be to another, each is unique and possesses its own standard procedures and characteristics. The first step in safely operating your grill is knowing those procedures and characteristics, which your owner’s manual will provide.
So crack open that manual and start by getting familiar with your grill.
2. Know Where to Put Your Grill
Before you start your grill, you need to make sure it is in a safe place: away from structures. Of the more than 10,000 grill-related fires per year, the NFPA found that nearly half of them – 46% to be exact – were classified as structure fires.
Most of these grill-related structure fires (29%) were the result of improperly placed grills on exterior balconies or open porches. Another 27% started in courtyards, terraces, and outdoor patios. Avoid placing your grill in these locations.
It is commonly recommended that you place your grill 10 feet from any kind of flammable structure, whether that is a building, a fence, or even a tree — but your grill’s manual (see tip #1) will provide guidelines for your specific grill.
3. Not Just “Where?” But “On What?”
While this could technically be a part of the last tip, it is significant enough to note on its own: the surface on which you place your grill is just as important as where you place it.
Make sure you are placing your grill on a flat, stable surface where it will not slide, roll, tip, or otherwise move. Avoid lawns or soft ground where a grill leg could sink and cause the whole unit to become unbalanced.
If your grill has wheels, make sure they are locked. A grill mat can also help keep a grill secure in its place while also protecting the ground underneath.
4. Indoor Grilling with Indoor Grills Only
Being outside is, for many, part of what makes grilling great. Sometimes, though, you’ll wish you could be inside, out of the rain and cold or overbearing heat. Unless your grill is specifically designed for indoor operation, don’t do it.
If your grill does not specifically state indoor use in its manual, keep it outside. Charcoal and propane grills both present multiple hazards when used inside. Both emit carbon monoxide, which can build up in an enclosed place like your kitchen or garage and prove incredibly dangerous. Propane grills also present the danger of gas leaks, which again, can build up in an indoor space. Additionally, outdoor grills of all types — charcoal, propane, and electric — are not insulated for safe indoor use, meaning they will give off a lot of heat and become an immediate fire hazard.
Grills or LP tanks should never be operated indoors. Be sure they are in an open area with proper ventilation. Lastly, never leave the grill unattended.
5. Keep It Clean
A dirty grill is a dangerous grill, so get used to cleaning yours. A thorough cleaning should be a regular part of any grill routine, both before and after use.
At least twice a year, your grill should be completely gutted, cleaned and maintained.
Be sure your burners are in good working order. Check to be sure all of the port holes are clean and clear. You may want to take a small drill bit and clean any holes. Be sure that there are no gaping holes on the burner and the metal feels hard and there are no soft spots. Take a venturi brush and clear out any potential spiderwebs. Did you know that these can cause a grill not to ignite or cause a flashback through the valves? Keeping the burner tubes clean will assure safe operation.
Check your grill grates for rust. If there is rust that has compromised the metal (deeper than surface rust), you will want to replace them with new ones.
Be sure you do not have a build up of grease on your grills heat disbursement system. This can cause a grease fire. Grills have many methods of dispersing the flame from your burner. They can be heat tents or briquette trays. These parts take the biggest beating in the grill as they get the sauces and drippings from the cooking grates and direct flame from the burners below. Be sure to remove the parts an inspect them for deterioration. If they have crumbled or have holes, they should be replaced.
In its latest study, the NFPA found that a failure to clean a grill was the leading cause in all grill-related fires. Dirty grills were the cause of 29% of structure fires and 22% of outdoor and unclassified fires. Luckily, with a few simple tools, cleaning your grill doesn’t have to be a chore.
If you need a full breakdown on best practices to keep your grill clean, we’ve got you covered. Check out our Gas Grill Cleaning Tips to Keep You Safe and follow the steps outlined in How to (Properly!) Clean a Gas Grill.
Another tip is tho check that grill brush! Those bristles can come loose and get into your food. Ingesting them can be super dangerous. We love cleaning grills with Scotch Brites Stainless Scrubbers. They are found at Supermarkets and Big Box Hardware stores generally in packs of three. As always be sure to shake off (or take a paper towel and wipe off) any debris before placing your food on your grates!
6. Check for Gas Leaks
If you have stored your grill over a period of time (through the winter), you should do an inspection of the grill before use. The grill should be checked for any leaks or deterioration before use. Be sure that your gas is turned off before inspecting the grill. This is a simple yet often overlooked aspect of grill maintenance. All parts on a grill can wear down over time and the hose connecting your propane tank to your burners is no exception. Hoses can dry out and crack or split. Or you might find insects or critters have been visiting where you don’t want them to. Regardless of the reason, an important safe grilling step is to check regularly for leaks.
While one sign of a leak could be an overwhelming odor, it’s not always that obvious. To check for leaks in your hose, take a light mixture of soap and water and apply it to the hose. Slowly open the release valve and keep an eye on the solution. If it starts to bubble, you have a leak and it’s time to replace your hose before you do anything else.
A soapy water test should be performed to test for leaks. In a spray bottle, make a soap and water solution to spray on various areas of the grill such as around the regulator, the hose and around the valves and manifold. Be sure your hose does not have any cracks in it.
7. Man the Fire
With your grill safely placed in an appropriate area, cleaned, and checked for leaks, it’s time to start grill. But first, make sure you’re prepared to stay with your grill. One of the most effective ways to ensure a safe grill experience is to simply tend to your grill at all times.
The best way to prevent a flare up from turning into fire is to be there when it happens. If you leave your grill unattended, you leave yourself open to unseen dangers. It’s not just fire, either. Kids or pets running around the backyard, a loose football throw, or more could all spell disaster if you’re not around to monitor the situation and react quickly.
8. Easy on the Starter Fluid
It can be tempting to use more fluid than you need, especially if you don’t know how much you need. Read the instructions carefully before using any kind of starter fluid. Those instructions were written for a reason and will tell you exactly what you need to know.
If you use a charcoal grill, only use a charcoal starter fluid. And don’t try to add more once you have some flames, even if it looks like things are starting to cool off.
One of the best ways to avoid using too much starter fluid is to not use any at all. Instead, make the switch to a charcoal chimney starter. We’ve recommended these in the past as essential outdoor grill accessories – you can find our suggestion on chimneys and other helpful accessories right here.
9. Start the Grill with the Lid Open
It might seem harmless, but starting your gas grill with the lid closed can be quite dangerous under certain circumstances. Lighting your grill with the lid closed can cause a build up of gas inside the main chamber, resulting in major flareups and fireballs. Regardless of the situation, make sure your grill lid is open before igniting.
10. Wear the Right Gear
Safe grilling starts with you, and that includes what you choose to wear when you’re standing at the grill. Clothing is flammable, so avoid loose clothing, especially loose long sleeves, and check to make sure apron strings are safely tied behind your back or tucked away.
You can take your safe grilling to the next level with protective clothing, as well. Heat-resistant grilling gloves come in a variety of styles and offer different types of protection depending on your needs.
11. Don’t Overcrowd Your Grill
On those occasions where you have a lot of food and a lot of guests, you might find yourself throwing as much on the grill as you can, covering every square inch of grate and flame. But do yourself, your guests, and your food a favor — don’t do it.
Overcrowding your grill seems innocent but can actually turn a safe grilling experience into an unsafe one in the blink of an eye. The more food on the grill increases the amount of fat that drips down to your burners, increasing flareups and in turn, increasing your chance of fire. Not only that, but your food won’t cook as well as it could when everything is smashed together.
12. Make Sure to Shut It Down
Safe grilling doesn’t end when the meat comes off the grill. When you’ve finished grilling, don’t get distracted by your delicious food. Before you move on, make sure to properly and fully shut down your grill.
For a propane grill, this means turning off the burners and shutting down your fuel supply. It can be easy to forget to close the valve on your propane tank, especially if the tank is tucked away inside a cabinet or behind a door. For a charcoal grill, let the coals cool before disposing of them in an appropriate container. Never leave a grill with hot coals or live fuel source unattended.
You can also work in Tip #5 at this time. Giving your grill grates a quick brush while they are still hot is an easy part of keeping your grill clean, ready, and safe.
13. Be Prepared to Put Out Fires
Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry, and, in those moments, it is crucial that you are prepared for fire.
Most grill fires are the result of grease build up. Baking soda is actually the easiest and quickest way to combat a grease fire, so keep a box or two in or near your grill station. Every grill station should also include a fire extinguisher. Salt can also work in smothering a fire before it has gotten too big. Whatever you do, do not use water to attempt to put out a grease fire.
As we mentioned at the start of this list, there are over 10,000 grill-related fires every year. Having the proper tools and the knowledge to extinguish a fire before it gets out of control can be the difference between a frightening moment or becoming one of those 10,000.
It’s Not All About Fire, Though
While fire represents the greatest and most obvious danger when grilling in unsafe conditions, it is also important to consider non-fire related dangers, most of which have to do with undercooked or raw meats. In order to ensure a safe grilling and eating experience for you, your friends, and your family, be sure to also follow these last tips.
14. Use a Meat Thermometer
Undercooked meat has harmful bacteria and the only way to kill it is to guarantee an appropriate internal temperate. Cooking times and temperatures can help guide you in this process, but the only way to know for sure is with a meat thermometer.
15. Don’t Cross-Contaminate Foods
When preparing raw meat for the grill, ensure a safe food experience by not cross-contaminating the rest of your food. Use disposable gloves when handling raw meat and get rid of them before working with any other food or ingredients. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after working with raw meat, as well.
Time to Grill
Follow these tips and you’re on your way to a safe and exciting grilling experience. If it’s been a while since you’ve last fired up your grill, take a look at our article, The Complete Guide to Getting Your Grill Ready for Summer. And if it looks like something isn’t quite right, reach out to us! As BBQ experts, we here at the BBQ Depot are ready to help get you and your grill ready to go. Contact us today!