One of the perks of summer is the opportunity to grill outside. Technically, you can use your outdoor grill any time of the year. However, summertime grilling goes hand in hand with outdoor entertaining or just relaxing in the backyard with your family. Plus, it has the advantage of keeping the kitchen cool, allowing you to reduce electricity use.
However, a grill-related fire can turn your perfect event into your worst nightmare. And yes, it does happen.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 10,200 home fires are started by grills each year, sending 19,000 people to the emergency room.
The three months of the year with the most grill fires are, in order:
Half of the injuries that send people to the ER are thermal burns; however, approximately 2,000 children suffer contact burns as a result of touching, falling, or bumping into some part of the grill or coals.
The placement of your grill is vital to avoiding fires. Never place it close to any part of your home – which includes your garage, porch, or deck railings. The NFPA also warns that your grill shouldn’t be under eaves or overhanging branches.
And just as you keep a fire extinguisher nearby when cooking in the kitchen, you should also make sure to keep one handy when you’re grilling outside. It doesn’t take long for a fire to quickly get out of control. This is also why you should never leave the grill unattended, and you shouldn’t let children or pets get close to it.
Never put too much food on the grill, warns Shirley Landridge, cleaning expert at Maggie’s Oven Services, which cleans BBQ grills, kitchen ovens, and other appliances. “If too much fat falls into flames at once, it can cause a fire,” she says.
Another tip is to make sure the cover is open before turning on the grill. “If the cover is closed when you turn on the gas, it may build up inside and blow up when opened, causing injuries,” Landridge explains.
Also, dress appropriately. “Avoid hanging shirts, scarves, and other types of clothes which can easily catch on fire.”
But the heat and flames aren’t the only potential dangers. “Pay attention not to inhale the smoke from your barbecue, as it contains carbon monoxide and other dangerous fumes,” Landridge explains. That’s also why you should always grill outside.
You need to clean the grill on a regular basis; however, opinions vary on when. Some experts recommend cleaning the grill right after cooking, but not everyone agrees. “I recommend leaving the grill grates dirty until the next use and cleaning them before cooking,” Landridge says. In fact, she says grease makes the iron resistant to rust.
“It’s a good idea to heat up the grill for 15 minutes once a week to burn off some debris.”
She also recommends scrubbing the deflector plates and flavorizer bars at least once a month. “They are designed to prevent fires, but some build-up grease may cause one.”
And when you’re not using your grill, Landridge says you should keep it covered. “This protects rust or even animals from getting inside your grill.”
If you have a gas grill, Landridge recommends routinely checking for gas leaks. “Once a month pour some soapy water on the gas line,” she says. “If you see bubbles, there is a leak and you need to tighten it.” However, if tightening doesn’t produce the desired result, don’t use the grill again until you get it checked out by a professional.
When you’re finished using a charcoal grill, don’t forget that the coals can still pose a danger until they’re completely cool. It could take up to 48 hours for the coals to cool, so you should close the lid and vents, and wait 2 days before taking out the coals and ashes. To be on the safe side, use long-handled tongs to scoop the coals out and then put them in aluminum foil or a metallic container.
A final part of grilling safely is making sure your meat is cooked to the proper temperature. Even though it might look done on the outside, always use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat is cooked to the proper temperature.
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.