All across the country, backyard chefs are dusting-off their grills and unfurling their "Kiss the Cook" aprons in anticipation of a long summer filled with delicious grilled cooking. With the onset of nicer weather, we spend much more time outdoors, and the traditional family BBQ is a big part of that.
Whether a big cookout or a small gathering, at the beach, the park or your own backyard, it’s important to apply a little caution when handling and cooking food outdoors. It should go without saying that barbecuing can be potentially dangerous, but every year there are still many visits to the emergency room caused by poor practices and a lack of awareness. We ARE dealing with fire after all. Throw in some sharp tools and the threat of food contamination, and you’ve got a recipe for some real potential risk.
Here are a few tips and some things to consider.
Every year there are thousands of fires and injuries reported due to issues with BBQ equipment. It’s easy to take a casual approach to the whole process since it’s normally associated with fun and entertaining, but a lapse in judgment can lead to devastating results.
- Location is everything when it comes to placing your grill. Ensure that your BBQ is well away from your house, trees and other wooden structures such as decks, fences or gazebos.
- Charcoal grills cause more fires than their gas counterparts, with lighting the charcoal being the number one issue. Follow all instructions exactly, don’t overdo it with the lighter fluid and never add fluid to hot coals. You should also never use anything other than approved lighter fluid to get your coals going.
- The primary cause of gas grill fires is blockages in the path of the fuel. This usually happens in places where you don’t normally look, so be sure to give your BBQ the once-over before you light up. Obstructions are normally caused by insects or other critters climbing inside and making themselves comfortable, causing the gas to pool in areas that it shouldn’t.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby when cooking, ideally rated ABC for all fire types
- Never leave your grill unattended once lit. Work out a buddy system for supervision if you have to move away from it.
- Never use a BBQ near any sources of flammable liquids or other materials.
- If you smell gas while cooking, turn off the grill immediately. This is typically a sign that there is a leak present.
- Clean the inside of your grill frequently, as the build-up of grease can easily lead to unwanted flare-ups and flames
- Allow charcoal to cool completely before attempting to dispose of it. Douse with water once cool enough (to avoid potential burns from the steam) and store in a metal container to avoid any further ignition.
General Grilling Precautions
Aside from the threat of starting a fire, operating a BBQ also presents several other types of safety issues to be aware of.
- Familiarize yourself with the operation and safety features of your equipment by thoroughly reading the owner’s manual. Don't assume that your new grill works just like the last one, and that all the same rules apply.
- If your BBQ has been sitting idol for any length of time, be sure to inspect it carefully for any damage or leaks before you get it going for the first time. Look for loose fittings, corrosion, cracked hoses or any blockages to the gas flow. Replace parts as needed.
- Note that BBQ’s can operate with propane or natural gas, however these fuels are not interchangeable
- Never start a BBQ with the lid closed. This can lead to a build-up of gas inside.
- Never operate BBQ equipment indoors or in any enclosed area, as it can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning
- Always store propane tanks outdoors, in the upright position and with the cylinder valve closed
- Maintain a ‘safe zone’ around your grilling area to keep kids, pets or adult guests from getting injured
- Use BBQ utensils with long handles to help save your hands from heat, flames and grease splatters
- BBQ in a well-lit area to maintain good visibility and general safety.
- Turn the burner controls off after use and close the propane cylinder or fuel supply valve right away
- Stay upwind from grills to avoid breathing in the smoke that is produced. It’s never a good thing, and BBQ smoke can be particularly nasty.
- Be aware of loose clothing or long hair getting too close to your heat source. This is a big cause of cookout injuries.
- When you're about to lift the lid off your grill, approach it with caution (as if it might contain a wild animal). If you're at the pre-heat stage, you can expect a big blast of hot air in the face.
- Safe grilling requires clear thinking, so watch the alcohol intake while at the BBQ helm
Food Prep Safety
OK, so you’ve avoided setting yourself or your house on fire. What else could possibly go wrong at a fun family gathering? Two words – food poisoning. Bacteria can grow just about anywhere, and this one can definitely sneak up on you. A little diligence can help to avoid any intestinal issues though.
- Be sure to keep meats separate from other foods. Using a separate cutting board just for meats is also a good plan.
- Keep foods cold until you’re ready to use them and only take out as much as you need at any one time. Thaw meats thoroughly in the refrigerator rather than in the microwave or on the kitchen counter.
- Basic rule – keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to help minimize any bacteria growth.
- Be sure to cook seafood and poultry all the way through, and cook beef properly to its desired doneness. Don't judge how "done" meat is by the colour of its surface or juices. The only reliable method is to insert a meat thermometer into the centre.
- Don’t leave food out too long after it’s been cooked (1 hr. max). Keep leftovers covered and use within a week if refrigerated. In doubt about how long that seafood salad has been sitting in the sun? Do yourself a favour and toss it.
- When grilling poultry, meat or seafood, transfer the grilled food to a clean plate and not to the plate used for the raw food
- One of your best defenses against bacteria transfer? Washing your hands frequently with hot, soapy water.
- Wash cutting boards, plates, utensils and counter tops that have come into contact with raw meat to avoid any cross-contamination with other foods. Hot, soapy water or a bleach solution work best.
- Cooking meats by any method at high temperature to the point where charring occurs can create cancer-causing substances (Heterocyclic Amines) to form. To minimize the risk, use marinades, don’t overcook, keep temperatures lower and use smaller cuts of meat to minimize grill time.
With these tips in-mind, you’re ready to hit the great outdoors and get the most out of your grill this summer.