A professional chef shares how to stay safe around the grill this summer.
Grilling accidents send about 19,000 people to the emergency department every year, half of them with thermal burns, according to the National Fire Protection Association. With summer nearly here, it’s important to think about good grill safety practices just as much as your party menu. Barry Margolin, executive chef for the Food Service and Nutrition Department at White Plains Hospital, who has been grilling everything from chicken to alligator to escargot for more than 30 years, shares some do’s and don’ts for your next barbecue:
1. Keep your grill at least 10 feet away from your house. No one likes a rainout, and it may be tempting to move your grill into the garage or on a porch or balcony – don’t. Gas and charcoal grills should not be used underneath wooden overhangs, as the fire could flare up into the structure above. And absolutely never bring a grill inside – the carbon dioxide grills release is odorless, colorless, and deadly to you and your pets.
2. Clean your grill regularly. A quarter of all files happen in grills with caked on and burnt fat, and this only causes flare-ups and fuels the fire. (A helpful tip is to keep a spray bottle of water nearby for any flare-ups). “Make a habit of wire-brushing the charred grate right after cooking,” says Margolin.
3. Check for gas leaks. Eleven percent of gas grill structure fires and 23 percent of outside gas grill fires were caused by leaks or breaks. Here’s how to make sure your connections are sealed up tight: Mix a solution of half liquid dish soap and half water and rub it on the hoses. Then, turn the gas on (with the grill lid open.) If the soap forms large bubbles, that’s a sign that the hoses have tiny holes or that the connections are not tight enough.
4. Don’t light your gas grill with the lid shut. This causes gas to build up inside your grill, which could lead to a larger than expected burst of flames when you open the lid. Check out this video on how to safely light a gas grill.
5. Stand by your grill. You put on the burgers, then dash inside to grab the potato salad and the cheese. Fires double in size every minute, and left unattended it could lead to destroyed food or worse. Planning ahead and prepping the side dishes is good practice for safety as well as perfectly cooked meats and vegetables.
6. Cook your meats in shifts. “If too much fat drips on the flames at once, it can cause large flare-ups that could light your umbrella, apron – or worse, you! – on fire,” says Margolin. (For this reason it’s a good idea to keep all decorations and flammable items away from the grill.)
7. Keep a fire extinguisher just a few steps away. Familiarize yourself with how to use it just in case. And never waste time hesitating to call 9-1-1 immediately. Many fire deaths occur when people try to fight a fire themselves instead of calling the fire department to do its job.