Summer BBQ Safety Tips
Our advice on having a safe (and delicious) grilling season.
Summer is the official start of grilling season – when the kitchen extends into the backyard or picnic table, and food just tastes better. But, nothing can ruin a summer barbeque faster than an unexpected fire or faulty grill. Here, we’ll get into the essentials for a delicious (and safe) summer barbeque.
Know your grill
Before you can kick off barbecue season, it’s important to know what you’re working with. There are a number of types of grills: gas, charcoal, electric, smokers, and camping setups. Each type will have its own fuel type and set up, so it is important to read up on what you’re working with. Using a friend’s grill? Take a moment to check it out, as not all grills are created equal.
A note on fuel – depending on the type of grill, you may be using a direct natural gas line from the house, propane tanks, charcoal or kerosene. It is critical that you use the intended fuel source, and never mix and match. Natural gas and propane are actually odourless, with a scent added (think rotting eggs) to notify you if there is a leak.
Before your first barbecue of the season, the Ontario Fire Marshal recommends a three-step safety process: clean, check, test. This ensures that the grill is free of debris or rust, fuel lines aren’t cracked, and there are no fuel leaks. Leaks can be detected with a 50/50 solution of water and dish soap, applied to fuel tank connections and hoses. If you spot bubbles, there is most likely a fuel leak. Fix it by tightening connections or replacing the faulty part, and following up with a retest.
Set up your grill in a safe location, away from any flammable materials such as vinyl siding, or wooden decks. Make sure there is a fire extinguisher rated for cooking fires nearby, just in case. Clear any brush or tree branches away, and make sure the grill is sitting on a sturdy, flat surface. If your backyard gets windy, think about your grill’s position — is there a more sheltered area that still maintains ample ventilation?
No matter how bad the elements get, never grill indoors. Fuel sources, like natural gas, propane, and charcoal produce carbon monoxide, which can be deadly. Stick to the great outdoors to keep it safe. If you’re using an electric grill, cancel grill nights when it is raining to eliminate the risk of electrocution.
If you live in an apartment or condominium, always check with your landlord or condo board for rules on grilling. Depending on where you live, there may be municipal bylaws or building rules limiting or prohibiting grill usage on balconies. If that’s the case, offer to bring some additions for the grill at your friend’s place!
To master mealtime, make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job; oven mitts, long-handled utensils, and an apron. If you’re using a metal-bristle grill brush, check it over to make sure bristles aren’t falling out; they could land in your food, posing a choking hazard.
Firing up and closing down the grill properly are key safety protocols that can’t be overlooked. Start with a clean, grease-free grill, and open the lid. Open the gas line, turn on the burners, and ignite the flame. If you don’t have success the first time, turn off the gas and allow it to dissipate before trying again. When it comes time to shut down a gas grill, turn off the fuel source and let the burners extinguish before turning off the control knobs — this ensures the fuel lines are empty.
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For charcoal grills, use fuel sources such as lighter fluid, coals, or briquettes, that are specifically meant for grilling. After cooking, let the coals cool completely before disposing of them; be patient, as this could take several hours. No matter what fuel your barbecue uses, make sure it is completely cool before throwing on the cover.
In the interest of keeping everyone safe, never leave your barbecue unattended — even when it’s just warming up or cooling down. Loose clothing, kids, and pets should all be kept away. If you’re trying to figure out if a burner is lit or those burgers are done, remember to keep your face away from the flames and sparks.
Grilling may feel a bit more relaxed than preparing a meal in the kitchen, but proper food safety protocol is key if you want a successful meal. Any meat for the grill should be kept at a cool temperature prior to cooking. For frozen foods, this may mean appropriate time to thaw, or a fully chilled cooler for barbecues on the go. Cook meats, poultry, fish, and game to the appropriate internal temperatures, which is variable depending on the type of food.
Limit any cross-contamination at your barbecue with clean surfaces, cooking utensils, and hands. Any serving dish that touches raw meat needs to be cleaned thoroughly before cooked meat or other food can touch it — this is where recruiting a sous chef can be handy! When the feast is done, experts recommend packing up leftovers quickly and getting them into the fridge, as the warm summer sun can speed up the formation of bacteria.
Simple routine maintenance is the key to a great summer, cooking outdoors. Keep your grill free of grease, and check the fuel lines regularly for any leaks. Bushes, branches and grass around your grilling area should be trimmed back regularly to eliminate fire hazards. If there is a risky flare-up, have a fire extinguisher nearby (never use water on a grease fire), and be prepared to call the fire department, if necessary.
With a few quick checks (and a full supply of propane tank or charcoal), the summer barbecue can be a staple in your season. Enjoy!