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Before You Grill: Some Safety Precautions for Backyard Barbeque

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Written by Richard Hack

The Fourth of July means backyard barbecues get uncovered with visions of fantastic steaks, burger and dogs getting that grilled-seared looked and charcoal flavor.

Unfortunately, when you combine fire and gays, there is the distinct chance that you’ll get a flare or two, of one kind or another. Each year, over 7,000 injuries from barbecuing are reported, mostly the result of great equipment used incorrectly.  With that in mind, the Agenda has gotten together with the help of the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association.

  • Grills are for outside only.
    Barbecue grills are designed for outdoor use only. Never barbecue in your trailer, tent, house, garage, or any enclosed area because carbon monoxide may accumulate and kill you.
  • Use in well-ventilated area.
    Set up your grill in an open area that is away from buildings, overhead combustible surfaces, dry leaves, or brush. Be sure to avoid high traffic areas and always barbecue in a well-ventilated area. Be aware of wind-blown sparks and ball gowns (the latter mentioned because your dear friend and ours, Elaine Lancaster, insists cooking in gowns adds substantially to the flavor).
  • Keep grill stable.
    When using a barbecue grill, be sure that all parts of the unit are firmly in place and that the grill is stable (can’t be tipped over).
  • Follow electric codes.
    If electrically-operated accessories are used (rotisseries, etc.), be sure they are properly grounded in accordance with local codes. Electrical cords should be placed away from walkways or anywhere people can trip over them. Outdoor shocks happen easily and are even easier to avoid by using grounded cables.
  • Use long-handled utensils.
    Use barbecue utensils with long handles (forks, tongs, etc.) to avoid burns and splatters. Long utensils also keep fake fingernails from getting too close to the fire and melting, You get the picture and it’s not particularly pretty.
  • Wear safe clothing.
    Wear clothing that does not have hanging shirt tails, frills, or apron strings that can catch fire, and use flame-retardant mitts when adjusting hot vents. (See Elaine Lancaster in paragraph two.)
  • Keep fire under control.
    To put out flare-ups, either raise the grid that the food is on, spread the coals out evenly, or adjust the controls to lower the temperature. If you must douse the flames with a light spritz of water, first remove the food from the grill. No one likes soggy meat.
  • Be ready to extinguish flames.
    Use baking soda to control a grease fire and have a fire extinguisher handy. A bucket of sand or a garden hose should be near if you don’t have a commercial extinguisher. Screaming at the top of your lungs is not encouraged, but occasionally helpful to summon backup.
  • Consider placing a grill pad or splatter mat beneath your grill.
    These naturally heat resistant pads are usually made of lightweight composite cement or plastic and will protect your deck or patio from any grease that misses the drip pan. Clean-up is a bitch when we’re talking concrete.
  • Never leave a grill unattended once lit. Duh….and duh.
  • Stay away from hot grill.
    Don’t allow anyone to conduct activity near the grill when in use or immediately following its use. The grill body remains hot up to an hour after being used.
  • Don’t move a hot grill.
    Never attempt to move a hot grill. It’s easy to stumble or fall off your platforms, and the resulting burns are definitely not among your holiday accessories.
  • An extra warning for those with Propane Tanks.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that flammable gas or liquid is the first item ignited in half of outdoor grill fires at home. Whether you have a portable propane tank or a natural gas line, check the connections for leaks before using your gas grill. Put soapy water on all joints and connections. If tiny bubbles form, a leak needs to be fixed before you light it.  While it may be as simple as tightening the joint, just be sure not to over tighten!

Check for rusted burners. You’ll probably have to buy BBQ burner replacements frequently but you can find them in many hardware stores or buy them from your barbecue’s manufacturer.

Clean venturi tubes regularly. These are the tubes that extend from the burner to the control valves. Spiders and small insects like to build nests in there, causing blockages making grills difficult to ignite.  It can interfere with gas flow making the flame uneven and dangerous.

Always light your gas barbecue with the lid open. If it doesn’t start, turn off the gas and wait a few minutes for the gas to disperse before attempting again.

Liquid propane gas is pressurized and requires special handling and storage. Make sure that the cylinder is not overfilled.

When the liquid propane cylinder is connected, the grill must be kept outside in a well-vented space because carbon monoxide can cause serious injury or death.

Consider using ceramic briquettes instead of lava rocks that can catch fire.

When finished, turn off the burners and the propane cylinder and check for grease build-up while cleaning.