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Grilling and Chilling, the Safe Way

Summer in Florida wouldn’t be complete without epic downpours, magnolia blossoms, and the intoxicating smell of food cooking on the grill. But hang on a second there, partner. Barbecue grills present many safety risks that even the most seasoned grill masters may not be aware of.

Between 2014-2018 an average of 19,700 Americans went to the emergency room because of injuries involving grills. Gas grills are especially dangerous, and were involved in an average of 8,900 home fires during those years, including 3,900 structure fires and 4,900 outdoor fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Those are some sobering statistics. So, before you crack a cold one and fire up the grill, make sure you’re set up for a safe, fun, and healthy cookout season!

1. Grill outside and away from any structures

It goes without saying, but charcoal and gas grills are designed for outdoor use only. However, the NFPA reports that more than a quarter of home fires started by outdoor grills were started in a patio, courtyard or other partially enclosed backyard area. Another 29% began on a balcony or open porch. When you set up your grill also pay attention to overhanging tree branches.

Tips for putting out fires

  • Keep a fire extinguisher close by (and make sure you know how to use it!).
  • Have baking soda on hand to control a grease fire
  • A spray bottle filled with water can be used to put out minor flare-ups.
  • Never use water to put out a grease fire!

2. Clean your grill often

Grease is very flammable, and the fat that builds up in your grill can cause dangerous flare-ups. Clean out grease and fat buildup from both the grill and the tray below the grill. If you’re using a charcoal grill, allow the coals to cool completely before disposing of them in a metal container. (They’ll burn through anything else.)

For more cleaning tips, check out this thorough guide to deep-cleaning your gas grill.

3. Check for propane leaks

Before the first cookout of the season, check the gas tank hose for leaks by applying some soapy water to it. Little bubbles indicate a leak. If you smell gas or a flame won’t light, those are also signs you have a propane leak. Don’t attempt to use the grill until you’ve replaced the hose. If the flame goes out, turn off the grill and the gas and wait at least five minutes before re-lighting to prevent a flare-up.

Tip: Make sure the gas is completely turned off when you’re finished grilling.

4. Never leave a grill unattended

Florida heat is no joke. It’s tempting to get your food started on the grill and then go back inside to bask in the A/C for a while. We do this all the time when cooking indoors, but the consequences of leaving a barbecue grill unattended can be much greater. Another reason to always man your grill: to ensure that kids or pets aren’t playing near it. Also, never try to move a lit or hot grill, and remember that the grill will stay hot for at least an hour after use.

5. Easy on the starter fluid

For your charcoal grill, only use charcoal starter fluid. If the fire starts to go out, don’t add more starter fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire. It might look cool, but there’s no way of telling how big that fire is going to flare. Instead of using more starter fluid, consider using a charcoal chimney starter and newspaper. Aside from safety, another advantage of not using starter fluid is not seasoning your food with starter fluid fumes.

6. Food safety tips

Summer heat and copious amounts of meat makes for a higher than usual chance of food poisoning. Invest in a good meat thermometer to ensure you’re cooking meats to their recommended internal temperatures.

  • 145°F—whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (stand-time of 3 minutes at this temp)
  • 145°F—fish
  • 160°F—hamburgers and other ground beef
  • 165°F—all poultry and precooked meats, like hot dogs

Marinate all meats and veggies in the fridge. Make sure to wash your hands with soap before and after handling raw meat, and wash all plates, utensils, and work surfaces that have come into contact with it. Finally, be careful not to cross-contaminate. Throw out marinades that have touched raw meat juices, and keep veggies intended for the grill separate from raw meat. Check the CDC’s website for more guidelines to food safety in the summertime.

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