Grilling Safety Guidelines

Burning hot metal, explosive liquids, you'd better be careful

Tubular Burner Venturi
Tubular Burner Venturi. Derrick Riches

Every year dozens of people are injured and hundreds of fires are reported because of grilling accidents. With the growing popularity of outdoor cooking, the problem promises to get worse before it gets better.

The leading cause of injuries and fire from gas grills is leaking fuel lines. Improperly connected hoses, cracked or broken hoses, misaligned venturi tubes can release unlit propane that can quickly build up and cause an explosion.

Modern gas grills are vented to prevent gases from building up inside cabinets so a slow leak doesn't pose much of a danger, but turning off the gas at the source (in this case the propane tank) is always the safest strategy.

When it comes to out-of-control gas grill fires, identify the source of the fire. If the fire is in the grill itself then carefully turn off the control knobs and let the fire die down. If the fire is under the grill and you can get to the fuel tank, turn off the tank. This should kill the fire almost immediately. If it does not, or if you cannot get to the tank valve, get away from the grill and call the fire department.

Charcoal presents its own risk due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Burning charcoal produces a lot of this gas. There were over 20 deaths in the United States last year alone from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with charcoal grilling.

The leading cause of injury related to the use of lighter fluids is attempting to relight charcoal.

Pouring lighter fluid onto hot coals causes the fluid to quickly vaporize. These vapors become extremely flammable. Without a strong wind, the explosive vapors will not dissipate and will wait around for you to light the match.

The Rules of Safe Grilling are as follows:

  1. Location is everything. Grills need to be kept away from houses, fences, trees and anything else with a propensity for burning. This includes all around the grill as well as above. A good idea is to stand in front of your grill and imagine the flare-up from hell. Will the house survive? Will everything else? If the answer is yes then, you have a good location.
  1. Be prepared to fight a fire. Having close access to water or a fire extinguisher is a very good idea. Remember that water can cause grease fires to literally explode so if you need to put out a grease fire you need to be a safe distance from it. If you go with a fire extinguisher, make sure you know how to use it. When you do need to use it you might not have time to read the instructions.
  2. Keep flammable materials far away from your grill. Do not store lighter fluids in close proximity to your grill. If a can of lighter fluid gets too hot it can explode. Also, never add lighter fluid or any flammable liquid to a burning fire.
  3. When lighting a gas grill use the 10 to 5 rule. If the grill does not start within 10 seconds, turn off the gas, leave the lid open and give it 5 minutes before you try again. Propane gas can develop into a large cloud quickly.
  4. Frequently check gas lines for leaks. Brushing soapy water over the hoses and connectors will show you any potential leaks. Make you go over every part of the gas line from the tank to the burner. If you find a leak you need to replace that part before you grill again.
  1. Make sure that the fire is out when you are done. With a gas grill turn of the control valves and the tank valve. Make sure that any burning grease is put out and let the grill cool completely before you cover it. On a charcoal grill replace the lid and close all vents. Let charcoal burn out and wait about 48 hours before disposing of ashes.
  1. Make sure that the person in charge of grilling has a clear head and is not distracted from his/her duties.

As always, remember that the greatest safety feature we humans have is common sense. Pay attention to what you are doing and if you have a bad feeling, run with it.