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Grilling safety tips for a successful summer cookout

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If baseball is America's favorite pastime, then outdoor cookouts are a close second. It’s so common that 7 out of 10 adults in the U.S. own a grill or smoker. A cookout which brings people with a shared love of smoked meats and good weather together, can also bring along safety concerns or even house fires. In fact, from 2014–2018, fire departments went to an annual average of 8,900 homes due to grill fires

So, how do you make sure your cookout is smokin’ without the fire? Read on or skip to our infographic to review grilling safety procedures that can protect your home and those around you this summer.

1. Make sure your grill is stable 

Before preparing your meat or main dish, it’s important to make sure your grill is sturdy and stable. Only set up your grill on a flat surface to ensure it will not tip over and cause a fire. You can also place a grill pad or splatter mat underneath your grill to protect your deck, patio or any other area you are grilling on.

2. Wear the proper clothing

Nearly half of injuries involving grills are thermal burns, so make sure to protect your skin with the proper clothing like aprons, long sleeves and grill mitts. That said, loose articles of clothing can easily catch on fire, so make sure apron strings are tied back and other clothing items do not hang over the grill or near open flames. Flame resistant aprons are made of materials that resist burning and melting and are a great idea to wear while grilling to prevent burn injury.

If a piece of clothing does catch on fire, use the “stop, drop and roll” procedure to extinguish the flames and lessen your risk of burn injuries. 

3. Observe proper ignition protocols

Always leave the lid on your grill open when igniting it. Keeping the lid closed can cause a quick buildup of gas, which can lead to an explosion. If you’re using a gas grill that does not light right away, turn off the valve and burners and leave the lid open for five minutes before trying again. Since gas is heavier than air, it will need time to clear from the bottom of the cookbox before you relight it. 

There are several different types of grills out there, so be sure to read up on your grill’s specific ignition protocols before starting it up.

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4. Grill outside and away from any structures 

Both charcoal and gas grills are designed for outdoor use only, so never use your grill in a garage or enclosed space. Not only can this cause fires, but it can put you at risk of harmful carbon monoxide buildup. Even when outdoors, be sure to place your grill away from your house (at least 10 feet) and avoid areas with overhanging objects, like tree branches.

5. Keep children and pets away from the grill area

The National Fire Protection Association recommends keeping children and pets at least three feet away from the grill area at all times. This can protect them from burns, touching a hot surface, or tipping the grill over. Consider making a “grill zone” of at least three feet around that only adults can enter. 

6. Keep your grill clean 

Cleaning your grill properly after each use can reduce the risk of grease fires. After you have finished cooking, be sure to turn off your grill and thoroughly clean it to remove grease or fat buildup from both the grill and the drip tray below it. You can easily scrape debris with a grill brush. Experts also recommend using an onion to wipe down your grill grate, which is both an effective and nontoxic way to get rid of charred debris. Simply scrub a halved onion faced down on your grate — its enzymes will help loosen any grime or grit that’s caked on. 

If you are using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to dispose of your coals. Allow them to completely cool off before throwing them out in a metal container. 

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Gas vs. charcoal grilling safety tips

Grillers have different preferences on which type of grill to prepare food on. While both come with their own level of risk, gas grills contribute to higher numbers of home fires than charcoal grills. Whether you’re using a charcoal or gas grill, it’s best to be prepared. Review the specific grilling safety tips for your choice of grill below. 

Tips for using a gas grill

  • Check the gas cylinder hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year.
  • If you smell or suspect a gas leak and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and grill. If the leak stops, get a professional to service it before using it again. Call the fire department if the leak does not stop.
  • If you smell gas while cooking, get away from the grill immediately and call the fire department. Do not attempt to move the grill.
  • Never turn on the gas when the lid is closed. The gas may build up inside, and when ignited, the lid could blow off and cause injuries or burns.
  • After cooking, make sure you completely close the valve on your gas grill.
  • Always store gas grills and propane tanks outside and away from your house.

Tips for using a charcoal grill 

  • Keep lighter fluid away from children and pets. 
  • Make sure the grill is sturdy and secure before igniting. 
  • Charcoal grills can remain hot for many hours after the flames extinguish, so allow coals to completely cool off before disposing of them.
  • Check for rust damage in metal grills. This may make it possible for charcoal to fall through onto surfaces below and cause a fire.
  • If the fire is too low, rekindle with dry kindling and more charcoal if needed. Avoid adding liquid fuel because it can cause a flash fire.
  • Do not leave the grill unattended.

What to do if you have a grill fire

Accidents happen and grill flare ups can get out of control fast. In the event of a grill fire, we’ve listed a few steps you’ll need to take to put the fire out as soon as possible. 

  1. If you are using a gas grill, turn off your burners to cut off the fuel source (only do this if you can safely reach the knobs). 
  2. Smother the fire with sand or a mixture of salt and baking soda.
  3. Close the grill lid and shut all vents to cut off the fire’s access to oxygen. 
  4. If the flames have not calmed down after performing the steps above, use a fire extinguisher to douse your grill. 
  5. Warning! If your propane tank is involved in the fire, evacuate the area immediately and call your local emergency services or 911. 

Ideas for a successful outdoor gathering

Outdoor grilling is a great way to gather with friends and loved ones, while allowing you to remain socially distant. Now that you’re versed on grilling safety procedures, it’s time to enjoy the season and plan your next cookout. Below are a few ideas for a successful barbecue.

Have outdoor games

Plan to have a few activities or outdoor games available for guests to enjoy when they’re waiting around for the meal to be prepared. This can also keep children occupied and away from the grill area. Here are a few of our summer favorites that both kids and adults will love:

  • Charades
  • Outdoor tic-tac-toe
  • Cornhole
  • Giant Jenga
  • Yard dominoes 
  • Bottle bowling 

Download and print out the charade game below. Cut out the squares and have guests pick one at random. They’ll have to act out the phrase listed and have their team guess what the phrase is as quickly as possible. 

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Summer charades printable
Download here

Stock up on supplies 

Not only will you need meat to get you and your guests through the barbecue, but plan to stock up on a variety of drinks, side dishes, and tableware. It’s also customary for guests to contribute to a barbecue, so consider asking them to bring desserts, ice and/or appetizers. You’ll also need to make sure you have enough propane or charcoal and lighter fluid to cook the food on your grill. 

Pick a theme

A good summer gathering almost always has a theme. Get creative and transform your grill space or backyard based on your favorite summer theme. Here are a few of our favorites: BBQ theme; island luau; red, white & BBQ; or a classic picnic theme.

With Father’s Day coming up, an outdoor cookout could be the perfect way to celebrate all of the dads in your life. To help you celebrate, we’ve created Father’s Day gift tags, along with a grill safety zone sign to use to keep all cookout guests safe during your event. Download and print out the signs below to help you relish the good times this summer! 

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Cookout themed printables
Download here

With summer in full swing, hosting a safe outdoor gathering is the perfect way to spend time with friends and loved ones after the long winter months. While we want you to have fun, we also want you and your house to be protected! Reference the grilling safety tips above or the infographic below to make sure you have a successful and safe summer.

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