Top Tips For Safe Summer Grilling

How to play with fire without getting burned.

There's more to cooking outside than just firing up the grill. Here are a few tips for safe and successful outdoor cooking.

Turning Steak on hot grill
Photo by Meredith.

Before You Get Started

Delegate to concentrate. Be a grilling specialist while you're ruling the Q. Put someone else in charge of setting the table, getting side dishes ready, herding children, and pouring drinks so you can concentrate exclusively on the grill.

Gather your tools. Make sure everything else is ready before you put the food on the grill. Set up a small table next to the grill so you'll have a place to put plates, hot pads, food, and utensils. Use long-handled utensils (spatula, tongs, fork) for the barbeque to avoid splatters and burns. Choose plastic or sturdy paper plates to avoid spills brought on by floppy paper plates.

Tools of the Grilling Trade
Tools of the Grilling Trade | Photo by Meredith.

7 Quick Tips for Safe Grilling

1. Here's a tip from the Department of the Obvious: Always grill outside and at least 10 feet from the house or any kind of overhang. Never grill in the garage, not even with the garage door open. And, of course, never grill inside the house or in your car or in a tent if you're camping. Not only are these scenarios ripe for fires, they can also result in a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide, the odorless and deadly gas, which needs wide-open air to vent properly.

2. If you're cooking with a gas grill, leave the lid open when you're lighting it so the gas doesn't build up inside the grill, turning it into a big bomb.

3. If you're lighting the coals with starter fluid, only use dedicated charcoal starter fluid, never gasoline or other combustible liquids. And never spray starter fluid onto an already lit grill.

4. Keep a spray bottle full of water within reach at the grill to combat flare-ups.

5. Completely shut off the gas valve when you're done grilling.

6. If you're cooking with charcoal, let the coals cool completely before moving the grill or cleaning the goals. Never dump hot coals into the trash.

7. To prevent future grease fires, clean the grill thoroughly after each use, including the grates and the grill tray, which can turn into a flaming lake if grease is allowed to build up.

White Hot Coals
Charcoal stays hot for hours | Photo by Meredith.

Basic Food Safety for the Big Cookout

Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. A cooler full of ice can keep spoilable foods cold until they are ready to be cooked or eaten. If possible, use two separate coolers—one for drinks and snacks, which people will be dipping into frequently, and the other for meats and other dishes that you'll be putting on the grill.

Keep ice for drinks separate from ice for chilling food. Cross-contamination leads to food-born illness in all kinds of weather.

Put cold foods on ice. If you're serving snacks that will be sitting out for a while, stick to foods that don't need refrigeration such as veggie platters, fruit skewers, breads, and chips. Set dips, salads, and other foods that need to stay cold on a bed of ice out of direct sunlight.

Wash platters before reusing. Foods fresh-from-the-grill should never be placed on a plate that previously held raw meat unless the plate has been washed in hot water and soap.

Don't let the grunge grow. Bacteria grows in food between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F (4 degrees C to 60 degrees C), so don't leave perishable foods out for longer than two hours (this includes preparation time). In hot weather, the food-safety window is even smaller.

Foods most prone to cause illness if left unrefrigerated:

  • raw and cooked meat, poultry, and fish
  • salads made from starchy ingredients such as pasta, potatoes, and grains
  • foods containing raw or cooked eggs such as homemade mayonnaise, cream pies
  • and anything else containing dairy products
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