Barbecue Best Practices

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The sizzling summer weather is a signal that it’s time to pull out the barbecue from hibernation, and throw some meat on the grill. Whether you’ve got a gas barbecue or a charcoal grill, nothing says summer quite like cooking dinner over the open heat and flame – safely, of course. Even if you’re a grill master, keep best practices in mind when you fire up the barbecue; know how long to cook your meat (in order to avoid food-borne pathogens), get the right tools to avoid cross-contamination, and always remember common fire safety.

The last thing you want is for your backyard barbecue to become a hazardous danger zone, due to improperly-handled food or toxic emissions.

Look through our best safety tips for barbecuing this season, and create a mental checklist of what you need to guarantee healthy, hazard-free grilling any time of year.

Prep Your Grill

If you’re just pulling your barbecue out of storage after a long winter, it will need a bit of maintenance before you get it up and running. Cleaning your grill is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure safe barbecuing – according to the National Fire Prevention Associate, one-fifth of all grill fires are caused by a dirty grill. Make sure you have a solid grill brush handy, to scrub off all particles and debris.

If you have a cast iron skillet, you probably know that oiling the surface is the best way to keep it seasoned. Similarly, it’s wise to grease your grill with a paper towel dipped in oil before you start cooking. This helps to keep the meats from sticking to the grill surface, and lowers your chances of burning the food.

For those with a charcoal barbecue, use charcoal starter fluid only when you want to get a fire going – or, choose a charcoal chimney starter, which allows you to use newspaper to get your fire started. Stay away from other kinds of lighter fluid; and don’t squirt extra starter fluid onto a fire, or coals that have already been lit – this can cause dangerous flare-ups.

If you’re using your gas barbecue for the first time this season, check that the connection between the propane tank, the regulator, and the cylinder is tight. You can test for a propane leak by lightly spraying a soap and water solution onto the hose, then watching to see if bubbles form when you turn the propane tank on. If you do see bubbles, shut down the propane immediately, and get your barbecue serviced before use.

Get Your Tools Ready

It’s never a good idea to leave your barbecue unattended; which is why it’s wise to have all of your tools nearby, ready to grab when needed. The same goes for food prep – you can’t leave your barbecue to spend time getting food ready, so before you start throwing shrimp on the barbie (so to speak), make sure you’ve got what you need within arm’s reach.

It’s smart to have two sets of tongs – one for raw meat, and one for cooked meat. Mark the designated “raw meat” tongs with colored tape, so you don’t inadvertently cross-contaminate. Likewise, be sure to choose one rack (or one area of the grilling surface) specifically for vegetables. This will prevent any part of your meal from becoming contaminated by contact with raw meat.

Know Your Meat Cooking Times

Barbecuing is typically the realm of carnivores; and all meat lovers know you need to grill certain meats to within a specific internal temperature, to ensure they’re cooked properly. Failing to do so can leave you susceptible to food poisoning and other illnesses – which isn’t how you want to spend a summer weekend.

Different meats have different ideal grilling times; cooking time can be affected by where the meats are placed on the grill, as well as how hot the barbecue unit is (especially given that gas burns much hotter, and faster, than charcoal). Read up on the differences between cooking food over direct heat and indirect heat; the former can go 500°F or higher (with cooking times of up to 25 minutes), while the latter only reaches 350°F to 400°F, and is good for “low and slow” cooking of over 25 minutes. Using direct or indirect heat can have a huge impact on what you’re cooking, so choose wisely.

Proper Ventilation is Key

Both charcoal barbecues and gas grills can cause major problems, when it comes to smoke and emissions. While charcoal may emit more smoke, propane gas is known to be silent and deadly. In order to keep emissions away from dwellings, situate your barbecue unit at least three meters away from any windows and doors. And, for obvious reasons, never use your barbecue as a source of heating.

No matter how much you may be craving barbecue chicken on a dark, stormy evening, never turn on your barbecue in a garage, or any other enclosed space. It’s also important that you don’t set up your propane barbecue in a spot that doesn’t have any room behind it to let hot gases escape (keep it a safe distance from fences and walls).

Keep Fire Safety in Mind

Cooking always involves a heat source, and that means there’s potential for a fire hazard. According to the NFPA, about 8,900 home fires are caused every year due to grilling – with the highest occurrences during the summer months. In 2014, over 16,000 patients went to emergency rooms due to grilling accidents. Barbecuing may be a lighthearted and fun summer activity, but it’s essential that you always pay attention to what you (and your children) are doing around a lit grill.

Make sure your barbecue is set up in a clear area, without low-hanging tree branches or bushes nearby, and at a safe distance from any dwellings. You already know to never leave the grill unattended – this also means keeping an eye out for young children, or pets, that may come too close to open flames. Anyone using the barbecue should avoid wearing loose clothing, and long hair should be tied back. As a safety precaution, keep a fire extinguisher handy, as well as a box of baking soda to smother potential grease fires.

When it comes time to shut things down, carefully follow correct procedures to avoid an accidental fire. If you’re using a charcoal barbecue, wait for the coals to die down completely, before safely disposing of them. If you use gas, double check that you’ve turned off the propane once you’ve finished grilling, and let the barbecue itself cool down completely before you cover it.

Make It Safe

Standing over the hot barbecue, with the smells of delicious meats and veggies wafting through the yard, is a yearly tradition for many Americans. Unfortunately, when fun outweighs safety, you can accidentally ruin a cookout for good. Don’t become a summer statistic – be sure to complete the proper procedures for operating your barbecue, and cooking your food safely. If you avoid major hazards, and keep everyone safe and happy, you can have plenty more barbecues and get-togethers as the summer days go on.

Have you had your first barbecue of the year? What’s your favorite tip for cooking meat on the grill? Let us know in the comments!

"Contributed By: Alec Feldman is the owner of Western Safe & Vault Co. Alec bought the business in 2000 from two brothers who had worked there their entire lives. Western Safe & Vault Co. was established in 1945 with the legacy continuing with Alec’s management. Alec has more than 15 years of experience in safes, safe service and moving."

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