10 major grilling safety mistakes you might be making

Steer clear of these common mistakes for a safe (and delicious) backyard barbecue.

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Common grilling safety mistakes
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Common grilling safety mistakes

Mistake #1: Not Giving the Grill Enough Space

You may to want to stand in the shade when you’re grilling. BUT! Having an awning or tree branch too close to the grill can be dangerous; floating embers could easily spark a fire. Your grill—whether it’s charcoal or gas—should be at least 10 feet away from your home or garage, deck railings and other structures.

Give yourself enough space, too, says Greta Gustafson, media relations associate for the American Red Cross. “Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill.”

Mistake #2: Leaving a Lit Grill Unattended

Everyone wants to be outdoors when the weather is nice, but it’s important that kids and pets don’t play near the grill. It’s too easy for them to bump into or touch part of the hot grill. Keep children at least three feet away from the grill, even after you’re finished cooking.

Mistake #3: Not Keeping Your Grill Clean

Who doesn’t want to skip cleaning the grill and get right to the food? There’s always a “next time,” but your food tastes better and your risk of flare-ups is reduced when you keep your grill clean.

Test Kitchen tip: Clean the grill every time you use it. (Here’s how to get things ready for a cookout.) Regularly remove grease and fat buildup from the grill grates and drip trays.

Mistake #4: Grilling Indoors

It’s a common mistake to think it’s safe to use a grill, particularly a small one, in your house or garage. This is NOT true. In addition to being a fire hazard, grills release carbon monoxide—a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly. Keep your charcoal and gas grills outside!

Mistake #5: Grilling Too Much Food at Once

It may be tempting to put as much as you can on the grill at one time, but if too much fat drips on the grill flames, it can cause a flare-up. Instead, cook your food in batches to avoid overloading the grill, particularly with fatty meats.

Mistake #6: Not Using a Meat Thermometer

Food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. (Here’s a guide with our Test Kitchen-recommended cooking temperatures.) Many grill chefs “eye” their meat to check if it’s done, but that’s not enough.

Test Kitchen tip: Use a meat thermometer to make meat is cooked thoroughly.

Mistake #7: Starting a Gas Grill with the Lid Closed

Lighting your grill with a closed lid can cause a dangerous buildup of gas, creating a fire ball. Keep your gas grill lid open when lighting it. If the flame goes out, turn the grill and gas off, and wait at least five minutes before relighting.

Charcoal grill owners, you’re not off the hook, says Gustafson. Dousing lit coals with extra lighter fluid is another big mistake, and doing so can easily cause a flare-up.

Mistake #8: Not Shutting Down the Grill

Don’t get distracted by the delicious food you grilled and forget to properly turn off your grill!

As soon as you’re done cooking, turn off the burners and the fuel supply for gas grills. If you’re using charcoal, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.

Mistake #9: Not Being Prepared to Put out a Fire

Fires move fast, so it’s important to be prepared. Have baking soda on hand to control a grease fire and a fire extinguisher nearby for other fires. Remember, you never use water to put out grease fire.

“A great tool for any chef to have on hand is the free Red Cross First Aid App,” Gustafson says. “This app puts instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies—including burns—at your fingertips.”

Mistake #10: Cross-Contaminating Food

Food safety is critical when you’re in charge of the grill. Raw meats have bacteria and germs that can make you sick if they are transferred onto cooked foods, plates or utensils.

Test Kitchen tips: Toss out marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat. Use clean utensils and a clean plate to remove cooked meat from the grill. Wash your hands with soap (here’s how to do it right) before and after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood.

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