Maybe you’ve already dusted off your barbecue and cooked al fresco while the snow was still melting, or maybe you’re waiting to fire up the coals during a summer pool party. Either way, safety should be your first priority. Only then can you focus on grilling the perfect steak; specialty beef, chicken and veggie burgers; or even a flavourful side dish.
There’s a lot of stories and statistics out there that warn barbecue enthusiasts about the dangers of unsafe grilling practices. According to the National Fire Information Database, a combined total of 1,824 grill fires were reported in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia between 2005 and 2014. Grill fires are the third most common cause of cooking fires (after stovetops and ovens) in these four provinces. If you want to keep your home safe while enjoying delicious barbecues with your friends and family, read on!
Before You Grill: Inspect and Clean Your Barbecue
Two common causes of grill fires are using barbecues too close to flammable objects (such as wood or vinyl fixtures near your deck) and using grills with heavy food and grease buildup. So you definitely want to allow yourself enough time to clean and inspect your grill in advance of using it for the first time this year. Clean out any winter buildup of dust and debris on and in your grilling equipment. Make sure to check for cobwebs, and clean inside your burner and burner tubes with a pipe cleaner. Another common cause of grill fires is forgetting to turn off the barbecue after burning off the grill’s food residue. One trick you can use to avoid this is to preheat your barbecue to clean it before you cook.
Check for Fuel Leaks
You’ll also want to check your burner tubes for holes and cracks that could lead to flames when natural gas or propane flows through them. When you’re testing for leaks, never expose your grill to a flame. Instead, coat your barbecue’s fittings and hoses with a 50/50 solution of soapy water and turn on the gas. Bubbles will rise from the leaks, indicating where you need to repair or replace parts. Speaking of soapy water, you should also remove and clean grates and lava rocks with warm soapy water.
If You’re Unsure, Refer to the Experts
If your propane tanks are rusted, damaged or more than 10 years old, they should be inspected and likely replaced, as should any elements you have reason to question the condition of, including rusted parts and cracked or damaged hoses, even when they aren’t leaking. If you’re not confident doing an inspection on your own, or need a second opinion, you can hire a fuel appliance repair specialist who is certified through the Technical Standards & Safety Authority (TSSA). You should always refer to the manufacturer’s manual for specifics on how to care for your grilling appliance. If you need more information to help you prepare for grilling season, visit the City of Toronto and Health Canada sites for home-grown grilling safety tips.
Don’t Just Pick Any Spot for Your Grill When It’s in Use
- Don’t move a lit barbecue.
- Make sure your grill is on even ground and in a well-ventilated outdoor space before you connect it to its fuel source.
- Use the grill at least 3 metres (10 feet) away from buildings and other structures (especially windows and doors), trees, fences and combustible overhanging roofs or canopies.
While You’re Grilling: Safe Barbecuing Practices
Now you’re cooking with gas! You’ve inspected and cleaned your barbecue and are ready for the main event: grilling the mouthwatering cookout foods you’ve been craving all winter. Keep these safe grilling practices in mind so you can keep the good times flowing:
- Before every use, repeat the fuel leak test using a spray bottle filled with dish soap and water.
- Keep children and pets away from the grill, and never leave it unattended.
- Don’t cook while wearing loose clothing or long sleeves.
- Do wear protective clothing, such as long grill mitts and a fire-retardant apron.
- Throughout the grilling season, clean your grill and burners to prevent grease buildup. If your grill has a removable grease pan, remove and clean it regularly to avoid it catching fire while you’re cooking.
- Never throw water on a grease fire: keep baking soda or salt on hand to throw on the grill to put out a fire (this will probably ruin your food if it wasn’t already burnt to a crisp).
- It’s also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher suitable for grill fires nearby.
- Remember: safety first. If your grill fire is too large to handle safely on your own, clear the area and call 911 or your local fire department.
Lighting Your Grill
Lighting your grill is a potential point of danger during the grilling process. Follow these tips to stay safe:
- Always have the lid open when you light a grill.
- Next, open the propane or natural gas valve.
- Now you’re ready to light your grill. Depending on the model you’re using, press the igniter button or use a long grill match or barbecue lighter.
- If your attempt to light the grill isn’t successful, don’t try to relight it right away. Wait 15 minutes before you try again.
- If your propane tank is empty, don’t try to refill it yourself. In Canada, it needs to be refilled and inspected by a certified fuel attendant. You can exchange an empty 8-kilogram tank at most Petro-Canada stations or many other gas stations in your neighbourhood.
- When you turn off your grill, shut off the gas or propane valve, then turn off the grill’s burner controls. This helps to ensure that no fuel is left burning in the hose lines.
- Make sure your grill is completely cool before leaving it unattended, covering it and storing it in between grilling sessions.
Safety Tips for Charcoal Grills
- Only use lighter fluid designed for charcoal grilling; using gasoline can be dangerous.
- Once you’re finished with it, keep your lighter fluid a safe distance away from your grill while it’s in use or cooling.
- Burning charcoal releases carbon monoxide so always grill in a well-ventilated outdoor space.
- When you’re finished grilling, cool the barbecue and then place your charcoal in a metal container for storage. If your charcoal is ready to be thrown away, soak it in water first.
When Grilling Season Is Over: Grill Maintenance and Storage
Unfortunately in Ontario, outdoor grilling season lasts only so long. To help keep your grilling equipment in good condition during the off season, follow these storage tips:
Clean Your Grill (again)
You probably never look forward to cleaning your grill, but keeping it clean is an essential part of winter storage. Storing a grill covered in grease and residue will make it vulnerable to corrosion and oxidation, mould growth and animals looking for a winter home.
Propane Tank Storage
Don’t store your propane cylinders inside: store them outside, preferably away from any structures (such as sheds) on your property. If you have the space, storing your barbecue (minus its fuel tanks) indoors will help protect it from the elements. Fortunately, many grilling appliances are designed for outdoor winter storage — just make sure to invest in a quality cover for maximum protection.
Insurance Tips for Grill Masters
Your insurance company wants to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to protect your home. Since fires are the number-one potential hazard of grilling, you should double check the home insurance coverage you have if a fire were to occur. A standalone fire insurance policy should cover the damage caused by a fire and the efforts taken to fight it, but it likely won’t cover the full cost of replacing the damaged items in your home. If you have a comprehensive home and contents insurance policy, you can expect higher payouts for home repairs and contents replacement.
If you grill often and want to take extra precautions to limit the damage a fire could cause to your home, installing additional fire protection systems and alarms could help reduce your home insurance premiums. The proximity of your home to a fire department and local fire services’ response times will also impact your home insurance rates. In addition, personal liability coverage is important to have to protect you from the cost of a lawsuit if someone were to be injured by your grill or during a cookout on your property.
Stay Safe and Enjoy Your Grill!
Grilling is a great way to enjoy a Canadian summer, but your cooking will only be fun (and scrumptious) if you stay safe by following these guidelines. Once you’re well versed on grilling safety, you can let your imagination run wild with the savoury and sweet creations you’re planning for your first barbecue of the year. Happy grilling!
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