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Safety Checks for Grilling Season

Posted by Chef Perry P. Perkins on

It’s warming up out there…backyard BBQ-masters and pig roasters across the country are digging their grills out of the garage and getting ready for summer! I don’t know about you, but both my wife, and my home-owner’s insurance agent seem to breathe a little easier if I go over a brief “safety-checklist” before I start playing with fire each summer.

Here are 5 points that every winter-weary pit-master should take into consideration: 

1. If you’re firing up coals this year, check the mesh basket in the bottom of your charcoal chimney. A good chimney should provide many years of perfect service, but they can, over time, start to rust out and collapse.

I’ve only had this happen once, and luckily with unit charcoal. Few things would take the fun out of outdoor cooking faster than a pile of burning coals around your flip-flops. Give the basket a couple of tugs, and check for rust - especially at the points where it connects to the wall of the chimney.

Jiggle the handle, tightening if necessary, as well.

2. If you’ve stored your grill against the side of the house, or in the garage, make sure you have a clean, clear, level, well-ventilated area when you set up for cooking again.

Most manufacturers suggest that you allow 24" between the grill and any combustible materials. Vinyl siding, shrubbery, overhangs, fences, dog houses, and deck railings, would be considered combustible.

Make sure it’s where you want it before you light up, and never move a hot grill.

Flare up happens, and, as you can’t prevent it, the next best thing is to be prepared for it, be being in a safe location.

3. On a related note…make sure the grill is out of high traffic areas, especially ones traveled by kids and pet. Establish an understood “no fly” zone around your cooking area, and violators will be given “grill scrubbing duty” at the end of the day (the kids, not the pets).

4. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to fire up the grill for the first time that season, and found that I was out of lighter fluid. Go to the store and buy more; there is no substitution, period. Mixing open flame with gasoline or kerosene will kill you…and you can’t eat barbecue when you’re dead.

For gas grills, I recommend disconnecting, cleaning, and reconnecting all tubes and hoses. Things swell, shrink, rot and rust in cold weather…and propane leaks rate right up there with gasoline fireballs.

They’re bad.

A good rule of thumb, if I see something that makes me think, “I wonder if I should replace that?

I should.

5. The right tool for the right job can protect you from being referred to as “ol’ naked-knuckles” the rest of the year.

This isn’t the kitchen, and those shorty tongs, wooden spoons, and cute little nylon pot-holders that Aunt Marge knitted for you, have no place at the grill. Grilling tools are 12-18 inches long, and heavily insulated, for a reason…it’s really freakin’ hot up close to those coals and gas jets! Also, food cooking over that much heat can splatter searing-hot grease a surprising distance, and Hawaiian shirts can spontaneously combust when in very close proximity to the grill (trust me).

You do NOT want that video trending on YouTube! Stand back and let the tongs take the heat.

So, that covers my Top 5 Safety Checklist suggestions to insure some great grilling, before you even fire up your charcoal or gas grill for the first time this season.

Happy Grillin!

-Chef Perry

Chef Perry P. Perkins comes from a long line of professional cooks.

As a third generation chef, he focuses his love of cooking on barbeque, traditional southern fare, and fresh Northwest cuisine.

Perry runs a non-profit organization. MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, which teaches nutrition, shopping, and hands on cooking classes or at risk youth.

His cookbooks include La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, and La Caja China Party, and he blogs at

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