7 Safety Tips to Avoid a Grilling Accident

Avoid costly, dangerous grilling accidents by following these safety tips for before, during and after your backyard barbecue.

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Backyard grilling is a warm-weather tradition, but unfortunately it’s rife with opportunities for accident and injury. In its most recent statistics, the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) reports that every year in the U.S., grills cause more than 10,000 house and outdoor fires. These grilling accidents lead to emergency room visits, hospitalizations and even fatalities, along with $150 million annually in property damage.

Some accidents result from using the grill improperly, and others from a lack of maintenance and preparation. Let’s take a look at seven grilling safety tips to help you avoid a costly and potentially dangerous grilling accident.

Inspect Before You Grill

Kevin Busch, vice president of operations for Mr. Handyman, reminds grilling aficionados to inspect the grill before using it, especially if it’s been sitting idle for the winter. “The bugs, leaves and leftover food residue that builds up during the off-season are a leading cause of grill fires,” he says. So don’t light that fire before you thoroughly clean the grill.

Check for Leaks

If you’re using a gas grill with a propane tank, “habitually check for leaks and breaks in the gas hose,” says Busch. Tighten the connections between the tank, the gas hose and the grill before you ignite.

If the grill has been out of commission for a while, check the hose for leaks by spraying soapy water on the length of the hose. Then turn on the gas. If bubbles appear on the hose, you’ve got a leak and the hose needs to be replaced.

Maintain Some Distance

Your gas or charcoal grill should always be kept a safe distance from your home, and away from overhanging trees, deck railings and other structures. Ten feet of distance is recommended. When your outdoor space doesn’t allow for that, extra diligence is required.

Busch recalls clients setting their patio grills too close to vinyl siding. The grill didn’t start a fire, but it did get hot enough to melt a big ugly hole in the siding, which meant a costly repair job.

If in Doubt, Go for Charcoal

Gas grills are a fast, convenient way to cook outdoors. But according to the NFPA, they also cause 84 percent of all home fires caused by grills. You may be safer sticking with charcoal, especially if can’t keep the grill a safe distance from structures and trees.

Don’t Add Liquid Fuel to a Fire

The coals are dwindling, the burgers are raw and your family is hungry. No matter how tempting it is, don’t squirt lighter fluid or other liquid fuel onto the fire. It’s dangerous — the fire could flare up into your hands or face. Instead, try giving those sluggish coals a boost with a solid, food-safe fire-starter, and break out potato chips for your hungry kids while they wait for dinner!

Keep the Grill in a Low-Traffic Area

Your backyard grill may be the focal point and natural gathering area of your yard or patio, but it shouldn’t be in anyone’s way. Make sure there’s a clear path for people to come and go past or around the grill, with no one getting too close.

Don’t set the grill close to a swing set or anywhere kids play. And when everyone’s done eating and it’s time for a game of touch football, make sure the grill isn’t in the end zone!

Turn Off the Gas and Let Things Cool Down

Better safe than sorry. Although propane tank explosions are extremely rare, why risk a potentially deadly accident? Turn off the gas at the propane tank when you’re done cooking. Let the grill — and embers, if you’re cooking with wood or charcoal — cool off completely before you clean it. A charcoal grill can take up to two days to cool down.