By Jason Brick
Summer is upon us, which means backyard barbecues, evening cookouts, and using the grill when it’s too hot to cook inside. Seriously, who doesn’t love some grilling action in the summer, and miss it all winter long? The season is here once again, and that’s good news.
The bad news is grilling can be dangerous for your family, your guests, and even your pets. More than 15,000 children go to the ER every year for grill-related injuries. Grills, hibachis, and barbecues are involved in over 10,000 home fires annually. Less dramatic, but just as dangerous, are the 48 million cases of food poisoning each year in which grilling or picnics play a significant role.
Don’t let those numbers fool you. We’re not saying you shouldn’t grill this summer…but we are saying you should grill safely. For this month’s dadvice, here are the 20 commandments to keep your grilling safe all summer long.
The 20 Commandments of Safe Grilling
- Use the grill at least 6 feet from any structures, trees, or other flammable objects.
- Preheat your grill and scrub it clean before cooking to remove any food particles from the last time.
- Keep baking soda nearby for grease flare-ups.
- Don’t wash your meats. The water sprays bacteria all over your sink and counter. If you must wash, use very gentle flow and scrub the area with bleach immediately afterward.
- Don’t barbecue drunk, or even tipsy. Save the booze for after you’re done.
- Use a meat thermometer with a probe and digital readout to tell when your cooking is done.
- Wear an apron to remind yourself and others who is responsible for the grill at any given time.
- Marinade your meats in the refrigerator, then take them out immediately before grilling.
- Make sure your grill is outside the common walking, running, and play paths in your yard.
- Ignore the popular myth that you should bring meat to room temperature before grilling. That risks food poisoning, and cool food collects more smoky flavor.
- Inspect your gas grill carefully before use, and never use a compromised gas grill.
- Watch for cross-contamination. Tongs you used on raw meat need to be washed before it touches the cooked food.
- Never grill barefoot, or in sandals. Likewise, don’t wear loose, flowing, or draping clothing while you’re standing next to the flame.
- Wash your hands after every time you touch raw meat.
- Never use anything but charcoal starter to accelerate your burn, and only use a little of that.
- Keep cooked meat hot (at least 140 degrees F) until you serve. Set it on the side of the grill, or in a warm oven if it has to wait.
- Keep a charged fire extinguisher or working garden hose within three steps of where you grill.
- Refrigerate any uneaten food no more than two hours after it comes off the grill or out of the fridge. Make that one hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees F.
- Don’t empty the charcoal the same day it’s used. Let it sit overnight, and pour the ash into a metal can.
- Watch those side dishes. If they sit in the sun too long, they can be as risky as the meat.
Basic Burn Care
Even if you do your best, sometimes burns happen. If it does, keep these tips in mind:
- Remove the burn victim from the heat source.
- Run cool water over the burned area immediately. Do not use ice, oil, or butter.
- If the burn blisters quickly, cover with a cool, clean cloth and head for the urgent care.
- If the burn is larger than the palm of the injured person’s hand, call 911.
If you’re the burn victim, your grill master duties are done for the day.
Food Poisoning Basics
If you follow the rules above, you should be able to avoid poisoning your family and guests. If things go wrong, though, here’s what to do:
- Keep the victim hydrated with water and electrolytes. Gatorade or a similar beverage cut 50/50 with water is a good option.
- Don’t give the victim medicines to stop the symptoms unless absolutely necessary. Your body needs to get the bad stuff out, which means some vomiting and diarrhea.
- Seek medical attention if the victim can’t’ keep fluids down, or if the symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, or if they spike a fever above 103 degrees F.
After the food poisoning has passed, use the BRAT diet to start giving the victim nutrition. BRAT stands for Bread, Rice, Apple sauce, and Tea: four mild but filling things people are likely to keep down while having stomach issues.
Okay, folks. I know I’ve spent this whole article painting a kind of scary picture about a favorite summer pastime. But don’t worry. If you follow the commandments and maintain a little awareness and caution, you’ll be just fine. Grilling is part of every summer, and safe grilling can be part of yours.