It's summertime, and millions of Americans will be enjoying some of the tastes of the season this year by firing up the grill. However, whether due to inattention or inexperience, many of these outdoor cooking plans will quite literally go up in smoke.
Grilling accidents are among the more common causes of household fires that take place each year in the United States. According to the National Fire Protection Association, an estimated 8,900 home fires occur annually, stemming from the use of grills, hibachis and barbecues.
These incidents can also lead to serious burns, frequently requiring medical attention. In 2014, as an example, approximately 16,600 people had to be sent to emergency rooms due to injuries involving grills, based on NFPA's data. And while Americans grill year-round, most fires happen between May and August.
With the proper preparation and understanding of how to grill safely, however, these accidents can remain isolated incidents. The NFPA and U.S. Fire Administration have tons of tips on the best practices for safe grilling. These four are perhaps the most important of them all.
Open lid prior to turning grill on
If you own a propane grill, open up the grill cover before lighting it. Propane is a highly flammable liquid gas, so when you dial up the nozzle and the lid is closed, it creates a pressurized atmosphere that could result in a fire once the burners are lit. Keeping the lid open allows the gas to safely dissipate. Afterward, it's safe to close.
Position grill away from standing structures
Hibachis, barbecues and grills should always be used in the outdoors, but there's more to it than that. Ideally, you should position the grill so that it's at least three feet removed from standing structures, like patios, porches, terraces or the side of your home. This ensures that if a fire does occur, the flames don't spread. According to the NFPA's statistics, nearly 30% of all grilling fires happen on porches and/or exterior balconies.
Wait several minutes to relight
Windy conditions can sometimes cause a grill's flame to go out. But instead of relighting immediately, give it a good five minutes to ensure that the propane in the air has had enough time to disperse. Hannah Storm, long-time sports anchor for NBC Sports and ESPN, learned the importance of why you should wait the hard way when her grill exploded upon relighting the burners.
Clean grill after each use
Regardless of your meat preferences, they all contain oils that collect over time on the grill's grates. Try to get into the habit of scrubbing the grates down every time you use them. This helps ensure that your food will cook more evenly and it also reduces the chances of grease-related fires. Real Simple magazine has a checklist you can use for tips on deep cleaning.
Be sure to check out the NFPA's website for additional tips on grilling safety this summer, including if you own a charcoal grill. They also have a pretty interesting web clip, where everyday homeowners are asked questions about some of the ground rules of grilling. Their answers may surprise you.