How Safe is Your Backyard Barbecue?

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy Man Cave Munchies
Who doesn’t love the taste of food cooked over an open fire?  Particularly during the summer, backyard barbecues are fired up with ever increasing regularity.  I mean, who wants to cook inside when it’s 90-plus-degrees outside.  While there are thousands of websites dedicated to making you a better grill master, what I thought I’d cover today are ways to make your backyard barbecue a bit safer. 

Is Your BBQ Too Close for Comfort?

Every year, ER doctors treat tens of thousands of people for burns that are caused by backyard barbecues.  Sometimes the injuries are caused by the barbecue itself, while others happen because people and pets got too close to the fire.  Below are 10 tips that will help make your grill less hazardous to you and your family.

      1.      Nothing beats the taste of charcoal.  However, if you have a charcoal grill and use lighter fluid to prime the briquettes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to light your fire.  The right way is to stack your coal in a cone-shaped pile in the middle of the grill, then wet the coals down with lighter fluid before waiting 20-minutes to light them.  The wrong way is to dump the bag of briquettes into the grill, hose them down with lighter fluid and then light a match.  This is a quick way to wind up in the burn ward.

      2.      Once the coals are lit, you need to let them burn for 20-minutes before you put the meat on the grill.  When the coals are tinged white, then it’s time to start cooking, not before.  If you try to cook when the coals aren’t sufficiently lit, you run the risk of them going out, in which case most cooks go back to square one.

Image courtesy Man Cave Munchies
Another hazard occurs when the cook walks away from the grill.  The smell of smoke and charbroiled meat is like a magnet to kids and pets.  In either case, the likelihood of them coming in contact with the hot grill is all too likely.  Therefore, it’s best if you keep both kids and pets away from the barbecue and don’t wander away while the grill is still lit.

      4.      Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  That means there’s always the potential for your barbecue to set something on fire.  Particularly if there’s anything flammable nearby.  This can include pool towels, chair cushions, backyard toys and clothing, including that nifty Here Comes the Chef apron you’re so fond of.  To learn how not to burn, it’s necessary to establish an exclusion zone of ten feet between the grill and anything even remotely combustible.  It’s also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher handy in the off chance that anything was to catch fire or start to smolder.

      5.      Baby you can light my fire.  The question is can you put yours out?  If not, it represents a fire hazard for as long as there’s even a spark alive in the embers.  Numerous fires are caused every year by grill masters who thought the fire was out, only to dispose of ash that contained a live ember.  Give sparky a little oxygen and some combustibles, such as those contained in your trash can, and you could awake in the dead of night to a garbage fire that could set your house alight if you use a plastic rubbish bin.

      6.      Never take your grill inside your garage until the coals have been disposed of.  That’s because not only does a charcoal grill comprise a fire threat, it’s also a potential carbon monoxide threat.  That’s also another reason never to barbecue inside your garage or covered porch.  You’d be surprised at how easy it is for carbon monoxide to make its way into your home.

Image courtesy Man Cave Munchies
      7.      Even if your grill is gas-fired, there are a number of potential hazards you need to familiarize yourself with.  First and foremost is the explosive nature of the propane that powers your gas grill.  Before you fire up your grill, you need to make sure that the burner is the only place where gas is emanating.  If there’s a leak in the line that leads from the tank to the grill, you risk an explosion when you light it up.  To preclude that, always turn your grill off at the tank when you’re finished cooking and always open the tank valve before you turn on a burner, just to make sure you don’t hear gas hissing out from where it shouldn’t.

      8.      An even better bet is to clean your grill with soap and water every time you swap out the tank.  Include the grill and all the lines.  Before rinsing the grill off, open the valve on the propane tank and stoop down to look at the hoses.  Any bubbles being produced indicates a pinhole leak which if left to its own devices represent a fire hazard.  Better to replace the hose or the grill than risk a fire or an explosion.

      9.      When you cook with a gas grill, you should never smell gas.  This is another sure sign of a leak. If this ever happens to you, shut your grill off immediately before looking and listening for any sign of a leak.  If you smell gas after you shut the burner off, guess what?  That’s right, your grill has a leak. 

      10.  Always open the cover on your gas grill before lighting any of the burners.  That’s because propane can build up beneath the hood which can cause the gas to explosively ignite when you hit the igniter button.  This can start a fire or cause the lid to open suddenly or even fly off the grill, either of which represents a hazard to you and yours. 

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. It's all fun until somebody gets hurt.

  2. It's never a good idea to become complacent in your own backyard, even when you having fun with a BBQ.


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