Memorial Day officially kicks off the grilling season in our house. This is no small event: Each year we cart out special cuts of meat -- wild Alaska salmon, if we can get it, beef tenderloin, racks of ribs -- along with veggie kabobs and corn cobs still in their husks. Then we fire up the grill and enjoy the outdoors.
Though we now take grilling safety seriously, this wasn't always the case. A few years ago, I spent six weeks having a large burn wound debrided because a propane grill fire got out of hand. A leak in one of the propane hoses caught fire and ignited a nearby bottle of lighter fluid. (Why the lighter fluid was in the cabinet below is still a mystery. Never store flammable materials near a grill.) As I was putting out the fire, flaming lighter fluid splashed up my leg and scorched six inches of my shin.
The irony: I volunteered as a firefighter for six years, taking more than 250 hours worth of training classes including intense study of propane fires. Moral: No amount of training or professional experience can compensate for sheer stupidity--although a good safety plan can help reduce the chances you'll end up getting burned.
Here are five ways you can grill safely this summer:
1. Grill in a safe location. Make sure your grill is located well away from your home, eaves, deck railings and tree branches. Never leave your grill unattended, and keep the pets and kids away.
2. Before you use your grill, make sure it's in good working order. In the case of propane grills, make sure you check all connections and ensure that none of hoses are leaking. Here's how.
3. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. What kind should you get? We keep a class A-B large extinguisher on hand. The class means it can put out both ordinary materials like wood (class A) and flammable liquids (class B) like grease and gasoline.
If you already have a fire extinguisher, make sure it's still working. Most extinguishers should be replaced or serviced every five years depending on the model. Here's more on how to tell if your fire extinguisher needs to be replaced.
4. For charcoal, use only lighter fluid designed for charcoal. And don't add flammable liquids once the fire is going; doing so can cause a major flare up, which can lead to injuries.
5. Clean your grill. That fat and grease buildup in the trays and surfaces beneath the grill can cause a flare up. (Download a complete grilling safety checklist from the National Fire Protection Association here.)
Finally, make sure the food you cook won't make your family sick. Here are expert tips on keeping your food safe while you grill
Happy Memorial Day and happy grilling.
Ready to light up your grill? Before you start, make sure your grill's in working order. Here's how.