A few weeks ago I had some beautiful steaks that I wanted to have for dinner. I went outside and uncovered the grill, brushed off the grates and turned the burners up to high to get it preheated. Then I went inside to assemble the tools I needed. When I came back out a few minutes later, I was surprised to see a plume of smoke rising from the grill. I figured I must have scraped some residue into the burners, so I opened up the lid. As I did so, flames leapt out at me and I realized that this wasn't just some old charcoaled bits burning up. This was Dante's barbecue.
I shut off the propane and proceeded to call my husband outside. "I think we need to call the fire department," I said. The flames seemed to be gaining momentum.
"No, we don't," he said. "We can take care of this."
The flames were now shooting up through the grates.
"I'm calling," I said.
Just then, the neighbor popped her head out a window. "What's going on?" she asked.
"It's under control," my husband said. I wasn't convinced.
"Throw some water on it," the neighbor suggested. I had enough wits about me to know that was a bad idea.
Long story short, I had the phone in my hand and was about to press the last "1" in 911 when, using tongs and a kitchen fire extinguisher, he managed to put out the blaze. Turns out I hadn't changed the grease drip pan in a while. And by a while, I mean a year. Or two.
Everything worked out in the end, but it definitely got me thinking about grill safety. There's a sort of false security in the idea of cooking outdoors. What could go wrong outside? Of course, most grills are situated on wooden decks, which suddenly sends the idea of safety out the window.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments across America responded to an average of 8,200 grill fires a year from 2005-09. July was the peak month for grill fires. (For once in my life, I was ahead of schedule.)
Just like you're supposed to change smoke alarm batteries two times a year and clean the lint out of your dryer vent to prevent fires, there are some things you should do to ensure the backyard won't be mistaken for this year's Burning Man.
GRILL SAFETY DRILL
Here are grilling safety suggestions from the U.S. Fire Administration:
- Position the grill well away from siding, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
- Place the grill a safe distance from lawn games, play areas, and foot traffic.
- Keep children and pets away from the grill area by declaring a 3-foot "kid-free zone" around the grill.
- Put out several long-handled grilling tools to give the chef plenty of clearance from heat and flames when cooking food.
- Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below grill so it cannot be ignited by a hot grill.
- Use only outdoors. If used indoors, or in any enclosed spaces, such as tents, barbecue grills pose both a fire hazard and the risk of exposing occupants to carbon monoxide.
- Purchase the proper starter fluid and store out of reach of children and away from heat sources.
- Never add charcoal starter fluid when coals or kindling have already been ignited, and never use any flammable or combustible liquid other than charcoal starter fluid to get the fire going.
- Check the propane cylinder hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year. A light soap and water solution applied to the hose will reveal escaping propane quickly by releasing bubbles.
- If you determined your grill has a gas leak by smell or the soapy bubble test and there is no flame:
- Turn off the propane tank and grill.
- If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again.
- If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.
- If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not attempt to move the grill.
- All propane cylinders manufactured after April 2002 must have overfill protection devices (OPD). OPDs shut off the flow of propane before capacity is reached, limiting the potential for release of propane gas if the cylinder heats up. OPDs are easily identified by their triangular-shaped hand wheel.
- Use only equipment bearing the mark of an independent testing laboratory. Follow the manufacturers' instructions on how to set up the grill and maintain it.
- Never store propane cylinders in buildings or garages. If you store a gas grill inside during the winter, disconnect the cylinder and leave it outside.
Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The safest way to enjoy barbecue (with no clean up!) is to have someone else do the dirty work. Here are a few suggestions:
- Barcelona: Every Sunday, beginning at 4 p.m., Barcelona restaurants (Fairfield, South Norwalk, Stamford, Greenwich, New Haven and West Hartford) host a pig roast, which includes ensalata mista, slow-roasted suckling pig, seasonal fresh veggies and flan for $29. www.barcelonawinebar.com
- Wilson's Barbecue, 1851 Post Road, Fairfield: Ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken and sausage are all on the menu at this Fairfield restaurant. www.wilsons-bbq.com or call 203-319-7427.
- Bobby Q's, 42 Main St., Westport: For a comprehensive barbecue menu (including burnt ends!), check out Westport's Bobby Q's. (Bonus: Mondays and Tuesdays are family nights where kids under 12 eat for $3.) Also, check out is new sister location in Stamford, Bar Q. www.bobbyqsrestaurant.com (203-454-7800) and www.barqstamford.com