Summertime is the season of outdoor grilling. Although the annual gathering of friends and family members this Fourth of July weekend may be slimmer than years’ past, when the weather heats up so do grills.
Americans love cooking outside, drawn to the open flame in outdoor kitchen, propane and charcoal grills. Seven in ten of us own a grill or smoker, according to 2017 figures from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, and in Canada the percentage is even greater. The top three reasons, a consumer survey by the association suggests, are the flavor of grilled food, lifestyle and entertainment.
Nevertheless, outdoor cooking is not without risk. Any appliance that involves fire must be treated with caution and care. Despites its myriad pleasures, cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fires in the US, contributing to nearly half (49 percent) of all home fires annually.
More than 10,600 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues occurred between 2014 and 2018, resulting in $149 million of direct property damage, 160 injuries and 10 casualties, studies by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggest. Gas grills caused nearly 9,000 of these fires, which were caused by leaks occurring in ruptured hoses and propane fuel tanks.
As the peak month of grilling in July fast approaches, here are a few tips to enjoy a fire-safe barbecue.
Location. Never use a grill indoors, in a garage and on a porch or an apartment terrace, as the buildup of carbon monoxide can be fatal. Keep the grill a safe distance from the home, deck railings and overhanging branches, as well as high traffic and play areas. Place the grill on stable ground to prevent tipping over, do not move while in use, and never leave unattended.
Maintenance. Keep the grill clean on a routine basis, removing flammable grease that builds up in grates, trays, inside the cover, and anywhere else it appears. To discern evidence of gas leaks in a propane grill, apply a soap and water solution to the fuel tank, connections and hoses. Bubbles are indicative of a leak.
Use. Turn off gas grills once cooking has concluded (consider fitting the grill with an automatic shut-off timer that turns off the gas at a pre-set time). Store propane tanks outside and away from the home and garage. With a charcoal grill, use only branded starter fluid and do not add more starter fluid or other flammable liquids as the fire burns. After grilling, close lids and vents for at least 48 hours to cool down hot coals. When cool to the touch, dispose the spent charcoal in an NFPA-approved ash disposal metal container.
Follow these safe grilling tips and eat well and worry-free this July 4th and all summer long.
Jim Magliaro is Vice President and Risk Consulting Leader at Chubb.