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Grill Safely this Summer

Grilling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while feeding friends and family, but there can be serious hazards if certain safety precautions are not followed.

The aroma of food cooking on a grill is a surefire sign that summer is in full swing.

But for some, grilling can be intimidating. Flare-ups and hot coals can lead to burnt food, not to mention burns to clothing, property and people.

Locally, a great spot for grilling supplies and accessories is . Great spots to get meat or seafood to grill include My Butcher and More in the Clock Tower Shopping Center and on Forest Drive.

There are two camps in the grilling wars: charcoal and gas.

Kerry Britt, owner of  in Bowie's Fairwood Shopping Center said that he prefers working with charcoal rather than gas grills.

"Make sure your fire is hot," said Britt. "I prefer charcoal because I think you get a better flavor off of the meat."

Whether grilling with a charcoal or gas grill, cooking by direct heat is usually the best way to cook the staples: steak, chicken, seafood and hamburgers and hot dogs. With direct heat, an even temperature of 300 to 400 degrees across the surface of the grill is important to ensure even cooking. 

Britt recommends charcoal starters—which he says can be found at any hardware store—rather than using lighter fluid. The starters make it easier to get a charcoal grill going, and the danger level goes down dramatically.

"A tip I learned from my dad is to build a charcoal mountain," Britt said. "What you want are ashes, at least around the edges, on the charcoal to give you that nice even heat. If it's not there yet, let it ash more before putting your meat on."

Britt also stressed that temperature control is one of the most important parts of charcoal grilling. "A lot of oil and animal fat is going to drip down and cause flare-ups," he said.

The two ways to control the flame and temperature are to either restrict the oxygen flow by closing the lid and lowering the vents, or to keep a bottle of water nearby to deal with the flare ups. A fire extinguisher should also be kept on hand at all times.

Another method for cooking meats is smoking, which uses indirect heat and cooks the meat at slower pace, breaking down the meat and making the cuts more tender.

"Slow and low is the key with smoking," said Britt.

Temperatures should be around 200 to 225 degrees when smoking meats. While this takes a considerable amount more time, the flavor and tenderness make it worthwhile, he said.

Here are a few grilling tips:

  • Make sure that your grill is at least 10 feet away from any other objects, including your house and any shrubs or trees.
  • Always stay near the grill when cooking.
  • Only use started fluid made for barbecue grills when starting a fire for a charcoal grill.
  • Before using a gas grill, check the connection between the tank and the fuel line to make sure it’s working properly and isn’t leaking.
  • Never use a flame to check for leaks in the line. If you think you have a leak, turn the gas off immediately. Don’t light the grill again until the leak is fixed.
  • Never grill inside your home or garage. This is a huge fire hazard and can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Make sure children and animals stay clear of the grilling area.

The  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also has warnings for residents including:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using propane tanks and checking for gas leaks.
  • Always keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing while cooking.
  • Use long-handled utensils and be sure to keep a safe distance from the flames.
  • Do not store grills or freshly used coals indoors.

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