Grilling can be as dangerous as it is delicious. Between gas explosions, flare-ups, improper cinder disposal and undercooked meat, there are plenty of ways to watch a backyard barbecue go from fun to 9-1-1. Few people know this as well as Courtney Rada, host of Genius Kitchen’s series "Carnivorous," which just wrapped its second season.
“I grew up in a house where my dad went to school for culinary arts,” says Rada. “You could find me at most of our family barbecues right next to him, asking, poking and prodding.” Now 26 years old, the grill master recently spoke with TODAY Food about grilling safety. Here are some of her top tips.
Gas grills are easier to use — and misuse.
“Gas grills can be more popular because of the benefit of not having to position and light your charcoal,” explained Rada. “But they can also be more dangerous if not handled correctly.” (According to a State Farm report, gas grills accounted for 82 percent of the grill fires fire departments responded to between 2007 and 2011.)
Keep the lid open when lighting.
Rada cautioned against leaving your grill lid closed when you light your gas grill because that could allow the gas to pool and potentially explode: "That wouldn't be awesome," she said. Nope, it definitely wouldn't.
Check for gas leaks with the bubble test.
“Another thing to look out for is gas leaks," Rada noted. “An easy way to check for that is taking equal parts soap and equal parts water and brushing or spraying it through the gas connection or hose, while the gas is off. Then, turn on the gas tank valve only. Before lighting it, see if any soap bubbles form. If they don’t, you’re good to grill. If you see bubbles, turn off the gas immediately and replace the broken grill part.”
Set up tree-free and 10 feet from structures.
Always make sure your grill — whether it’s charcoal or gas — is at least 10 feet away from structures. While trees can provide shade, they’re also not safe to grill around. It’s very easy, especially on a windy day, for overhanging branches to ignite.
“Basically, it’s general bonfire rules,” said Rada, adding that you also want to keep kids and pets in mind when deciding where to set up and where to dispose of your cinders.
Rust is a red flag.
Rada cited rust as a top indicator that you’re not maintaining your grill properly. A build-up of rust can prevent the grill’s grates from heating evenly and being able to cook your meats thoroughly.
“Plus, rust can attach itself to your food, and it’s not something you really want to ingest,” added Rada. If your grill is rusty, take these few steps to clean it prior to firing it up.
A meat thermometer is a must.
In addition to tongs and a grill brush, Rada never, under any circumstances, grills without a meat thermometer.
“Meat thermometers are the easiest way to ensure that the things you’re cooking are at the right temperature,” she said. “In terms of sanitation, it wouldn’t hurt to have more than one if you’re cooking with more than one type of meat, i.e. one for your chicken and one for your steak.”
Rada knows about the newest meat thermometers on the market, including lasers that you just point at your meat. But personally, she uses a basic thermometer: “Anything you can poke in and get a sense of the temperature will do the trick.”