Grilling Safety Tips

Review these precautions before firing up the grill.

Grilling food can be found at almost every summer gathering. Follow these tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable barbecue!

Check for Gas Leaks
If using a gas grill, make sure there are no gas leaks by rubbing soapy water onto the gas hose and turning the gas on. If there is a leak, you will see bubbles appear. DO NOT, under any circumstances, ignite the grill. Buy a new hose before using the grill again.

Keep Water Nearby
Keep a garden hose filled with water nearby. If this is not possible, have a bucket of water nearby anytime you barbecue in order to put out a flame in an emergency or to use on a burn.

Don’t ever barbecue in the garage, even with the door open. The area may not be as well ventilated as you think. Barbecues produce carbon monoxide, which can build up in an enclosed area. Carbon monoxide is invisible, colorless and tasteless — but extremely dangerous. Instead, set up your grill in a corner of your deck or patio. Avoid grilling on a covered or enclosed porch or on top of anything that can catch on fire.

Child Safety
This may be a hard rule to enforce because children like to be around the grill and may be unaware that it is very hot. Keep the kids away from the grill. Better yet, grill away from people. The New York City Fire Department suggests keeping grills at least 10 feet away from your house, garage or trees.

First Aid
In addition to water, have a phone and first-aid kit nearby. Don’t hesitate to call 911 in case of an emergency. Also, make sure your first-aid kit is handy and stocked with updated products for outdoor activities.

Safe Shopping:
• Select cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checkout.

• Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other food in your shopping cart.

• Place packages of raw meat and poultry in plastic bags to guard against cross-contamination, which can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip onto other food.

• Drive directly home from the grocery store. If traveling a longer distance, you may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.

• Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. Refrigerate within 1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F.

• Once home, refrigerate meat and poultry immediately. Poultry and ground meat that will not be used within 1 to 2 days should be frozen; freeze other meat within 4 to 5 days.

Defrost Safely
Completely defrost meat and poultry before grilling to avoid uneven cooking. Defrost in the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water. You can defrost in the microwave if the food is going to be grilled/cooked immediately.


  • Meat and poultry can be marinated for several hours or days to tenderize or add flavor. Marinate meats to be grilled in the refrigerator, not on the counter, so bacteria won’t have a chance to grow.
  • If you want to use some marinade for a dip or basting sauce, reserve a portion in advance. To avoid contamination, do not reuse marinade that’s touched raw meat.

Keep It Cold

  • Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Take out only the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill.
  • When using a cooler, keep it out of direct sun by placing it in the shade. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Place beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.
  • When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep food at 40°F or below. Pack food from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home. Keep cooler in the coolest part of the car.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

  • Use separate cutting boards and containers for meats and for vegetables to avoid bacterial cross-contamination between foods. To simplify, purchase new cutting boards in different colors for different foods.
  • Wash all utensils and plates that have come in contact with raw meat before using them for cooked foods.


  • Partially precooking food in the microwave, oven, or on the stove is a good way to reduce grilling time. Just make sure the partially cooked food is immediately placed on the preheated grill to complete cooking.
  • If you have to precook meat well ahead of serving time, cook at a temperature high enough to destroy all bacteria, then refrigerate (see Cook Thoroughly section below).

Cook Thoroughly

  • Keep vegetables or fruits that are intended for grilling separate from raw meat to avoid contamination.

    • Cook meat medium to well done.

  • Choose leaner cuts of meat for grilling. Chemicals suspected of causing some types of cancer may be activated when fatty foods are smoked or grilled. However, most researchers feel that occasionally eating barbecued meat poses little hazard to your health.
  • To be on the safe side, keep fat from dripping onto the coals and producing chemical-laden smoke and flare-ups. Choose lean, well-trimmed meats to grill; they have less fat to drip into the flames. Remove skin from poultry. Avoid high-fat meats such as ribs or sausages. Use a drip pan, cover grill with punctured aluminum foil, wrap meat in foil, or place meat over to the side, not directly over the coals. Use tongs or a spatula to turn foods, instead of piercing meat with a fork.
  • Cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature. Whole poultry should reach 180°F; breasts, 170°F. Hamburgers made of ground beef should reach 160°F; ground poultry, 165°F. Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts and chops can be cooked to 145°F. All cuts of pork should reach 160°F.
  • Remove all charred or burned portions of food before eating.
  • NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.


  • When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165°F or until steaming hot.


  • When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.
  • Serve food immediately if possible. When the outdoor temperature is 90°F or higher, serve within an hour. Otherwise, perishable food should be served or refrigerated within two hours after it is cooked.


  • Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than 2 hours (1 hour if temperature is above 90°F).

Environmental Safety

  • Practice environmentally friendly barbecuing; avoid lighter fluid and self-igniting briquettes, which can create smog-forming emissions. Instead, use electric or other fire-starter devices, or switch to a gas grill.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest