Safety First!

Smoking & Barbecue 101: The Fundamentals

Don’t let your lust for luscious flavors get in the way of safety: Safety First! My dad was a professional firefighter for 25 years in a metropolitan area. As a kid, I grew up hearing my father’s stories around the dinner table. Often the stories were of bad things happening to people either because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or because they were doing something stupid. The latter can be prevented. Don’t go through life paranoid, just proceed with an awareness of safety and use common sense.

Testing Fire Engines, NY, 1913.

Testing Fire Engines, NY, 1913.
Okay, so you don’t need this much fire suppression. But are you being safe?

Fire Safety

Fire is our friend, but only of we treat it right. One should handle the high temps of fire and charcoal, and the potential for accidental combustion, with caution.

  1. Have you put your grill or smoker in a safe location and on safe surface? Check your manufacturer’s precautions and use common sense. I keep my cookers 3 feet away from anything combustible around the sides and nothing above the cooker (e.g., not under awnings, eaves, patio covers, etc.).
  2. Keep rendered fat and grease cleaned up. Grease fires can be sudden and deadly.
  3. Do you have an appropriate means of extinguishing a fire in the event of an accident?
  4. In the event of an accidental fire, do you have an escape route away from the cooker?
  5. For a gas grill, have you checked for leaky hoses and examined the regulator lately?
  6. If you use charcoal, do you have non flammable surface for placing your hot charcoal chimney starter during &/or after the lighting process?
  7. Are you storing your lighter, matches, fuel(s) and or lighter fluid (don’t use this stuff!) in a sensible and safe location away from kids and sources of ignition?
  8. When working with charcoal, leather gloves are essential. I strongly recommend good heavy gauntlet-style gloves because they protect the entire hand and forearm whereas the economy-style gloves only protect the hand or just the palm. It only takes one slip with a bare hand when loading charcoal into a firebox to seriously burn and scar oneself. This is a sensible investment. Also, closed-toe shoes are a common-sense safety measure when working with hot coals — it is common for embers to jump around when pouring a lit chimney of coals into your cooker.
  9. In the case of charcoal, do you have a metal ash can with a secure lid for storing ashes after the cook? Coals can smolder for an unbelievably long time: up to three days! Improper disposal of ashes are often the source of structure fires. Get a metal ash can with a secure lid and sleep easy.
  10. Do you have good insulated food handling gloves for hot food? Silicone gloves offer very good thermal protection when lifting large piece of meat from the cooker. I used to think insulated food gloves were an unnecessary luxury. Experience has taught me that these are invaluable for safely moving hot pork shoulder or brisket from the cooker without concern of being burned or dropping meat — and they will get much use around your kitchen as well as the grill.
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