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10 Major Grilling Safety Mistakes You Might Be Making

Keep these grilling safety tips in mind for a safe (and delicious) backyard barbecue.

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Photo of a clean barbecue cooker with cookware and cold beer in bucket on cedar wood patio. Table and colorful trees in background.Shutterstock / tab62

Mistake #1: Not Giving the Grill Enough Space

You may to want to stand in the shade when you’re grilling, but having an awning or tree branch too close to the grill can be dangerous; floating embers could easily spark a fire. Your grill—whether it’s charcoal or gas—should be at least 10 feet away from your home or garage, deck railings and other structures.

Give yourself enough space, too, says Greta Gustafson, media relations associate for the American Red Cross. “Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill.”

New to grilling? Here’s a simple guide for how to grill just about everything.

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Flames burning in a barbecue standing in a pretty garden as the coals are prepared for grilling an array of meat for a lunchtime cookout;Shutterstock / veralub

Mistake #2: Leaving a Lit Grill Unattended

Everyone wants to be outdoors when the weather is nice, but it’s important that kids and pets don’t play near the grill. It’s too easy for them to bump into or touch part of the hot grill. Keep children at least three feet away from the grill, even after you’re finished cooking.

Wondering which hot dog brand tastes best? We found out.

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Cleaning the outdoor grill; Shutterstock ID 729824278Shutterstock / Cmspic

Mistake #3: Not Keeping Your Grill Clean

Who doesn’t want to skip cleaning the grill and get right to the food? There’s always a “next time,” but your food tastes better and your risk of flare-ups is reduced when you keep your grill clean.

Test Kitchen tip: Clean the grill every time you use it. (Here’s how to get things ready for a cookout.) Regularly remove grease and fat buildup from the grill grates and drip trays.

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Smoke from closed grillShutterstock / Brandy McKnight

Mistake #4: Grilling Indoors

It’s a common mistake to think it’s safe to use a grill, particularly a small one, in your house or garage. This is not true. In addition to being a fire hazard, grills release carbon monoxide—a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly. Keep your charcoal and gas grills outside! If you’re in the market for a new grill, we’ve selected the very best for your cooking style.

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Assorted delicious grilled meat with vegetables over the coals on barbecueShutterstock / Alexander Raths

Mistake #5: Grilling Too Much Food at Once

It may be tempting to put as much as you can on the grill at one time, but if too much fat drips on the grill flames, it can cause a flare-up. Instead, cook your food in batches to avoid overloading the grill, particularly with fatty meats. Grilling small batches at a time is just one of our easy tips to become a better griller.

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Man using meat thermometer while barbecuing on a sunny dayShutterstock / wavebreakmedia

Mistake #6: Not Using a Meat Thermometer

Food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. (Here’s a guide with our Test Kitchen-recommended cooking temperatures.) Many grill chefs “eye” their meat to check if it’s done, but that’s not enough.

Test Kitchen tip: Use a meat thermometer to make meat is cooked thoroughly.

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Cooking classic burgers on outdoor gas grill in the Summer.Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Mistake #7: Starting a Gas Grill with the Lid Closed

Lighting your grill with a closed lid can cause a dangerous buildup of gas, creating a fireball. Keep your gas grill lid open when lighting it. If the flame goes out, turn the grill and gas off, and wait at least five minutes before relighting.

Charcoal grill owners, you’re not off the hook, says Gustafson. Dousing lit coals with extra lighter fluid is another big mistake, and doing so can easily cause a flare-up. Be sure to check out the 8 other mistakes even seasoned cooks make when grilling burgers.

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barbecue grill and hot coalShutterstock / david n madden

Mistake #8: Not Shutting Down the Grill

Don’t get distracted by the delicious food you grilled and forget to properly turn off your grill!

As soon as you’re done cooking, turn off the burners and the fuel supply for gas grills. If you’re using charcoal, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.

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Two slightly battered hanging fire bucketsShutterstock / Chrispo

Mistake #9: Not Being Prepared to Put out a Fire

Fires move fast, so it’s important to be prepared. Have baking soda on hand to control a grease fire and a fire extinguisher nearby for other fires. Remember, you never use water to put out a grease fire.

“A great tool for any chef to have on hand is the free Red Cross First Aid App,” Gustafson says. “This app puts instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies—including burns—at your fingertips.”

Know where most home fires start? Find out here.

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Close Up Of Woman Washing Hands In Kitchen SinkShutterstock / Monkey Business Images

Mistake #10: Cross-Contaminating Food

Food safety is critical when you’re in charge of the grill. Raw meats have bacteria and germs that can make you sick if they are transferred onto cooked foods, plates or utensils.

Test Kitchen tips: Toss out marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat. Use clean utensils and a clean plate to remove cooked meat from the grill. Wash your hands with soap (here’s how to do it right) before and after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood.

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