BBQ Fire Safety: 10 Life-Saving Tips

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: January 4, 2021

Memorial Day kicked off Chicago’s grilling season and fired up conversations over which barbeque really represents our city. You know how delicious this debate can get, but there’s a serious side to our backyard fun. Hannah Storm from ESPN Sport Center shares her cautionary story about BBQ fire safety and her personal experience as a burn survivor.

Hannah Storm does make us think twice and so do annual home fire statistics tracked by the National Fire Protection Association. According to their 2015 numbers, summertime backyard grilling is responsible for an average of 8,800 house fires each year. We don’t want it to happen to you.

Your 10 Life-Saving Tips:

In an earlier post, we covered fire prevention strategies for protecting your home, and we want you to be safe in the backyard too. With some help from the Chicago Fire Department‘s online resources, we’ve put together this list of 10 life-saving BBQ fire safety tips.

1. Know Your Grill

It came with a manual that outlines safe operation and recommended maintenance. The information might seem basic, but as Storm notes in the video, she could have avoided her accident by reading her grill’s instruction booklet. This tip is especially important if you use a gas or propane model.

2. Keep It Outside

It seems like obvious advice, but look around the area where you’re grilling. If you’re inside a patio enclosure or within 10 feet of exterior walls, you’re too close for cooking comfort. Are you grilling with shade from an overhang? A sudden flare-up can set the roof on fire.

3. Grill on a Level Field

A concrete patio is your safest setting for a stable grill that doesn’t wobble while you flip burgers. If you cook on open ground, make sure that the area is level and free of dead grass patches that could flare up with stray cinders. If your grill sports wheels, lock the casters in place before you fire up.

4. Keep an Extinguisher Close

Some backyard chefs depend on the garden hose or a bucket of sand. We follow advice from the Chicago Fire Department. Their experts strongly recommend that you always keep a multipurpose ABC fire extinguisher on hand whenever you cook outside. Take a few minutes to learn how to use it safely.

5. Keep Kids and Pets Away

They have such a good time when the family gets together in the backyard, but that outdoor play puts kids and pets in danger around hot charcoal and open flames. Designate a safe-play area away from your cooking station, or enforce a 5-foot no-kid zone around the grill. Take this opportunity to introduce little ones to fire safety education.

6. Watch Your Wardrobe

Our Chicago summers don’t call for long sleeves in the backyard, but make sure that you wear a chef-safe wardrobe around the grill. Dress for barbecue success by ditching loose-fitting clothes, remember that untucked shirttails can blow into flames, and never cook in bare feet.

7. Use Quality Utensils

Save your busy hands and grilled goodies from barbecue disasters with quality utensils. Spend a little extra on spatulas with plenty of reach. Secure food and personal safety across the grill with locking tongs. Keep everything cool with heat-resistant handles, and handle the hot stuff with split-leather welding gloves.

8. Ground Your Cords

If you run a cord to it, make sure that it’s grounded. The latest electric grills are sleek and easy to use with plenty of built-in safety features, but don’t take anything for granted. Always remember that you’re walking around electricity while you cook. Use the same caution with electric rotisserie attachments and grilling light setups.

9. Never Turn Your Back

It only takes a few seconds for dripping grease to start a fire under your best burgers. Watch what you’re cooking, don’t overload the grill, and be ready for flare-ups. When they happen, quickly adjust the temperature, raise the food grate, and douse flames with a quick water spritz.

10. Keep It Clean

It’s easier to clean a grill a few hours after it’s cooled down than to try scraping off gunk a week later. This job is important because grease buildup on cooking grates and drip trays poses a serious fire hazard. If you need help resisting procrastination, treat yourself to a high-tech, motorized grill brush. You deserve it.

Watch Out for Each Other

fire damaged house vans

When food meets grill here in Chicago, it’s about more than our special brand of barbecue. It’s about a shared city history that stretches back more than 200 years. Watching out for each other is something else that we all share, so feel free to add your grilling safety tips to the list through our Comments Section.

We want you to stay safe when you’re cooking up your favorites. Enjoy your summer (in case you’re going on vacation, here’s quick fire safety checklist for your home), and remember that ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba is here for you if you should ever need fire damage cleanup.

We provide 24/7 fire damage restoration for homeowners in Chicago and the suburbs, and we’re always just a call away.