Avoid a Cookout Catastrophe: 14 Grilling Do’s and Don’ts

Hot dogs. Burgers. Veggies. Steaks. Who doesn’t love the smell of dinner cooking outside over an open flame?

Grilling is quick and easy, plus you get the benefit of not heating up the kitchen. But grills do pose some dangers. Each year, nearly 9,000 home fires are caused by grilling, and more than 16,000 people went to the emergency room in 2014 with injuries from grilling.

Here are a few ways to keep dinner from turning into disaster.

Family of four with dad grilling while mom and kids sit at table. iStock


  • Keep all grills—gas, electric or charcoal—at least 10 feet from your home (or anything flammable). Placing a grill too close could melt vinyl siding or scorch wood railings or fences. This safe distance also applies to overhanging trees and nearby shrubs.
  • Read your lease carefully if you live in an apartment or a townhouse. Some landlords (or fire codes) ban tenants from using gas or charcoal grills.
  • Check all connections between the propane tank and the grill. To test for leaks, spray hoses and the tank with soapy water. Bubbles mean there’s a leak. Tighten the hoses and check again. Still see bubbles? Don’t use the grill until it’s serviced.
  • Use a charcoal chimney to get briquettes hot, and never add a flammable liquid (such as lighter fluid) to an active fire. The flames could ignite the can of lighter fluid, causing serious burns.
  • Always have a fire extinguisher nearby when you grill. A box of baking soda is also handy; it can smother a small fire. Using water on a grease fire is a huge “don’t.”
  • Tuck in loose clothing and tie back long hair so they don’t accidentally get blown into the flames.
  • Stay with the grill while food is cooking. If a problem flares up, it can get out of control in just minutes. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for pets and children, to make sure they don’t get too close to the grill.
A backyard BBQ grill that is on fire with flames shooting out of the lid. iStock


  • Don’t assume that your new grill works just as your last one did. Read the manual before grilling for the first time.
  • Don’t leave a propane tank in your car. Heat can increase the pressure inside the tank and cause it to explode.
  • Don’t grill indoors or in a garage. Enclosed balconies and covered porches are also out. Carbon monoxide fumes can build up in unventilated areas.
  • Don’t put off cleaning the grill. Removing grease buildup from the grates and the drip trays—when they’re cool—will help prevent flare-ups. Plus, cooked-on food is easier to scrape off when the grill is still slightly warm.
  • Don’t let children near the grill. Keep them at least 3 feet away, and remind them not to run nearby.
  • Don’t be afraid to call the fire department if you have a gas leak or a fire. Better safe than sorry.
  • Don’t leave the grill unattended. Yes, we said that already. But it’s one of the leading causes of grill fires, so it bears repeating. Grab a cold drink and hang out while your food is cooking. After all, you don’t want to miss that tantalizing smell.

Keep reading in: