Grill safety: Don't let your summer go up in smoke

Consumer Reports News: July 02, 2010 03:39 PM

Each year fire departments are called to 7,900 fires started by grills, hibachis or barbecues resulting in more than $80 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Agency. Additionally, 18,600 people go to the ER for grilling-related injuries and burns, some fatal. Some of the fires are caused by faulty grills but most are the result of unsafe grilling practices.

Gas grills
Gas grills account for 80 percent of grill fires; a leak or break is the leading cause. Take these precautions:
  • Be sure to position your grill at least 10 feet away from your house or any surrounding structures, as well as away from any nearby trees.
  • Regularly check the fuel line for gas leaks; if you find one turn off the gas right away and do not use the grill until the leak is fixed.
  • Never walk away from your grill when it's in use.
  • Do not overfill the propane tank.  In fact, it's illegal to fill a 20-pound propane tank more than 80 percent.  
  • Store propane tanks outdoors, in an upright position. Never store spare propane tanks near a grill.
  • Keep the lid open when lighting a gas grill to prevent flash-off from collected gas.
  • Keep your grill clean.  Before you start grilling, check the burners for obstructions.  Also, be sure to regularly clean your grill of fat, as excess fat buildup makes a grease fire more likely.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill by establishing a “safety zone” around the grill, within which children are not allowed. 
Charcoal grills
While charcoal grills cause fewer fires they present a serious hazard from carbon monoxide poisoning, which claims at least 20 lives each year. To be safe:
  • Always use a charcoal grill outside, period.  
  • Use starter fluid sparingly, and never add it to an open flame. Don't use any other flammable liquid to start a charcoal grill.
  • Do not store the grill indoors immediately after it has been used. Even if the fire has been extinguished, the hot charcoal can continue to emit carbon monoxide.
In case of a fire
  • For charcoal grills—close the grill lid.
  • For propane grills—turn off the burners. If you can safely reach the tank valve, shut it off.
  • If the fire involves the tank, leave it alone, evacuate the area and call the fire department.
  • Never attempt to extinguish a grease fire with water. It will only cause the flames to flare up. Use an approved portable fire extinguisher.
  • If there is any type of fire that either threatens your personal safety or endangers property, call 911.
—Jason Harary

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

More From Consumer Reports

The Best Matching Washers and Dryers These washer-dryer pairs cleaned up in Consumer Reports' tests.
Best 4K TVs to Buy Right Now The top picks from the hundreds of 4K TVs we've tested.
Best New Car Deals Save money on the cars that Consumer Reports recommends.
How to Pick the Right Size Generator for Your House Add up the items you need to power before making your choice.


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more