It's hard to believe that Memorial Day Weekend is already here! Many of us are planning our first cook-out of the year, filling our propane tanks or buying briquettes, and dragging the grill out of the garage where it's been sitting since last Labor Day. The University of North Carolina Health Care and Insurance Information Institute states that there are 2000 fires, over 300 injuries and 30 deaths per year directly related to grilling. Before we fire up the grill and start sizzling our steaks, let's take a few minutes to review some standard safety practices to make our cook-out a safe one.
The first and possibly the most important rule is to never NEVER use a charcoal or propane grill inside your house or apartment. Both charcoal and propane grills produce carbon monoxide, a deadly clear and odorless gas. Use grills only outdoors and well away from tree limbs, shrubbery and never in a tent (the treatment that makes the canvas waterproof also makes it very flammable). Make sure the grill is on a solid, level surface to prevent tipping.
For those of us who still use charcoal, check the bottom of the grill to make sure that it is solid and hasn't rusted away. Tighten all the screws that hold the grill together. If the grill wobbles when you touch it, or there are big holes in the bottom of the grill, it's time to get a new one - trying to cook on a damaged grill is asking for trouble.
The safest way to light charcoal is with an electric charcoal starter. These are available wherever you buy charcoal or at your neighborhood hardware or mega-stores. Follow the manufacturer's instructions, usually placing the lighting coil on top of the charcoal in your grill, and plug it in. After 30 minutes, the charcoal is ready to cook on. Simply unplug the starter and carefully put someplace where no one will disturb it until it cools. Needless to say, do not use electric starters around the pool or during the rain.
The next safest way to start a charcoal fire is to use a 'Charcoal Chimney', a metal tube 6-8 inches high, and 3-4 inches wide. You can make one from an empty coffee can - remove the bottom of the can, and drill about eight 1/2" holes an inch from the bottom. You can also use a 8" length of 4" galvanized stovepipe. Place the chimney on the bottom of your grill, and place two loosely crumpled newspaper sheets in the bottom of it. Place about 1/2 lb of charcoal on top of that. Using a long-handled match or butane stick-lighter, ignite the newspaper through one of the holes, and allow to burn completely. After 20 minutes, use a pair of pliers to lift the chimney, allowing the coals to distribute themselves on the bottom of your grill. Be careful handling the chimney - it's very hot. It would be a good idea to have a bucket of cold water nearby to put the chimney into after starting your fire. Your coals will be ready to use about 10 minutes after removing the chimney.
Self-lighting charcoal is also a safer way to start your grill. The briquettes are impregnated with substance that allows it to be lit with a match. Simply place the briquettes in your grill, and use a long-handled match or a butane stick-lighter to ignite the corner of one. In 30 minutes, the coals are ready. Make sure that unused briquettes are tightly covered and store them in a dry place.
If you must light your grill with a liquid starter, use only approved charcoal lighter fluid. Don't use gasoline or kerosene, EVER! Place your charcoal in your grill, and squirt the fluid liberally over the coals. Wait for at least a minute before igniting a corner of a briquette with a long-handled match or a butane stick lighter. The entire pile of coals should flame. When the flames die down, resist the temptation to squirt more starter fluid on them. The coals ARE lit . . . you just can't see them smoldering, and adding more lighter fluid can cause a dangerous flare-up. After 30 minutes, your coals should be ready to cook on.
No matter how you start your charcoal, the way to dispose of it is the same in all cases. When you are finished cooking, carefully pour a pail of water on the coals, keeping well back so you aren't burned by the steam that will be generated. Let sit for 20 minutes and make sure that all the coals are extinguished. If not, douse with more water. Large briquettes can be dried out in the sun over a period of a couple of days and reused. Never throw hot coals into a garbage pail or dumpster as it is a fire risk.
For those of you who prefer the convenience of propane over the taste of charcoal, there are several safety tips you should keep in mind. Before attempting to light your grill inspect the Venturi tubes: Spiders and wasps like them to nest in and it affects the flow of propane to the grill. So, if they are blocked, dangerous build-ups of propane can be created - often with explosive results. Use a can of compressed air or a long, thin brush to clean out the tubes and make sure they are clear.
Always start with the valves on both the tank and the grill turned off. First, open the valve on the tank and listen for leaks. A solution of water and dish soap wiped on the valves and hoses help identify where leaks could exist: Bubbles will form where the gas is leaking. If there are apparent leaks, do not use your grill until you replace the part that's leaking. Do Not Use Duct Tape to fix leaks in the hose!!
Always leave the cover open when lighting a propane grill. Open the cover and either use the piezoelectric starter or have a long handled match or butane stick-lighter lit through the lighting hole while you open the valve on the grill. If it doesn't light immediately, turn off the grill valves and the propane at the tank, and wait 5 minutes to try again.
Other quick tips:
- Use long-handled grilling tools. Don't use tools with metal handles - they get hot!
- Keep a spray bottle of water handy to extinguish flareups. Just spray a bit on spots that start to flame.
- Don't wear loose clothing while grilling. It's easy for them to catch afire. Needless to say, don't grill naked, either!
- Keep an approved fire extinguisher near your grill and keep this word in mind - PASS - Pull the activation pin. Aim the nozzle at the fire. Squeeze the trigger and Sweep it at the base of the fire. In a pinch, a bucket of water can be used to put out a fire on a charcoal grill. NEVER throw water on a propane fire: Turn off the valve at the tank and use a chemical extinguisher instead.
- In a pinch, baking soda is an effective fire suppressant.
- Never leave your grill unattended.
- Keep kids, pets and sports activities far away from lit grills.
Here are two ideas I want to pass along once you've got your grill ready to cook. Did you know you can easily bake potatoes on your grill? Simply put a thick layer of untreated rock salt on the bottom of a deep metal pan (disposable aluminum pans work well). Place the potatoes in a single layer on top of the salt, then over the potatoes with more rock salt. Place the pan in the coals (or in one corner of a propane grill), and check after about an hour. Cook longer, if needed. When ready, carefully remove the potatoes from the salt, brush off and serve. This works because the salt absorbs the heat and the potatoes are cooked from all sides, instead of just charring on the bottom.
My second idea is a great recipe for the grill. Considered the "Official Chicken of Hawaii", Huli-Huli Chicken is the brainstorm of Ernest Morgado of Pacific Poultry in Honolulu. The name comes from the Hawaiian word for turn - when Morgado cooked this chicken at fund raisers, he'd shout "HULI!" before he flipped the birds over on the grill. This recipe works well in the oven, too.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup tomato ketchup
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 2" piece of fresh ginger, finely minced
- 3-4 lbs. chicken parts (skinless, boneless breasts work as well)
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Combine the brown sugar, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic and ginger together in a large non-reactive bowl until all the sugar is dissolved. Trim the chicken pieces of as much fat as you can, and place in the marinade. Using your hands, mix the chicken in the marinade until all pieces are covered. Refrigerate overnight.
When ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade and place, skin side down, on grill grate over medium-hot coals. Turn and baste with marinade every 10 minutes until done - 165F on a quick-read thermometer - between 40-60 minutes, depending on your grill. Alternately, lay the chicken out on a baking sheet and cook in a 400F oven for 40-60 minutes, or until a quick-read thermometer stuck in the thickest pieces reads 165F. Keep warm.
In a heavy non-reactive saucepan, place the remaining marinade, the orange juice and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce by half, or until sauce is very thick. Serve over the chicken.