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Grilling and Fire Safety: How to Cook Outdoors with Portable Grills

Planning overnight camping or day trips, picnics in the park and on the beach, or tailgating? No matter what outdoor event you organize, food is sure to play a major role in the festivities. By following these simple safety tips and guidelines, you, your family and friends can reduce the risk of injuries and enjoy delicious cookouts all season long!

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Cooking away from home can be fun and safe!

For most of us, cooking outdoors is one of the great pastimes during the warmer months, and with America's greatest grilling holidays in the spring and summertime this adds up to a lot of wonderfully prepared meals at home and on the road. No matter what outdoor event you organize this year – a camping trip, cookout in the backyard, tailgating at a baseball game, beach party, or picnic in the park -- grilling will likely play a major role in the festivities. While gas grills come with their own set of fire safety guidelines and recommendations, hibachis and other small portable grills that require charcoal – and are often used away from the home – include a separate set of fire safety considerations.

According to the most recent statistics from National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 3,900 home structure fires and 5,100 outside or unclassified fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues. Five percent of grill fires occurred on a lawn, field or open area. In 2014, nearly 17,000 people went to emergency rooms because of injuries involving grills; more than half of these injuries were the result of burns.

But don't let these numbers put a damper on your summer outing: preventing portable grill fires is not as hard or as scary as you may think. Follow these simple safety tips when using your portable grill:


To start charcoal for cooking:

  • If you use lighter fluid, use only fluid intended for charcoal grills.

  • Never add charcoal starter fluid to coals or kindling that has already been ignited.

  • Never use gasoline or any other flammable liquid except charcoal starter or lighter fluid to start a charcoal fire.

To ensure fire safety while cooking:

  • Keep children and pets, and anything that can burn like food wrappers, an oven mitt or towel, at least three feet away from open flames and the grill.

  • Have an adult present at all times when a campfire or grill is burning. Keep the fire small and never leave a fire unattended!

  • Place the grill well away from any building or overhanging branches

To dispose of charcoal after cooking:

  • Douse the fire with water and make sure the area is cool to the touch before going to sleep or leaving the area.

  • Empty the coals into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid that is used only to collect coals.

  • Place the container outside and away from anything that can burn.

  • Never empty coals directly into a trash can

For fire safety reasons, some areas have restrictions regarding campfires and grills, so before you head out to the nearest campground, park or beach, check if your area has any fire restrictions in place, and choose only those areas where fires are permitted. It's also important to know the fire danger rating to determine if weather, or other factors make it dangerous to light a fire. If the rating is high, opt for foods that don't require cooking.

For more information and resources about portable grills and fire safety, check out cooking away from home from the NFPA -- and enjoy happy and safe travels this summer!