Savor the Flavor: Expert Tips for Safe Grilling

Barbecue and grilling are generally considered synonymous with summer. But as the air becomes crisp and the leaves change color, cooking outdoors doesn’t have to come to a halt. Great grilled food goes perfectly with weekends filled with fall activities like football and apple-picking.

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Derrick Riches, a freelance writer and barbecue and grilling consultant with, and ask him for his tips and advice about backyard cooking and safety.

Riches is a collector of grills, smokers and outdoor cooking equipment.  When asked what his favorites were, he gushed about his 1938 Coleman cook stove.

“I still use it regularly and take with me whenever I can. Since I prefer charcoal to gas, I use my 15 year old Weber kettle several times a week, though I do fire up one of my gas grills just as often for the sake of convenience.”

Simple grill safety

More than simply a grill connoisseur, Riches is somewhat of an expert in grilling safety, explaining that the number No. 1 cause of grill fires is obvious: “The gas grill most likely to catch fire is the unattended one.”

His advice? Stay with your grill at all times. Running into the house just for one second to check the score of the game or even to grab something in the kitchen can be one second too late.

Additionally, keeping your grill clean is an obvious way to avoid fire danger. Riches suggests after 20 or so cookouts, remove grates and heat tents from a cool grill, vacuum or brush out the inside of the grill, and remove any loose food residue or material.

“Grease can build up inside the grill and might not catch fire until the worst possible time,” says Riches.

Don’t forget to regularly clean the grease catcher underneath your grill. As you can imagine, a hot grease fire can catch not only your grill on fire but also your house. As little as a cup or two of grease can catch on fire and burn for as long as an hour!

Fighting the fire

What should you do if you find yourself in the middle of a grill fire? While flare ups are normal, flames shooting out the sides or engulfing your grill are not. Your first instinct may be to turn off the burners and douse the grill with water.

“The first rule is, don’t panic. If the grill is completely engulfed in flames, clear everyone away and call the fire department,” explains Riches.

He goes on to say that if flames are shooting out the sides or top and you can safely get to the fuel source – turn off the fuel supply. This will shut off the burners, and you can let the grill slowly burn out. But Riches cautions that if you’re ever in doubt, do not hesitate to call the fire department.

We inquired with the barbeque savant about placement of your grill for optimum safety. Sure it can be challenging, but Riches notes that placement of your grill for optimum safety is very important, and he notes that each grill comes with minimum measurements detailing how far a grill should be placed from structures or flammable items. Placing a grill on concrete or paving stones helps alleviate safety concerns as well, he adds.

As fall quickly turns into winter, many grill masters will be packing up their grills for storage in the coming weeks. Last, but certainly not least, Riches suggests a deep cleaning of your grill. Spray down the inside of your grill with cooking oil and light it just long enough for the heat to reach about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off your grill and let it cool down. Disconnect any fuel sources, and cover your grill. The last thing you want is moisture finding its way inside your grill and getting trapped for the winter. Place your covered and clean grill in a safe place until you’re ready to dust it off at the start of next year’s barbeque season!

More grilling and barbecue tips from Derrick Riches, as well as his favorite recipes, can be found on