At the first sign of a hot, sunny day here in the UK, it has become common practice to wheel out the barbecue.
Barbecues can be a lot of fun. It’s a good opportunity to hold a social event and is the perfect way to cook whilst still getting outdoors and enjoying the sunshine at the same time. However, wherever there’s fire present, there’s the potential for danger so it’s important to take care to ensure that your fun day in the sun goes off without a hitch.
General barbecue safety tips
If you haven’t got a built-in brick barbecue, the first thing you should do is to make sure the site where you’re going to put the barbecue is suitable. It should be stable, level, sheltered and away from people, fences, sheds, trees and other areas which could catch fire. If there’s a wind blowing, make sure that it’s blowing away from you when you light the fire, just in case it flares up. Don’t wear any loose clothing which could flap about in the wind and could be set alight by the flames and never move the barbecue once it’s lit. In addition, make sure it’s situated within a reasonable distance of an available water supply which you can use to extinguish it if things do get out of control.
Cooking with charcoal
Nowadays, there are bags of charcoal which light very easily just by setting fire to the bag in which the charcoal is contained. These prevent you from having to use other potentially dangerous flammable liquids to get the fire started. However, if the type of charcoal requires you to use lighting fluid, only use the recommended type and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and preferably use fire lighters as opposed to matches or a lighter. You should never use paraffin, petrol or methylated spirits to light a barbecue.
When lighting the barbecue, do so at arms length and never put your face over the barbecue itself. Keep children away once it’s lit and even after cooking has finished as the coals will still be roaring hot and ensure that you and those around the barbecue are wearing footwear as hot coals can easily drop onto the floor and cause serious burns to feet.
When you’ve finished, do not dispose of the remnants of the charcoal until you’re absolutely certain that they have cooled completely. It’s a well known fact that even if your barbecue has finished late in the evening, the coals can sometimes still be warm the following morning.
Many people choose to use gas to power their barbecue to give them more control over their cooking. If you intend using gas cylinders, always check the condition of all the pipes before use and ensure that it is connected properly. Make sure that the barbecue controls and cylinder are fully switched off before changing the cylinder and, if possible, you should always change it outdoors. Never stockpile cylinders, only keep what you require for a particular barbecue day and when you have finished with one, turn the cylinder off before the barbecue controls as this will ensure that any residual gas in the pipeline is used up.
Whilst many people are aware of the fire safety precautions they need to take when having a barbecue, many also neglect the dangers that can be caused through the incorrect preparation, storage and cooking of food.
If you’re using charcoal, you should ensure that the coals have gone through their initial burning period, the flames have died down and are grey in colour before placing any food onto the barbecue. Cooking too quickly will result in lots of smoke and food which hasn’t been cooked thoroughly.
Cooking meat safely
Raw meat including sausages, burgers and chicken, can cause food poisoning if not enough care and attention hasn’t been taken. You should keep cooked and raw meat and utensils separate as bacteria can be transferred from uncooked meat onto cooked food by using the same utensils, dishes and preparation surfaces.
For burgers, follow the cooking instructions on the packet and, if they can be cooked from frozen, make sure they are cooked throughout and that there are no pink bits left inside. To reduce the intensity of the heat, it’s often useful to place the food in a metal oven tray and place that onto the grill, than placing the food directly onto the grill. This also prevents fat dripping onto the coals which can cause the coals to re-ignite.
Fresh chicken, be it legs, breasts or drumsticks should never be cooked from frozen. A good, safe tip is to pre-cook it in the oven on a low heat for 30 minutes then finish it off on the barbecue.
Wiping your hands on an apron, tea towel or using wet wipes might get any sticky sauce from them but is not thorough enough to prevent germs that cause food poisoning. Frequent washing using an anti-bacterial soap, especially after handling raw meat, will help reduce the potential for bacterial transfer.
Salad, coleslaw and dips
Ensure that all salad is washed or rinsed thoroughly prior to use. Soil and dirt also carry germs which can cause food poisoning. Don’t prepare salads too far in advance and always refrigerate them until they’re ready to be used. Keep dishes and bowls containing salad, dips and crisps covered on the table to protect them from flies.
If you follow the guidelines above, your barbecue will be safe, enjoyed by everyone and it’s the perfect way to spend a nice summer’s day out in the back garden.