Grill with confidence: a barbecue safety guide

meat on a barbecue grill with thermometre

Nyasha Jokomo

Posted January 29, 2024

Summertime gatherings often revolve around the sizzle of the barbecue but whether you're a seasoned grill master or a backyard enthusiast, it's crucial to prioritise safety when firing up the barbie.

This barbecue safety guide is designed to equip you with essential tips and practices to help you understand the potential hazards when barbecuing and how to maintain your barbecue equipment. Barbecue safety is essential to prevent accidents and injuries, and help keep your family and guests safe. By following proper safety guidelines, you can help reduce the risk of burns, fires, and other mishaps that can occur while using a barbecue.

Whatever your experience, be prepared, stay alert and make sure your next outdoor cooking adventure is both delicious and safe.

Here are some common barbecue safety risks and issues that you should be aware of and how you can help mitigate them.

person outside on deck using a grill barbecue

Position your barbecue in a well ventilated area away from shrubs and debris. Image: Getty.

Barbecue safety risks and tips to mitigate them

Flammable materials

It is important to ensure your barbecue is positioned in an open, well-ventilated area away from structures, trees, or overhanging branches. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) advises that the area within a distance of 3m from the outer perimeter of the barbecue is kept clear of flammable material. Avoid using a barbecue in windy conditions for two reasons: leaves moving around could become alight and spread fire, and the burners could blow out and put you at risk of a gas leak.

Placing your barbecue on a level surface will help prevent accidental tipping.

To help reduce hazards around the barbecue area, establish a designated grilling space and maintain a safe distance between the barbecue and play areas or high-traffic zones to minimise the risk of accidents.

As a precaution, keep a fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it. Water should never be used to extinguish a grease fire - use baking soda, a bucket of sand or an appropriate fire extinguisher instead. 

Accidents and injuries

Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing or dangling accessories while grilling. Loose clothing can catch fire easily, so opt for fitted attire instead.

Use long-handled tools and oven mitts to handle hot grates and food. This will help protect your hands and arms from burns.

Establish a safe zone around the grill where children and pets are not allowed. Educate children about the dangers of a hot grill and create a designated play area away from cooking zones. 

Improper use of flammable liquids to start the barbecue

Adhere to the manufacturer's guidelines for lighting your grill. Whether using a charcoal chimney, electric starter, or gas ignition, follow the recommended procedures.

When lighting a gas grill, keep the lid open to prevent gas buildup. If the flame goes out, turn off the gas, wait, and then try again. 

Barbecue safety warnings for apartment balconies

Never use a barbecue indoors or in an enclosed space. Barbecues and gas cylinders pose a potential fire hazard in apartment complexes and many apartment buildings have by-laws prohibiting the use of barbecues on balconies.

Check the by-laws of your apartment complex before buying a barbecue.

If your balcony is large enough and barbecuing is permitted, ensure one metre of space between a barbecue and a wall, fence, and other property. It must be a well-ventilated area away from overhangs and entryways of the apartment where gas could enter the home. Ensure your barbecue is kept clean as fat buildup can result in a fire. Be mindful that smells and smoke can affect your neighbours. 


person cutting raw chicken on wooden chopping board

Proper food handling and hygiene practices should be followed when preparing meat. Image: Getty. 

Leaving barbecue unattended while it is still lit

Leaving a barbecue unattended increases the risk of a fire. Flare-ups can happen unexpectedly - especially when cooking fatty meats - and the intensity of the flames can damage the grill, or start a fire. Grease buildup, sparks and flammable materials can fuel the flames, which can then spread to nearby surfaces, vegetation, or structures. 

The risks are not limited to the barbecue equipment either. Leaving food unattended on the grill can lead to undercooking, overcooking or burning. There should always be a responsible adult supervising the barbecue area and keeping children away at a safe distance. When you've finished cooking, turn the barbecue off and extinguish any flames completely before leaving the barbecue area.

Improper food handling and cooking practices

Food safety is vital to a healthy barbecue experience. Avoid thawing meat at room temperature as it can promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Marinate food in the refrigerator and not on the counter to prevent bacteria growth and keep perishable items chilled until ready to cook. Learn best practices for barbecuing different types of meat for healthy consumption.

Use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw and cooked meats to prevent cross-contamination and wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat. This will help reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Properly cooked food requires constant monitoring to ensure that it is not undercooked, that it's free from harmful bacteria and safe for consumption. 

Barbecue rules on Total Fire Ban days

Barbecue rules apply during Fire Danger Periods and Total Fire Bans, which are declared by the CFA. When a Total Fire Ban is declared, solid fuel barbecues that use wood, heat beads and other solid fuel types are banned, including outdoor rotisserie spits. Open flames, hot surfaces, and sparks from a barbecue could lead to a fire that endangers lives and property. 

The CFA advises that only gas and electric barbecues that are commercially manufactured exclusively for cooking, or permanently fixed structure made of stone, metal or another non-flammable material can be used. Even then you must make sure that combustible material is more than three metres away from the barbecue, that you have access to a continuous supply of water, and that an adult supervises the cooking until the barbecue is turned off. 

Damaged or worn-out barbecue equipment

Before firing up the grill, inspect it for any signs of wear, rust, or damage. Ensure that hoses and connections are secure, and replace any worn-out parts promptly. Do not refill or use a LPG cylinder if it is damaged, or if a licensed gasfitter has not tested it in more than ten years.

Clean the barbecue and remove the excess fat after each use to prevent fires. Having a clean grill also helps to ensure that your food is cooked in a hygienic environment.

Turn off your barbecue equipment when you have finished grilling. For gas barbecues, turn off the gas supply at the source. Allow the grill to cool before covering. If using a charcoal grill, ensure ashes are fully extinguished before disposal. Use a metal container designated for ash disposal. 

two people checking gas cylinder for barbecue stand

Always check the gas hoses and fittings before using barbecue equipment. Image: Getty. 

Maintaining your barbecue equipment for safety

Routine care and maintenance of your barbecue equipment is crucial to its longevity and safety. After each use, clean the grill grates and remove any leftover food debris. Use a wire brush or grill scraper to remove any stubborn residue. Regularly check the gas connections and hoses for any signs of wear or damage. If you notice any leaks or cracks, immediately replace the faulty parts. It is also important to keep the burners and igniters clean and free from grease buildup to prevent flare-ups.

When it comes to storing your barbecue equipment, safety should be a top priority. Make sure to store your grill in a well-ventilated area away from flammable materials, such as dry leaves or wood piles. Cover your grill with a weatherproof cover to protect it from the elements. If you are using a gas grill, remember to disconnect the cylinder and store it in a cool, dry place.

RACV Trades can inspect and help maintain your gas barbecue equipment.
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