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11 Tips for Throwing a Safe and Relaxing Backyard BBQ

11 tips for throwing a safe backyard bbq

A backyard barbecue is a popular way to relax and enjoy friends and family, but this seemingly innocent gathering comes with many potential dangers. Planning can reduce the risks of an injury or illness at your BBQ. Preparation also helps you relax a little more, knowing you have done everything in your power to keep your guests safe.

Plan the Details

The planning phase is important in letting you relax at the actual event. When you take the time to plan all of the details, you have your bases covered. You do not have to spend your time at the BBQ running around like crazy, tying up loose ends.

Start by selecting your date and time. You cannot control the weather, but checking the forecast can help you decide on a date if you want to hold the BBQ within the near future.

Your guest list is another planning consideration. If you want to enjoy a relaxing time at your BBQ, keep your guest list small. Consider how many people your backyard and home can accommodate comfortably and safely. If you invite 30 people into a tiny backyard, no one will have room to sit or move around easily.

Coordinate the Menu

With the basic details in place, it is time to decide on your menu. Grilled meats or veggies are usually the highlights of the menu. Offering a variety of main dishes accounts for difference in taste or dietary restrictions. If you know some of your guests have food allergies, take those restrictions into consideration when planning the menu.

When it comes to the sides, you can either provide them for your guests or ask everyone to bring a dish to share potluck style. Either option is fine. Decide how much work you want to put into the event and how much control you want over what is served.

If your guest list includes young children, ensure you include foods that are safe for little ones to eat. Anything that is tough, hard or in large chunks becomes a potential choking hazard, especially for young kids. While you can still serve those items for the adults in the crowd, you should also incorporate softer foods appropriate for children.

Prepare the Backyard

Your guests will likely spend most of their time in the backyard, so you want that space to be safe, clean and ready for guests. The first step is cleaning up the space to remove any sticks, large rocks or other potential dangers. Mow the lawn to keep it a low, comfortable height.

Set up any tables or additional seating you plan to have on hand for guests. Blankets placed on the ground are a good alternative if you do not have many chairs.

Consider lighting if you plan to host the BBQ after the sun sets. Not only does lighting set a fun mood, but it also helps keep your guests safe as they move around the dark backyard space. String lights placed around the area work well to create the necessary illumination. Tabletop lanterns and battery-operated light also work well. Avoid using candles, as the open flame introduces a potential fire and burn hazard.

avoid using candles at a bbq for safety

Adding some games and activities helps keep guests entertained while they wait for the food to be served. Bocce ball, badminton, croquet and corn hole are all popular backyard game options you can set up for guests. Young kids often enjoy bubbles and sidewalk chalk as a way to stay entertained.

Get the Grill Ready

Your grill is the star of the BBQ, but it is also a potentially dangerous tool requiring proper care and use to keep safe. Where to put the grill is one of the first issues. You want to position the grill away from your home and any other buildings to prevent fire or damage to the structures. Be aware of awnings, overhangs, railings and other design elements that protrude from the home. A good rule of thumb is to keep the grill a minimum of 10 feet from structures.

keep the grill at least 10 feet from structures

Another placement consideration is the traffic at the BBQ. Position the grill out of the way to minimize the risk of someone bumping or touching it.

Do a check up on your grill before the event. If you have a gas grill, check the hoses and connections to ensure there are no leaks. You can apply a soapy water mixture to joints to look for leaks. If the soapy water bubbles, you may have a gas leak.

Clean the grill to remove flammable grease to minimize dangerous flare-ups. If you use a wire brush, inspect it first to ensure the wires are secure. A loose wire can dislodge onto the grill and get stuck in the food, which poses a serious injury risk if swallowed.

Keep protective gear near the grill to prevent burns on yourself. Include grilling gloves and utensils designed for grilling with long handles to keep your hands away from the flames. You also need a bucket of sand or water near the grill on the day of the BBQ in case a flare-up becomes a fire that you cannot put out on your own.

Complete Work Ahead of Time

A big part of being able to relax during the BBQ is having as much work as possible done ahead of time. This preparation gives you the chance to focus on your guests and keep an eye on the BBQ to spot any potential issues.

Create your menu and shop for all necessary ingredients and supplies at least a day before the BBQ. Make as many of the dishes as possible ahead of time, such as the side dishes and desserts. Wash and cut up any veggies you plan to serve or use in dishes. Get the meat ready for the grill by trimming off unnecessary fat, marinating and forming burger patties before the event.

Ensure you complete all of the necessary tasks by creating a to-do list. Group the items on the list based on when you want to complete them. For example, you might create a list for things to do the day before, the morning of the BBQ, right before guests arrive and during the actual BBQ. This list helps keep you on schedule and maximizes how much you get done before the party. As you complete items, cross them off your list to keep yourself organized.

Prevent Food Poisoning

Sending your guests home with food poisoning would be an unfortunate ending to your event. Prevent food poisoning by abiding by proper food safety guidelines as you prepare for the BBQ. Follow these guidelines during the preparation phase:

  • Use fresh, quality foods in your recipes.
  • Keep meat and other perishable foods refrigerated until you are ready to cook or use them.
  • Keep meat in the refrigerator as it marinates rather than leaving it on the counter.
  • Do not reuse marinade from meats on veggies or other foods, as the bacteria from the meat is still in the marinade. Discard the used marinade after removing the meat.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before handling any food. Wash hands when you move to a different ingredient, particularly if you have just handled meat. You can transfer bacteria to the new food if you do not wash your hands.
  • Use clean cutting boards, knives, bowls and other kitchen items.
  • Wash kitchen items when you switch from one food to the next, particularly after you prepare meat. You can also use a different cutting board and knife for the meat, so you do not risk cross-contaminating vegetables and other foods you prepare.
  • Separate cooked and raw foods to prevent contamination.

During the BBQ, follow these guidelines:

  • Cook meat to the recommended internal temperature based on the type of meat you are cooking. Use a meat thermometer to verify the temperature rather than relying on looks alone. When grilling whole cuts of beef or pork, be sure to cook the meat until it reaches at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Fish also requires an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit for safety. Hamburgers should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Chicken requires an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit for safe consumption.
  • Hold hot foods at a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit until you serve it. If the hot food dips below that temperature, bacteria can start multiplying faster, which increases the risk of illness.
  • Place a bowl of ice under perishable foods like mayonnaise-based salads to keep them at a safe temperature. Keeping those foods inside instead of setting up a serving table outdoors also helps keep them at a safe temperature for longer.
  • Put perishable foods back into the refrigerator when everyone is finished eating. You should leave food out no longer than 2 hours to prevent a build-up of bacteria. If the food is outdoors in temperatures 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, it should be refrigerated within an hour.

don't leave food out longer than 2 hours

Manage the Setup

We already talked about placing the grill out of the flow of traffic, but your setup for the rest of the activities is also important. Designate an area for kids to play where they can run, flip and play with toys. Create this area as far away from the grill as possible, yet still in easy view of adults for supervision purposes.

Set a rule that kids are not allowed to come within a 3-foot zone around the grill. Show the kids where this zone is, so they stay away.

Another setup consideration is the flow of traffic. You will not be able to relax and enjoy the picnic if people are constantly running into one another or are having difficulty getting to different areas of the backyard. Set up seating areas, play areas and other functional spaces with traffic flow in mind to ensure people can get from one area to another easily.

Designate a Grill Master

Assigning one person to run the grill, whether that person is you or someone else, decreases the risk of an injury or fire. That person should tend to the grill the entire time. Leaving the grill unattended can result in anything from burnt food to a guest being burned or a fire starting outside the grill. No one wants to miss the BBQ fun, but when the grill is in use, someone needs to be responsible for its use.

don't leave the grill unattended

The responsibility does not end just because the food comes off the grill. The unit remains hot for quite some time after you are finished using it, so keep someone nearby to prevent kids from touching it.

Ensure the person who is in charge of the grill knows how to use it properly. These steps are important in keeping everyone safe:

  • Leave the lid open when starting a gas grill to prevent gas buildup inside the unit.
  • Never apply more lighter fluid to your charcoal grill once you start the fire.
  • Avoid loose-fitting clothes, which may hang into the flames and catch fire.
  • Refrain from excessive alcohol consumption while grilling, as the alcohol may inhibit judgment and increase the risk of injury or fire.
  • Monitor the food regularly to preventing burning it.
  • When finished grilling, shut off the burners and propane supply on your gas grill.
  • Wait until the grill is completely cool before you try to move it.

Monitor Activities

Whether you are at the grill or mingling with guests, it is important to monitor what is happening. Scan the yard frequently to look for potential issues. Make sure kids follow the rules you set on staying away from the grill and keeping play in a certain area of the yard. You do not have to watch every single person the entire time, but keeping a general watch on the party can help you improve safety.

Know How to Handle Emergencies

Preparation and vigilance during the BBQ can help prevent injuries and other issues, but sometimes things happen that are out of your control. Knowing how to handle common BBQ issues, from minor grill flame flare-ups and bee stings to a serious burn or an out-of-control fire, helps you minimize the effects of those issues should they arise. Recognizing food allergy symptoms helps you identify a guest with a potentially life-threatening situation.

have your phone nearby for a serious injury

Keep a first aid kit outside in case of any minor injuries. You can easily patch up scraped knees or treat minor burns with the kit. Have your phone nearby in case you need to place a 911 call for a more serious injury or situation.

Prevent fires by following safe grilling practices. If the flames get out of control, dump a bucket of sand or water on the grill to smother the flames.

Clean Up Properly

When the fun is over, the cleanup happens. Cleaning up the BBQ mess keeps your backyard clean and healthy. Gather all trash or leftover food, and put it in a securely closed trash bag. Place that bag in your trashcan to prevent animals from eating it. Removing the debris left from the BBQ also keeps the backyard safe for your kids and pets.

Make sure the grill is cool before performing any maintenance on it. Remove grease from the grill to minimize flare-ups the next time you use it. If you have a charcoal grill, discard the ashes once they are fully cool. Place the cool ashes in a non-combustible container.

A little planning and a focus on safety can make your backyard BBQ the hit of the neighborhood. Protect yourself and your guests by minimizing potential risks. If you need help protecting yourself in other areas of life, request a free consultation regarding your legal situation.

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