9 Grilling Mistakes That Could Be Dangerous This Tailgating Season

Avoid these grilling mistakes to keep the good times rolling at your next tailgate party.

Man Works The Grill At Tailgating PartyShutterstock / Sean Locke Photography
Shutterstock / Sean Locke Photography

As a prelude to watching warriors duke it out on the football field, it’s no wonder that eating mouthwatering slabs of meat is a mainstay of any tailgate party. We also love the bonus time to visit with friends and relax outside before heading in to watch the game. (Find our fave tailgate recipes here.) But cooks can’t take the task of manning the grill lightly. In addion to knowing the basics of how to grill, pitmasters should follow these tips to avoid potentially dangerous grilling mistakes.

Mistake 1: Using Too Much Lighter Fluid

When tummies are grumbling, it can be tempting to douse charcoal in lighter fluid to get it started quickly. All this will really do is create a fast-moving fireball that can scorch hands and eyebrows. Lighter fluid can also pool in ash traps, leading to random (and dangerous) flare-ups in the middle of cooking.

What to do instead: Make sure you buy self-lighting charcoal or bring along a portable propane grill.

Speaking of serious hunger, you won’t believe what pro football players eat in a day.

Mistake 2: Grilling Too Close to Cars and Tents

Even cooks want to be in the middle of the party, but safety should always come first. If you’re too close to cars, the heat could damage paint jobs. For tents and awnings, flames and drifting embers could start a fire that quickly grows out of control.

What to do instead: Keep a safe distance away from flammable objects, and rest assured that friends and family will jump for joy when you show up with the food.

Mistake 3: Not Washing Your Hands

Even in the casual setting of a tailgate barbecue, food safety is a must. Pressing patties, rubbing pork, and handling chicken all leave nasty bacteria on your hands, which can be transferred onto plates and utensils.

What to do instead: Keep plenty of paper towels and hand sanitizer around to keep your fingers neat and tidy. When handling meat, consider wearing some disposable kitchen gloves to avoid picking up bacteria.

Here are more mistakes you might be making when handling raw chicken.

Mistake 4: Not Soaking Bamboo Skewers

Bamboo skewers make it a cinch to prepare meat-and-veggie kebabs right on the grill, but the wooden sticks are also susceptible to fire. High temperatures will burn the skewers, causing them to fall apart and work their way into your food.

What to do instead: Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 20 minutes before cooking, or opt for reusable stainless steel skewers.

Mistake 5: Encouraging Flare-ups

Many people are tempted to let flames lick meat to give it picturesque grill lines, but if flare-ups get too out of control they can engulf the meat. Not only will this burn even the most impeccably prepared steaks, but it can also singe hands.

What to do instead: Trim off excess fat to prevent grease from causing flare-ups, or close the grill’s lid to reduce the fire’s oxygen supply.

Mistake 6: Using a Meat Thermometer Incorrectly

Meat thermometers make it a breeze to ensure the safety of beef and poultry, but a lot of people stick their thermometer right into the top of succulent slabs. This makes it difficult to find the meatiest part of the cut and gain an accurate reading.

What to do instead: Insert the thermometer at the sides, where it will be easier to find the center of the meat.

Mistake 7: Leaving the Grill Unattended

The excitement of the game and carousing with friends are distractions that are all too easy to succumb to at a tailgate party, but expert grill masters know that cooking with fire requires a watchful eye. An unattended grill can be host for dangerous flare-ups, and passersby might accidentally touch the metal’s hot surface.

What to do instead: Embrace your role as the party’s chef and stand by the grill at all times.

Mistake 8: Leaving the Propane Turned On

Despite all their convenience, propane grills still require disciplined operation. Leaving the propane tank turned on not only wastes expensive fuel, but it can cause dangerous leaks of the flammable gas.

What to do instead: Develop a post-grilling ritual where you make sure everything’s in order. If you’re especially forgetful, stick with charcoal grills: they won’t let you forget!

Mistake 9: Dumping Hot Coals

Charcoal grills impart an unmatched, slightly smoky flavor to meats and veggies, but cleanup can be a bit of a hassle. Patience, however, is a virtue: dumping hot coals can cause post-cooking grease fires that endanger the entire party.

What to do instead: Make absolutely certain that coals have cooled down before getting rid of them, and only dump them into designated containers at the venue.

Mistake 10: Drinking Too Much

This one’s obvious: having too many beers will raise the odds of making any of the above mistakes.

What to do instead: Sip rather than chug, and plan for tailgating activities that don’t just involve drinking beer!

Football players may be the ones taking their lumps at the game, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park off the field. Keep these mistakes in mind at your next tailgate party to avoid turning it into a parking lot disaster.

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Rory Cooper
Rory was raised in rural New Hampshire before spending a few years in the hustle and bustle of Chicago. Now back in New England, he's stocking up on fishing tackle, amassing an ever-growing collection of crochet hooks and fantasizing about one day living in a cabin.