Grilling Safety Part 4: Flavoring your Food with Wood

Grilling Safety Part 4: Woods to Use for Flavoring

Sometimes safety is about using the right materials rather than less desirable choices. When it comes to using wood to help flavor the food, make sure that you choose the right one.

There are many types of woods available for grilling or smoking food.  Here are some tips regarding your wood choices.

  • Softwoods burn quickly and many times the flavor that the smoke adds to the food is undesirable.
  • Hardwoods burn longer and provide more heat. They also provide more flavor because of the aromatic smoke produced while burning.
  • If you are using another fuel source such as charcoal, you can toss in wood in small quantities.  The flavor from the burning wood will add unique flavor to the food.

Woods that Should Not be Used

Some woods are better not to be used such as softwoods that can influence the flavor negatively.  However, some types of woods SHOULD NOT be used because they are hazardous.  Here are a few.

Lumber Scraps in General:  It is difficult to determine the type of wood in lumber scraps whether new or used, and, therefore, what effect it may have on the food. In addition, it is possible that used lumber could have come in contact with harmful substances that could be absorbed. It can pose a danger when burning.

Pressure Treated / Chemically Treated / Painted / Stained Lumber: Pressure- and chemically-treated woods are often used in projects such as outdoor decking.  Of course, paint and stain are used on many wood surfaces.  When these woods are burned, they release hazardous and releases toxic smoke and fumes.  At best, it will add undesirable flavor to your food. At worst, you are exposing your body to harmful substances.  Do not use these woods for grilling.

Mold or Fungus Covered Wood:  The smoke produced when mold and fungus are burned leaves a very undesirable tastes in food.

Popular Woods Used in Grilling

Sweet Flavor

  • Alder
  • Apple
  • Birch (smoky and sweet)
  • Blackberry
  • Cherry
  • Corncob:  The heart of the corncob can be ground into small granular bits that can be combined with other woods.  It can provide a sweet flavor that may overpower the food.  Start with small amounts and check until you get the desired flavor.
  • Grape Vine
  • Maple (smoky and sweet)
  • Mulberry
  • Peach
  • Pear

Smoky Flavor

  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Hickory (smoky bacon flavor)
  • Maple (smoky and sweet)
  • Pecan

Distinctive Flavor

  • Cedar
  • Mesquite
  • Oak
  • Pimento (peppery with possibility of flavors of other spices)
  • Seaweed (spicy, natural flavor)
  • Walnut
  • Wine or Whiskey Barrels


Grilling Safety Part 3: Gas Grills

Grilling Safety Part 3 - Gas Grills

A story was reported on NBC news a few years ago.  Julie was grilling hot dogs.  She looked outside and “saw 5-foot flames spewing from her family’s gas grill.”  Her friend emptied their kitchen fire extinguisher on the fire, but it didn’t stop.  She called 911 who advised her to wait until the flames died down and then shut off the propane.  Once the fire was out, she saw that the knobs and the shelf were melted off!

Julie was lucky.  She caught the fire before the tank blew up or anyone was hurt. It could have been worse.

Don’t let Julie’s experience happen to you.  Keep your outdoor barbecuing experience fun and reduce your risk with these tips.

Safety Checks

Many gas grill fires happen when using a grill that has been left inactive for a period of time.  They can also happen just after refilling and reattaching the gas container.  It is important to check them thoroughly.

Check your gas cylinder hose for leaks before your first use each year (or periodically if you use your grill year-round).

  • Bubble test:  Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles.
  • Smell test:  Pay attention for the smell of gas.

Check for blockages in the tubes that might be caused by insects, spiders, or food grease. If found, a pipe cleaner or wire can be used to push the blockage out of the tube.

Check for hoses in bad condition.  In addition to checking for leaks, look for any cracking, brittleness, or holes.  Ensure that any hoses or tubing have no sharp bends.

Position gas hoses properly.  Move them as far away from hot surfaces or where hot grease might drop.  If that is not possible, install a protective heat shield.

Check your connectors.  Replace any that are scratched or nicked.

If You Find a Leak or Break

If you find a gas leak, by smell or the soapy bubble test, and there is no flame, turn off both the gas tank and the grill. If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.

If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.

Keep fire/heat sources away from a leaking grill.  This includes, but is not limited to, cigarettes, matches or any open flame.

Do not attempt repairs yourself.  Go to an LP gas dealer or qualified repair person.


Starting the Grill and While Cooking

Open the lid before turning on the gas — always!  Gas can build up inside a closed lid. If ignited, the lid can blow off and cause injuries and/or burns.

If the flame goes out while cooking, turn the grill and gas off and wait at least 5 minutes before re-lighting it.

Only use a grill outdoors. It should be at least 10 feet away from any building.  Do not use it in a garage, breezeway, carport, porch, or under a surface that can catch fire.

After Cooking

Completely close off the valve.

Store equipment correctly:

  • Your grill and propane tank should be stored outside and away from your house.
  • Flammable liquid (LP gas, gasoline, etc.) containers should be stored upright and away from the grill. Never store them indoors.
  • A filled gas container should never be kept in a hot car or car trunk.  Heat causes gas pressure to increase.  This causes the possibility of the relief valve opening and releasing gas into the vehicle.

Grilling Safety Part 2: Charcoal Grills

Charcoal Grill Safety

There is one time when you do not want your party to be a “blast” — when you are cooking on the grill.  In Part 1, we provided 5 general tips for grilling safety.  Here are some tips to stay safe when using a charcoal grill.

Prepping the Grill

  • Check for rust damage in metal grills. Charcoal can fall through holes and cause a fire.
  • The location of the grill and the items around it matter.
    • Do not place objects that can burn near the grill even after the flames are gone. The grill can continue to remain hot for many hours.
    • Keep combustible items that may be blown by the wind away from the grill.

Starting the Grill and Increasing Heat

  • There are several ways to get your charcoal started.
    • Charcoal chimney starters use newspaper as fuel.
    • If you use starter fluid, make sure you get charcoal fluid and do not add it when coals or kindling have already been ignited.
    • Electric charcoal starters to not use file to ignite your charcoal. When using an electric starter, be sure you have and extension cord for outdoor use.
  • If the fire needs to grow, use dry kindling or more charcoal. Liquid fuel can cause a flash fire.

Finishing Touches

  • About 50% of all grill-related injuries are thermal burns.  When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before removing them.
  • Dispose of old coals in a metal container.
  • Store your leftover charcoal away from children and heat sources.

Grilling Safety Part 1: General Tips

Grilling Safety Series

Whether it’s in the backyard, tailgating or elsewhere, grilling seems to be one of life’s simple pleasures.  Unfortunately, there are potential safety issues as well. An average of 8,900 home fires each year are caused by grilling, 80% of them happening with a gas grill.  Here are tips to help you when protect yourself, your family and your home.

Do not leave the grill unattended.

Choose a safe location for your grill. They should be on a level surface and away from the house, garage or other structures. Be sure pets and children are kept away. Do not use them on a balcony, near objects that can catch fire (including your deck rails) or under overhangs or branches.

Only grill outside. Do not use it in a garage, tent or other enclosed space even if it is ventilated due to the risk of carbon monoxide buildup.

Pay attention in cold weather. On cold days, allow extra preheating time and check meat temperatures with a thermometer to make sure it is safe to eat.  Do NOT wear a scarf or loose clothing that can catch fire.  If it is windy, shield the grill and keep it at least 10 feet from anything combustible.

Keep children safe — at least 3 feet from the grill, especially those under 5 years old. 37% of grill-related burns seen at emergency rooms in 2014 were children under 5.

After Grilling

Keep your grill clean.  Remove fat or grease buildup on the grill and the trays underneath.

Dispose of coals properly.  When disposing of charcoals, soak charcoals thoroughly in water and dispose of them in a metal container.

If you are keeping the coals, the coals should be cooled.  Cover the grill tightly and close the vents. This should extinguish the coals and whatever is left will be ready for next time.