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Grilling Mistakes to Avoid to Stay Healthy and Safe

Nothing is more quintessentially American than firing up the grill for a big summer backyard barbecue or fixing a family dinner on the deck. Grill safety is important to keep in mind from properly using a hot grill to cooking meat in a way that prevents health risks. Here are some grilling mistakes to avoid to stay healthy and safe.

Risks with Charcoal and Gas Grills

There are risks for users of both charcoal and gas grills, but with a little prevention and an eye toward safety, those risks can be lessened. Here are some of the risks according to the National Fire Prevention Association

  • An average of nearly 20,000 people each year are treated in hospital emergency rooms because of grill-related injuries. Almost half of those were burn injuries.
  • The most grill fires occur in the month of July, followed by June, May and August.
  • Children younger than five years old account for about 40% of grill-related contact burns from a hot grill or coals.
  • Gas grills cause nearly 9,000 fires each year.
  • Charcoal or solid-fuel grills cause 1,300 fires each year.

Safety Tips for Grilling

Try the following precautions:

  • Have a fire extinguisher on hand.
  • Keep small children away from grills while in use.
  • Keep the grill away from the house or garage.
  • Use the correct tools to handle food on the grill.

Risks When Grilling Meat

When meat is grilled or cooked in a specific way, it can do more than just turn the meat from raw to well-done. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are chemicals known to form in meat when cooked using high-temperature methods, like grilling directly over an open flame or frying meat in a pan over high heat. Beef, pork, poultry and fish can all produce these chemicals, which can cause changes in DNA and may increase the risk for cancer when consumed. The chemicals are: 

  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs): These form when meat is cooked at high temperatures, especially in meat cooked at more than 300 degrees F. Meats that are well-done, grilled or barbecued all have been found to have high concentrations of HCAs. 
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): These form when juices or fat from cooking meat drip into a fire or onto a hot surface, creating smoke and flames. The smoke, which contains the PAHs, then clings to the meat’s surface. These can also form when meat is smoked.

People can reduce their exposure to HCAs and PAHs by following these tips:

  • Avoid prolonged cooking times.
  • Don’t directly expose meat to an open flame or hot metal surface over high heat.
  • Flip meat often when cooking over a heat source.
  • Remove charred portions from meat.

Grilling Ideas Beyond Meat

A large selection of vegetables and even fruits can be grilled to create tasty additions to any meal. Here are some vegetarian options to sear on the grill:

  • Bell peppers cut into eighths, seeds and inner membrane removed
  • Bunches of romaine lettuce for a Caesar salad
  • Marinated tofu
  • Peaches cut in half, pits removed
  • Small zucchini or yellow squash, sliced in half
  • Thick-sliced sweet onions
  • Thick-sliced tomatoes

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more health tips and information, visit

A Healthier Michigan
Author: A Healthier Michigan

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