Barbecue safety: Cleaning just as important as cooking
Bruce Aidells prepares and cleans his grill in Healdsburg, Calif., on Tues., July 24, 2012. (AP / Eric Risberg)
Barbecue enthusiasts looking twice at the grill after reading about errant brush bristles getting lodged in people’s throats, never fear: You can still safely cook your favourite piece of meat (or veggies) by following a few simple steps.
Every spring, it seems, there’s a spike in gruesome stories about the potential pitfalls of scrubbing barbecue grills with a metal-bristled brush.
While such incidents are relatively rare, there is a risk that a bristle can fall from a brush, especially when it’s old, over-used or its shape has been compromised by the heat of the grill.
A bristle that gets on to a piece of meat can end up piercing the throat or esophagus, cause a potentially fatal chest infection or perforate the bowel if it makes its way further down into the digestive tract.
The good news is it’s actually quite easy to barbecue safely this and every summer. Here are the experts’ top tips:
Peace of mind only costs a few extra dollars
Duff Dixon, president and CBN (that’s Chief Barbecue Nerd) of the World’s Largest Barbecue Store in Vaughan, Ont., says in many wayward bristle cases, a cheap brush is likely to blame. A plastic brush from a dollar store won’t maintain its integrity during hours of exposure to high heat, he told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview.
“The heat of the barbecue over time will affect the integrity of the (brush) head and it’s going to fail,” Dixon said. “There’s just no doubt about it. It’s going to get old and yucky and bristles are going to start to fall out.”
For a few dollars more, a wooden brush will maintain its structural integrity for a longer period of time, making it less likely to lose bristles.
And a few years ago, Weber unveiled its “T” brush, where stainless steel bristles are wound right into the handle, making it far less likely that they will fall out.
If you’re unsure, visit a barbecue specialty store for advice, and a variety of options, from someone in the know.
You wouldn’t paint your house with an old brush
Many avid barbecuers may think their brush can withstand years of wear and tear before it needs replacing. Not so, says Dixon.
Depending on how often you fire up the grill, you may go through two or three brushes each year.
“You’re going to show some due diligence and you’re going to be a smart homeowner and you’re going to look at this brush and go, ‘I need to get a new one,’” Dixon says.
“I think that is the number one thing that we can push on people is have a look at your brush… and if it’s starting to look worn, just get rid of it.”
Brush up on the alternatives
You may think a brush is the only way to clean your barbecue, but there are, in fact, myriad ways to keep it in optimal grilling condition.
There are bristle-free, stainless steel scouring pads that will clear away grease, bits of food and all manner of debris without leaving behind any sharp surprises.
A cleaning stone, which works like “sandpaper for cooking grills because it will literally rip everything right off,” is also an option, Dixon says.
Stones should only be used on stainless steel grills, he cautions. Many cast iron grills have a porcelain coating, which the stone will scrape away. That will leave the grill without protection from rust.
Oshawa, Ont. otolaryngologist Dr. Artur Gevorgyan advises barbecuers to be even more cautious and consider simply wiping the grills down, once they’ve cooled, with a paper towel.
Brushing the grill “is not good enough,” Gevorgyan told CTVNews.ca. “You should try to find an alternative means to clean the grill, whichever that would be. And even if you’re stuck using a brush, then you should inspect (the grill) even before the fire is on…. inspect it visually to see if there are any bristles that have stayed attached.”
George Fleming of Barbecue Country in Edmonton says wiping the grills down can be part of a two-step process. First, brush the grill, then follow up with a soft cloth, he says.