Whether you're new to grilling or a barbecue master, there are a number of ways you can improve your grill game. First and foremost, keep it safe.

Cooking outdoors is a common summer activity in fact, according to a study conducted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association, 82% of all U.S. households own a grill or smoker, and 97% of those have used their grill in the past year. Whether you’re new to grilling or a barbecue master, there are a number of ways you can improve your grill game. First and foremost, keep it safe. According to the National Fire Protection Association, each year an average of 8,800 home fires are caused by grilling resulting in injuries and even death. In 2012 alone, approximately 17,000 patients visited emergency rooms due to injuries involving grills. So before you fire up the barbecue this season, be sure to brush up on the basics.

Location, location. Barbecue grills are for outdoor use only. Never grill in a trailer, tent, house, garage, or any enclosed area. Keep the grill in an open area, away from any combustibles, dry leaves and brush, and avoid high traffic areas. Create a circle of safety (at least three feet) to keep children and pets away from the grill area. Keep it clean. Before you fuel the fire or rake the coals, make sure your grill is clean. Start by removing debris from grill surfaces, next scrub with hot, soapy water, then rinse. If using a wire brush, be sure it’s in good condition. In recent years, internal injuries from ingested wire brush bristles have been reported. When taking food off the grill, use a clean plate. Don't put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food. Wash hands, work surfaces and utensils as well. Watch the clock. A survey by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicated 21% of people believe picnic foods can sit out in the summer heat for more than two hours without refrigeration. Not true! In summer temperatures of 90º or more, the "two-hour rule" becomes the "one hour rule." So don’t let grilled foods remain in the heat too long. Raise the steaks. Their temperature, that is. Using a food thermometer helps ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145 degrees for whole meats, 160 for ground, and 165 for all poultry. Food properly cooked to correct temperatures help prevent harmful bacteria that can cause a food illness. Flame safety. NEVER squirt lighter fluid onto flaming or hot coals, or onto a gas grill. If using a charcoal grill, use only charcoal starter fluid and follow label direction. Using gasoline or kerosene can cause an explosion. Reduce flare-ups. Raise the grid that the food is on, spread the coals out evenly, or adjust the controls to lower the temperature. Use baking soda to control a grease fire and have a fire extinguisher handy. To decrease the chance of flare-up, remove visible fat from meats. Precooking meat in a microwave, immediately before placing it on the grill, can also help to avoid flare-ups. (Microwaving can cause the release of juices, reducing the amount that drops on coals.) Wrapping things up. If using a gas grill, remember to turn off the gas. Removing the propane tank from the gas line altogether after use can prevent children from turning it on accidentally. If using charcoal, allow coals to burn out completely and let ashes cool at least 48 hours before disposing. Regardless of grill type, the grill body can remain hot up to an hour after use, so restrict children and pet access.

With so many Americans grilling, it’s important to remember the basics. This barbecue season, protect your family and your home, and remember, safe grilling is good grilling.

— Sean Bridges is Health Educator for the Delaware and Ottawa County Health Departments.