Braai Safety Hints and Tips

Millions of us love to braai, but along with the enjoyable experience come some dangers, so here are some handy hints and tips on how to enjoy those braais safely

If you’re planning on using a braai, whether it’s a disposable one, gas or charcoal make sure you keep yourself safe and don’t put yourself at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Always braai in an open area, rather than an enclosed space… Carbon monoxide is highly poisonous and is created when fossil fuels such as gas and solid fuels like charcoal and wood fail to combust fully due to a lack of oxygen. You can’t see it, taste it or smell it but it can be lethal.

Safety first

  • Never leave a lit braai unattended or while sleeping.
  • Never take a smouldering or lit braai into a tent, caravan or indoors if you happen to be braaing on a cool evening and could do with a bit of a. housewarming. Even if you have finished cooking your braai should remain outside as it will still give off fumes for some hours after use.
  • Only use your braai in accordance with the operating instructions.
  • Always ensure the area where the braai is being used is well ventilated.
  • Watch for the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning – headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, collapse and loss of consciousness. If you notice any of them, get the patient out into the open air as quickly as possible and err on the safe side by getting medical attention for the patient as quickly as possible.

If you’re using a gas braai, make sure you do the following:

  • Check that the appliance is in good order, undamaged and that hoses are properly attached and undamaged. If in doubt get the hoses replaced or don’t use the braai.
  • Do not try to repair damaged components or one that have deteriorated. Rather visit your local Mica and buy replacement parts.
  • Don’t over-tighten joints.
  • Keep children and other people and pets well away when changing cylinders.
  • Make sure the gas taps are turned off before changing the gas cylinder and always do it in an open, well-ventilated area away from the house.
  • Never take a gas stove, light or heater into a tent, caravan or cabin.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions about how to check for gas escapes from hoses or pipes by brushing leak detection solution around all joints and looking for bubbles. If you do not have such a solution, then make up a very soapy mix of dishwasher and water and pour it over suspect areas – bubbles will form if there is a leak.
  • When you have finished cooking, turn off the gas at the cylinder before you turn off the braai controls – this uses up any gas in the pipeline, which is safer than having the pipe left full of gas under pressure.
  • These tips apply to all gas equipment

Charcoal braai safety

  • As you are working with an open flame, make sure you have close to hand something to douse the fire if you need to… a bucket of sand, or a fire extinguisher.
  • Use braai tools to safely work with the food without getting burnt – don’t use normal eating utensils to move food around on the grill. The longer the tools the better.
  • Do not simply bury glowing coals in the soil. Make sure you thoroughly douse them with water first – and bear in mind that even though the surface of a lump of charcoal might make it appear to be ‘out’, it might still be hot enough in its interior to start glowing again. So douse with water until absolutely sure all the coals are dead. And then douse some more. A child or adult might step on sand that has been used to cover glowing coals and could be very seriously injured.
  • Keep your braai and grill clean. Fat from cooking may cause a flare-up.
  • Make sure the open flame is away from thatch or any other structure or item that may catch alight if the wind changed direction and blows glowing embers about.
  • Never leave a fire unattended, especially if there are young children and animals around.
  • Smoke can be toxic, so make sure you are not breathing it in large amounts. It can be dangerous, particularly to children thanks to the smaller size.
  • Take great care if you decide to speed things along with any accelerant or fire-starting liquid. There have been cases of severe injury – so stand well back, and keep children and other members of the party (and pets of course) well away.
  • Use oven gloves when working at a braai, and an apron also makes sense – if only to save your clothing from the odd spark here and then – or a stream of hot fat from that wors you are braaing.

So what’s better – gas or charcoal?

  • Gas is instant… you can light up, regulate the flow of gas – and hence the amount of heat the braai is producing – and you can start braaing immediately.
  • Another plus is the fact that when you turn it off, it really is OFF. In the case of a charcoal braai, you have to either wait for the coals to die down and go out, or douse them with water – and then you have to discard them.
  • Gas goes off with the turn of a knob.
  • In the case of wood or charcoal, you light up, and wait with a refreshment in your hand while the fire coals reach the desired state and you can start braaing.

On the subject of taste, in a US study conducted a while back, participants were presented food cooked on gas and charcoal units. No one could tell the difference between the charcoal or gas when it came to the hamburgers, but they could tell the difference with the steak. The charcoal-grilled steak had a distinct smoky flavour.

To decide what kind of grill is right for you, consider where the grill is going to sit. A small patio or covered area is not the place for a large charcoal grill.

Another thing to consider is how you plan to grill. If you want to come home from work and throw a couple of steaks or chicken breasts on the grill with virtually no hassle, then a gas unit might be what you are looking for.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. Gas grills are generally more expensive than charcoal, the latter often being cheaper than a gas type. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money then charcoal might be the answer. However, charcoal is the more expensive fuel and won’t save you money in the long run.

There are pros and cons to either type of braai, go with the one you prefer, but always ensure safety is paramount.