If you’ve spent any time cooking on a grill, chances are you’ve made some meat destroying and potentially expensive mistakes. Here are the top five worst grilling mistakes and how to avoid them.

Not Starting the Charcoal Early Enough

You’ve invited all your friends, family members and acquaintances to your weekend barbeque. As the first guests arrive you start the charcoal with lighter fluid and watch as it flames to life only to die immediately. It can take between 10 and 20 minutes to start charcoal, even if you have lighter fluid, and it can take another 20 to 30 minutes for the charcoal to warm up to the optimal temperature. If you wait till your first guests arrive before starting your charcoal grill, you could be delaying dinner by as much as an hour.

Using too Hot a Fire

Think of your grill as an extension of your stove. If you use too high a temperature or fire, you are going to turn all your delicious steaks, hotdogs and hamburgers into dry, burnt, hockey pucks. Instead of turning your grill all the way up or depending on your charcoal to produce the optimal temperature, use a thermometer. Meat should be cooked between 350F and 400F degrees until it is done.

Cutting the Meat to See if It’s Cooked

No one wants to go home from a great cookout with food poisoning, but cutting the meat with a knife to ensure its doneness is not the way to do it. The minute you cut through the meat, the internal juices flow from the cut and onto the ground. This leaves your guests with a safe but dry piece of meat. Instead, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. It creates a much smaller hole and allows you to instantly determine if the meat is done cooking and safe to eat.

Putting too much Meat on the Grill at Once

Crowding meat onto a grill to get it cooked faster may seem like a great idea, but it’s not. The fat from the meat melts and drips down into the grill, which can cause a grill fire and result in the need to replace your grill as well as the meat you just turned into a black, inedible crisp.

Not Keeping Baking Soda or a Fire Extinguisher on Hand

No one wants a grill fire. Unfortunately, grill fires happen, and if they get out of control, they can result in significant property damage beyond your grill. Always keep a fire extinguisher and a box of baking soda on hand. For grill fires that do not clear themselves after a minute or two, douse the grill with baking soda. This will smother the fire and prevent your grill from being ruined. After the fire is out and the grill is cool, wipe the grill clean with a damp or slightly soapy rag. Baking soda works as an abrasive cleaner as well as a grease fire retardant.

If the baking soda does not put the fire out, employ the use of your fire extinguisher. This may ruin your grill, but you will be preventing the fire from spreading beyond your grill to your home, car, garage or surrounding trees.

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