Crash Course

Barbecue Horror Stories for Halloween

Barbecue Horror Stories for Halloween

This is a true story. When I was growing up, my mom was the family grill master. A ballet dancer by profession, she did everything with exuberance and elan. And that included grilling. When it came time to light the charcoal, she did not use a chimney starter. (It had not yet been invented.) She didn’t even use lighter fluid. No, when it came time to grill, my mother reached for the can of gasoline in the garage. She doused the coals, threw on a match, and the grill erupted with a Vesuvian whoosh.

One time, she put the lit match on first, then poured on the gasoline. The resulting fire traveled back to the can, which handily exploded. The resulting conflagration singed my mom’s hair and eyebrows and damn near burned the siding off our house. It was only the quick thinking of our neighbor, Pete, who rushed over and knocked the burning can to the ground, that prevented an out-of-control fire from becoming a tragedy.

Barbecue Horror Stories: 6 Things NOT to Do When Grilling

Grilling is universally enjoyable and mostly safe, but if mismanaged, can result in disaster. Here, just in time for Halloween, are a few barbecue horror stories.

1. Lighting a gas grill with the lid closed.

This is a spectacularly scary situation, one with potentially tragic consequences. It happens some 7,000 times a year in the US, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. (I’ve seen this happen, although fortunately, the cook only singed his eyebrows.) Make sure the lid is fully open when lighting a gas grill, and light it promptly after opening the valve. If the grill fails to light, allow 5 minutes for the gas to clear before attempting to relight it.


2. Shoveling still-hot ash or embers into a plastic garbage can or dumpster.

Ash from charcoal- or wood-burning grills, barbecue pits, and fire pits can harbor embers for hours–or even days–that will roar unexpectedly back to life. We wonder how many stadium parking lot attendants have witnessed dumpster or trash can fires in the wake of tailgating parties (now verboten, of course). No matter how cool you believe ashes to be, wet them down thoroughly before safely disposing of them in a metal container like this one.

Melted Dumpster on Fire


3. Using the same cutting board, platter, knife, or other utensils for raw and cooked animal proteins—especially poultry.

To avoid food-borne illnesses and the ruination of your reputation as a grill master, never allow cross-contamination to occur in your kitchen or grill-side.


4. Serving rare burgers.

More scary food safety stuff. If you can ask for a rib-eye cooked medium-rare, why not a medium-rare hamburger? Because while bacteria lives on the outside of steaks, it can live inside ground meat. Currently, the USDA recommends that burgers made with ground meat be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

(Ground poultry is an exception: It should be cooked to 165 degrees.) Don’t eyeball doneness: Use a reliable instant-read meat thermometer.

Raw Burger


5. Positioning a grill too close to your house.

We see it all the time on social media—people sharing photos of grills that are scarily close to a house, deck railing, garage, or other structure. At a minimum, leave at least 3 feet—and preferably 10 feet–between your grill or smoker and combustibles. (And don’t forget hanging branches or pergolas.)

Gasoline Can


6. Moving the grill or smoker to the garage or the vestibule of your tent.

Carbon-based fuels like wood and charcoal give off carbon monoxide as they burn. In an enclosed or partially enclosed space, the levels can become toxic—even deadly. Don’t let rain or snow force you into a dangerous situation.


Do you have any scary stories to share related to live-fire cooking? Share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Instagram!