As two students are fined £11.7m each for starting a forest fire: The dos and don'ts of BBQing

17th Apr 19 | Lifestyle

Your one-stop guide on how to not set things on fire.

Asian woman are cooking for a group of friends to eat barbecue

It’s nothing new for students to feel saddled with debt, but in Italy a university education is nothing compared to the cost of a BBQ gone wrong.

Two Italian men were enjoying an innocent afternoon grill at the home of a relative on Monte Berlinghera in Lombardy, when embers from their BBQ combined with dry conditions to create a blaze that tore through 100 hectares of forest.

Turning burgers
Probably not worth £11.7 million (iStock/PA)

Their liability was calculated using a formula from local law – €118–€593 per square metre of damage – resulting in a colossal, and evidently unpayable bill.

Obviously you don’t want to be within a million miles of this kind of headline, but you probably do want to enjoy a pleasant grill session, and possibly over the Easter weekend.

Here are the dos and don’ts of barbecue safety, to ensure your barbie cooks only what it’s supposed to…

Pick your spot

Choose an area of flat ground away from sheds, shrubs or woodland, and at least 10 feet from any house. We sincerely hope this goes without saying, but do not attempt to BBQ indoors.

BBQ in the woods
Nice woods – please don’t burn them down (iStock/PA)

Cook with care

Use a BBQ in good order (obviously), and make sure it’s clean before use. Any build-up of oil or fat residue can add fuel to the flames, and is a common cause of flare-ups. Avoid overloading with fatty meats for the same reason – the resulting flare-up could be large enough to set surrounding objects aflame.

Ideally you should have a fire extinguisher on hand, and crucially, know how to use it. If you still think the foam comes out of the hinged bit at top, it might be a good time for some Googling.

At the very least keep a bucket of sand or water within striking range, and never leave a barbecue unattended. It’s a good rule for life – if something is on fire, keep an eye.

Know your grill

The gas vs. charcoal debate has raged for generations, and, though we’re not here to make value judgements, the two fuels do have slightly different safety requirements.

Charcoal barbies should be lit with recognised fire lighters or starter fuel (whatever you see in the movies – do not use petrol), while the charcoal itself should cover the base to a depth of around two inches.

A charcoal barbecue
Let’s get cookin’ (iStock/PA)

Gas barbecues are slightly more flexible, but do not turn the gas on with the lid down. If the gas builds up, it can create a literal fireball.

Barbecue hygiene

According to the NHS website, your safest option is to cook your food thoroughly in an oven, and then whack them briefly on the BBQ for flavour. If you’re cooking out in the wild – or want to pretend that you are – your biggest risks are under-cooking your meat, and exposing fully prepared food to meat that hasn’t been cooked at all.

Grilling on a barbie

If you’re using coals, make sure they’re glowing red before you cook anything, and that all meat is defrosted and cooked on all sides. Usual rules apply regarding burgers and other processed meat – steaming hot throughout, and no pink at the thickest point. BBQs are particularly susceptible to erratic heat distribution, so consume with care.

This won’t stop you starting a forest fire, but it might stop you getting salmonella.

Clean up after yourself

When you’re fully sated, allow your grill to cool fully before cleaning or moving. Do not attempt to clear away any embers until they’ve stopped smouldering – the result might be a burning bin.

© Press Association 2019