Confessions of a charcoal grill chef

August 1, 2004 By    

I’d like to share a personal story. Thirty years ago, I bought a gas grill,
assembled it, turned on the gas, lit the burner and went in the house for the
hot dogs. I came back out to find the hose had burned off and I had a roaring
flame coming out of the wide-open valve.

I almost panicked. I recalled slide shows of firemen holding hoses on a flaming tank while they approached to turn off the valve. I did the same thing with a garden hose and an oven mitt. My heart was in my throat.

At home and at the cabin, I have since grilled with charcoal, partly because
I’m a traditionalist by nature and partly because of transportation and interruptible service issues.

To Dad, with love

Imagine my joy and apprehension when my sons bought me a propane grill for Fathers Day. I dutifully read the instructions from the grill manufacturer and the labels on the full cylinder.

One frustration was with the tank fitting under the grill in a cabinet. The
angle of the hose and the confines of the cabinet made it hard to feel the right
angle for the connection. I twisted the connection until it stopped, looked
at it and I pulled on the fitting. It popped off. I tried a second time and
still it did not lock. Finally, I took the cylinder out of the cabinet and found
the right angle for the connection. I returned the tank to the cabinet and correctly hooked up the hose. I put soapy water on the areas to confirm it was sound and turned on the gas.

I turned on the burner and pushed the button. It all worked fine.

A recent study shows that 50 percent of all propane accidents are related to
use of propane barbeque grills. I believe the greatest exposure for consumers
is ensuring a proper connection. Had I trusted my initial attempt, I may have
recreated my situation of 30 years ago.

I realize that with the advent of the OPD valve most of those old issues no
longer exist. There is still the possibility for confusion, however. I went
back to the warnings and instructions and found they don’t mention how hard it is to make sure you get a good connection inside those convenient storage cabinets under the grill.

What do your customers know?

Despite all the latest safety improvements, I find that consumer focus on propane safety borders on cavalier. I often hear, “We use propane all the time and never have had a problem.” That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

I see six points on propane grilling that deserve clear communication with
consumers:

  • Always follow manufacturer’s instructions
  • Proper cylinder transportation and storage
  • Secure connection instructions for those tight cabinet spaces
  • Always turn the tank off after grilling
  • Clean the grease that builds up and check for clogged burner orifices and venturi tubes
  • Keep instructions for parts and replacement when the igniter dies. One
    of the liability exposures for propane grills is when the igniter dies and
    home chefs pitch matches into the grill. When a grill part that is part of
    the safety system breaks, it should be replaced.

Is safety information available for consumers at all of your refill stations
and exchange cabinets? Do they take it? Do they read it? A news release on grilling safety tips for consumers is available from the Propane Education & Research Council (http://propanecouncil.org/). It should be in the hands of all your customers.

After all these years, I finally look forward to using my new propane grill.
My boys worked hard to earn the money to buy this gift. Now it’s up to me not to burn the meat.

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