Summertime for me means grilling.

Summertime for my 4-year-old means playing outside from the time she wakes up until Earth is conquered by our “kind and benevolent” robot overlords. Or at least until we drag her kicking and screaming to bed. You know, whichever comes first.

She’s also at that age where she just wants to help me do everything. All. The. Time. So, when I’m outside grilling, and she’s outside on the swings, guess what she finds more interesting? That’s right, helping Daddy cook steaks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for teaching her the ropes. But forgive me if I’d rather not have her over face-melting heat right now. So, if you have small shadows-in-training like myself, here are a few tips to keep little ones safe around the grill without squashing their budding independence.

Before you start, let those (lovable) picky eaters pick their own dinner. Plot out some time to flip through grilling cookbooks and let the kids pick a few drool-worthy BBQ recipes (making sure, naturally, that you either A) have the ingredients to craft it or B) have time to go shopping for the ingredients). Sure, kids will most likely choose based on picture alone, but once they choose there’s a better chance they’ll actually eat it since they picked it. If not? Well, I didn’t say it was a “good” chance, did I.

 

  • Depending on your kids’ age and capabilities, once you start crafting the recipe, they’ll want to help. Great! Have them brush on BBQ sauce, sprinkle on the steak rub, help make burger patties — there’s an array of things they can help with. Besides, when you think about it, grilling is just craft time anyway. Delicious, delicious craft time.
  • Finally, time to grill… wait. Before firing it up, show your shadow what parts of the grill will get hot. Kids touching grill lids is just one of the primary reasons a pleasant cookout turns into a conversely unpleasant trip to a quick care facility.
  • Finally, time to grill. For real this time. Pull that sucker away from the house, deck, or out from under any eaves a good 10 ft. or so and double-check there’s no fat remnants anywhere — especially the grease trap — that might cause unexpected flare-ups.
  • Until they can actually use any of your long-handled grilling tools (you have long-handled grilling tools, right?), you may just want to flat-out keep kids away from the grill. There’s absolutely no shame in that. The challenge is establishing the boundaries so the kids understand without feeling like the iron fist of the Dad-tatorship is coming down on them. A couple suggestions: gather the kids around and establish a grilling safe zone. Then let them mark it off with something fun like sidewalk chalk if you’re on a patio or toys if you’re in the yard. They’ve now established their own boundaries, which they’re more likely to follow since “it was their idea.” If you need to, designate one of them as the “Guardian of the Grill Zone” to make sure none of the other kids step over the line. You might be amazed how a simple title ushers in a sense of pride and responsibility!
  • Using propane? Check the tank, hoses, and connection points for leaks when turning it on. Everything in order but you still smell gas? Cancel the cookout and call the fire department, or so says the National Fire Protection Association. Sounds like a smart idea to me.
  • Using charcoal? A charcoal chimney is safer than lighter fluid since you can start the fire with simple newspaper, but if lighter fluid is your loyal fire starter, never use it on already lit charcoals. And for the love of our future robot overlords, stash it out of reach of your shadow when you’re done.
  • Lastly, know where your fire extinguisher is. Better yet, have one at the ready.

 

Sure, most of this is common sense, but if you have a shadow that wasn’t around during last grilling season — like myself — enjoying a good grilling refresher never hurts.

Speaking of refresher, there’s nothing like a cold drink while grilling. Make sure your shadow has a tasty (age-appropriate) beverage, too. After all, they were part and parcel of creating this magnificent meal. Cheers!

 

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