The familiar aromas of spring are filling the air. Flowers are blooming, grass is being cut and long idled grills are cooking up the first outdoor meals of the year.

Nothing quite equals the taste of food cooked on an outdoor grill. But grilling is more than just starting up the grill and throwing on a couple of steaks.

Grilling accidents cause injuries and fires every year. Cooks need to follow safety rules to keep the cookout safe and delicious.

After sitting for several months, the grill should be inspected and cleaned before being used, said Pratt County Extension Agent Jodi Drake.

Use a wire brush or oven cleaner to clean the grate. If an oven cleaner is used, be sure to rinse the grate thoroughly before cooking to get rid of any residue.

Preparation helps make grilling more efficient. Stock up on charcoal, get all the necessary tools ready and be sure to keep meat products refrigerated until just before grilling.

Use tongs or spatulas to handle meat. This keeps hands away from the heat and prevents piercing the meat to keep the juices inside, Drake said.

When setting up the grill, pick a well-ventilated flat area away from flammable materials including wooden fences, dry shrubbery and dead grass. Wind can affect the cooking time and can blow flames so always consider wind direction and speed.

When starting to grill with charcoal, place the charcoal in a pyramid then add two ounces of lighter fluid and light with a match. Never put lighter fluid on hot coals because the fire can travel up the liquid to the can. Use a pair of tongs to move briquettes if necessary. It takes about 20 minutes to get briquettes ready to use.

If the grill is gas, make the bottle has enough gas to cook the meal. Check all connections on the bottle and the grill before using. Make sure the disconnect and shut off valve are working properly, Drake said.

It’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher handy or a hooked up garden hose in case of a fire. If a flare up happens, covering the grill with the lid will cut of the oxygen and the fire will die.

When starting the fire, never lean over the grill to prevent burns. Also wear flame retardant oven mitts when placing food on the grill or turning the food.

Meat can also add to the fire hazard. Trim fat or use lean meat to prevent drippings from igniting.

Proper use of the grill and utensils can help prevent fires. Proper use of food can help prevent food poisoning.

Don’t let food set out too long before grilling. Keep food cold until the moment it goes on the grill.

Always use a separate platter for raw meat and for cooked product to prevent food poisoning.

Getting the meat to correct temperature is vital for safe cooking. A thermometer will help take the guesswork out of proper temperature. Cooking temperature for ground meat is 160 degrees, for steak 145, for poultry its 180 degrees and for pork its 160 degrees.

The thicker the piece of meat the longer it takes to cook it so don’t get in a hurry.

Lastly, make sure the fire is out when grilling is over. If it’s a gas grill, check the valves to make sure they are completely closed and no gas is flowing. On a charcoal grill, put water on the charcoal. Never leave a grill unattended while in use or when it still has hot coals.

A house fire in Pratt several years ago started when a small charcoal grill was left unattended on a deck and the wind blew the grill over setting the deck on fire. The fire eventually spread to the house causing major damage.