It only takes a fraction of a second. The grease on an oven, stove or fryer gets too hot and erupts into flames. Suddenly, cooking a meal turns into a very perilous situation.
What’s even worse is the fact most people aren’t prepared to deal with those scary circumstances. Often, their reactions to try to put grease fires out only exacerbate the problem, sometimes leading to catastrophic results.
There are several steps you can take to prevent grease fires from happening in the first place. But if a grease fire does break out, knowing what to do is also key to keeping a potentially dangerous situation under control.
Follow these preventative guidelines to make sure your experience as a chef does not include also becoming a makeshift firefighter.
Preventing Grease Fires
Whether you are preparing a four-course meal or frying up some hamburgers, safety should always be top of mind.
When using cooking oil, always heat it up slowly. You should never leave anything you are cooking with any type of grease unattended. Because heating oil has a flashpoint, it’s important to make sure you are there in case something does go wrong. Leaving the kitchen, even for a couple of seconds, could be a big mistake.
Next, do not get any other liquid anywhere near the stove when cooking. Spilling water, soda, coffee or tea into hot grease will turn it into steam that will spew out at you, which could lead to very severe burns. Also, when using a deep fryer -- perhaps the most dangerous of cooking devices -- make sure to not tip it over. Don’t place the fryer anywhere near the edge of a counter, and make sure to watch out for the cord. If a fryer tips over and spills hot grease that erupts into flames, you will have a raging fire on your hands in a matter of seconds.
If you are cooking with a recipe, make sure to closely follow cooking temperature instructions. And when using cooking oil, using just enough to coat the surface of the pan is plenty. As with many things in life, following directions is important.
Adding food to hot grease should also be done with extreme caution. Make sure moisture hasn’t accumulated on the food before cooking. Also, use a long fork or tongs to place the food into the pan to avoid splattering hot grease. Be mindful of the fact that when cooking, many foods, like the aforementioned hamburgers, will cause the grease to pop.
Being prepared in case of a fire is also important. You should always have oven mitts or potholders, a lid to cover the pan you are cooking with and a fire extinguisher at the ready. Baking soda is also good to have handy to help put a fire out, although it does take quite a bit of cooking soda to extinguish a fire.
Reacting to grease fires
Although it’s easier said than done, the most important things to do if a grease fire breaks out are to remain calm and not panic. Keeping your wits about you can bring a swift end to a dangerous situation.
Never pick up a pan that is on fire. This is extremely dangerous, because the fire can spread to you or the grease could spill onto the counter or floor, both which will promptly erupt in flames. You should also never put water on a grease fire. Doing so will cause the burning oil to splash and likely burn your skin. This can be difficult to remember, because normally water is used to put out fires. Definitely not in this case.
Next, cover the pan with a lid. By doing so, the lack of oxygen will smother the flames. Once the lid is firmly on top of the pan, switch off the burner. Give it a good 20-25 minutes to cool down before touching the pan or the lid. Also, be mindful glass lids can crack or break under extreme heat, so a metal lid is preferable.
And of course, if you or your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop and roll. That is the most effective way to put out the fire. It’s also one of the most important -- and easiest -- things to remember, even in a dire situation.
If the fire gets out of hand quickly, immediately clear the area and call 999.
By keeping these guidelines in mind before you start to cook, you can help ensure the end result is a nice meal instead of a harrowing experience.