The grilling season is heating up with some 17.2 million grills sold last year, the highest number ever. To stomachs growling for food of the seared, sauced and savory variety, that's tasty news.

But as palate pleasing as grilled grub can be it's a special kind of cooking that comes with guidelines you’ll want to be sure to follow to ensure your cookout is both sanguine and safe.

We checked with the experts (the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA); the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); the U.S. Department of Agriculture; even the Weather Channel) and here's what they advise.

  • Begin with choosing the right grill. Propane gas grills have been the industry leader since 1995, when their sales surpassed charcoal grills for the first time. In 2006, more than 10.1 million consumers purchased gas grills, about 7 million purchased charcoal fired grills and 290,000 went for electric grilling according to the HPBA.

    Gas and electric grills are more convenient say their fans, but to others there's nothing like infusing food with old-fashioned charcoal flavor (seasoned with burning maple wood chips).

    Grills also come in an endless variety of sizes, styles, colors and costs. There's one to fit virtually an area ranging from small apartments and condos to fully-equipped, permanent outdoor kitchens.

  • Read the owners manual. It's not just package stuffing. Follow specific usage, assembly, and safety procedures. The grill manufacturer can answer questions the manual might raise. Keep handy the original receipt and write the model and serial number (if any) and the manufacturer’s consumer hotline on the front page of your manual for both questions and recall information.
  • Except for special models, typically electric, designed for the kitchen, grills are outdoor appliances. Don't use it in your home, trailer, tent, garage or any enclosed area. Carbon monoxide (CO), emitted as a by-product of combustion, can kill you. Outside, pick a well-ventilated area away from doors, windows, buildings in general, intake vents, overhead surfaces, dry leaves or brush.
  • Keep fire under control. Be on the lookout for wind-blown sparks. To put out flare-ups, either raise the grilling surface, spread the coals out evenly, or adjust the controls to lower the temperature. If you must douse the flames with a light spray of water, first remove the food from the grill. Use baking soda to control a grease fire and have a fire extinguisher handy. A bucket of sand or a garden hose should be near if you don’t have a commercial extinguisher.
  • Grilling is often a partner or team effort. Never leave a lit grill unattended. Keep the grill level and stable so it doesn't tip over. Don't jostle or move a lit grill. Keep small children well away from the grilling area. Don’t allow anyone to conduct activity near the grill when it is in use or immediately following its use.
  • Grill with long-handled utensils to avoid burns and splatters. Wear safe clothing -- clothing that does not have hanging shirt tails, frills, or apron strings that can catch fire -- and use flame-retardant mitts that cover up the forearm.
  • Consider placing a grill pad or splatter mat beneath your grill to protect your deck or patio from any grease that misses the drip pan.

    By fuel type

  • When using electric grills or accessories, be sure it is properly grounded in accordance with local codes. Electrical cords should be placed away from walkways, sources of water or anywhere people can trip over them. Avoid using extension cords, but when necessary use the correct gauge and load bearing rating.
  • When charcoal grilling, never add lighter fluid to hot coals. The flame could travel up the fluid stream. Use proper utensils for handling coals. Don't store the grill indoors with freshly used coals because charcoal produces CO fumes until the charcoal is completely extinguished. Instead, place the cover on the grill, close the vents and allow the coals to burn out completely. Let ashes cool for at least 48 hours, douse with water and dispose in a non-combustible container.

    Charcoals are a fuel source. Store them in a flame-proof metal container outside your home in an area protected from moisture.

  • Propane gas is extremely flammable and potentially explosive. Keep feeder tubes clear of blockages and check hoses for cracking, brittleness, holes, leaks and sharp bends that could block the flow of gas. Likewise, have a professional replace scratched or nicked connectors. Keep gas hoses clear of or shielded from hot surfaces and dripping hot grease

    Use caution when storing propane gas containers. Transport and store containers in an upright position. Never store spare containers under or near the grill. Never store a full container indoors. Don't use dented containers. Never keep a filled container in a hot car or car trunk. Heat will cause the gas pressure to increase, causing the relief valve to open and gas to escape.

    Tips for grilling food

  • Always cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature. For example, on the Fahrenheit scale, whole poultry should reach 180 degrees; poultry breasts, 170 degrees; ground beef hamburgers, 160 degrees; ground poultry, 165 degrees; beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts and chops can be cooked to at least 145 degrees; all cuts of pork, 160 degrees.
  • Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later. Harmful bacteria will grow and fester between the time you start and finish cooking, even if you refrigerate the food in between.
  • Whenever possible, serve cooked items immediately and always on clean plates. Keep unserved items pushed to the side of the grill rack or an a warm oven set at 200 degrees.
  • Promptly refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers. Cut up whole poultry or other large items to hasten cooling.
  • When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 degrees or until steaming hot.
  • Discard any food left out more than two hours.

    More safety tips, specific to the type of grill you buy, are available from the HPBA on its "Barbecue" page for consumers.

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