The dog days of summer are upon us, and in Miami that means barbecue season is here.  Whether you’re a novice or an accomplished chef, there are eye care tips that can help make your grilling experience a little safer on the eyes.

Eye-BBQProper eye care, just like grilling, starts with food preparation.  Chopping onions and peppers, especially hot peppers, can have a rather watery effect on your eyes.

When you chop, slice and dice onions, they release sulfur gas which stings and irritates the eyes – causing the eyes to tear severely. Here are a few techniques to reduce this irritation: Before you cut an onion, try putting it in the freezer for about 10 minutes, remove  it and immediately peel the onion. When you cut the onion there will be less gas released and therefore less tearing. Always use a very sharp knife to cut the onions. A dull knife has more of a crushing effect and therefore will release more gas. Lastly, wearing safety glasses will also help protect your eyes  from the released gas, and of course never rub your eyes while cutting the onion.

Chiles and other peppers contain capsaicin, an oily substance that gives the pepper its bite.  When the oil comes in direct contact with the tissues of the eye, intense stinging and watering will occur . Many of the same things we talked about with onion preparation also apply to chilies and peppers. What’s most important here, however, is to wear latex gloves while doing the prep work. The oils from the peppers are not always adequately removed even with thorough hand washing, so touching your eyes later may still cause intense pain. If you do get hot pepper in your eye, cold milk can neutralize the capsaicin and provide relief.

The same principles apply to spices and herbs. As with everything else, the safest way to handle food during preparation is with latex gloves.  Combined with thorough hand washing afterwards, you can prevent the spices from coming in contact with the eye and causing irritation.

Now lets talk about the heat source – charcoal versus propane. That’s a debate for a BBQ website, and I’m sure my friends at Smoke & Spice can educate you a little more. Most agree, however, that using charcoal and hardwoods imparts a truly distinct flavor to the foods you prepare. Many home cooks start their charcoal with lighter fluid, a fast burning and extremely flammable liquid.  It’s imperative that you stand back when lighting the fluid as to avoid singing your eyebrows and risking heat damage to your eyes, such as burns or early cataracts.

If you need to crank up the heat of your fire, blowing air on the coals is a great way to increase the flames.  If you stand real close and blow down on the coals you may blow up some hot ash which could fly up and hit you in the eye. A better method is to blow air horizontally across the coals rather than straight down. Just be careful not to blow too much or the ash might end up in your food.

So when your eyes are bigger than your stomach and you have to fire up the grill, remember to use common sense and be safe. The simple tips we’ve touched on will make for a safer and better-sighted barbecue season this summer.