Nothing says summer like the smoky smell of a grill full of meat, veggies, or both. As the grilling season heats up, it is important to use proper grilling techniques to create a delicious, safe meal. Read on for healthy grilling tips to keep your cookout food safe and delicious.
- Do not rinse meat, especially in the sink, since bacteria can contaminate other surfaces in the kitchen. Avoid contaminating surfaces in the kitchen with bacteria from the raw meat or juice.
- Wash thoroughly all utensils and surfaces after handling raw meat and poultry to avoid spreading germs to other food.
- Make sure you clean your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
- Some studies show that a grill can get pretty germy, while other studies maintain that grills are completely sanitary because of the high heat that is consistently used. Either way, our healthy grilling tips encourage cleaning the grill before using it, because it can’t hurt.
- Plastic bags can keep meat and poultry separated from other foods, both in the grocery cart and in the refrigerator, so that contaminated juices don’t drip onto other foods.
- Use different cutting boards to trim raw meats and to prepare fresh produce.
- Never use the same plates or platters for raw and cooked meat.
- When marinating meat at home, keep it refrigerated, taking special care not to drip the raw meat marinade onto kitchen surfaces. Never use the same marinade from the raw meat as a glaze on cooked meat unless it has been thoroughly heated to kill the germs first.
- Thaw meat either in the refrigerator or in water heated up to at least 100˚ (for cuts that are about 1” thick). Don’t ever leave frozen meat to thaw at room temperature (on the counter or in the sink).
- Always cook meats and poultry so that an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat reaches the following temperatures:
- Hamburgers – 160˚
- Poultry – 165˚
- Beef and Pork-Can be taken off heat at 145˚; allow to rest after cooking for at least 3 minutes
- Freshly prepared food should be eaten or refrigerated within two hours, or one hour if it is an especially hot summer day.
- Use an ice cooler to keep perishable foods cold when you are outside.
Some beef is mechanically tenderized (pierced with needles), even if it looks like regular “intact” steaks or roasts. These pieces need to be cooked thoroughly so that even the middle of the cut reaches the proper cooking temperature, just like ground beef. (Some grocery stores label mechanically tenderized beef). Soon, all meats treated in this way will be labeled, but if you aren’t sure, cook it thoroughly. Only “intact” meats can be cooked medium-rare.
Look for meats from animals that were raised without antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry has led to “superbugs” that can infect humans and are drug resistant.
6. Watch Out for PAHs and HCAs
Fat drippings from high-fat grilled meats combined with the heat from the flame or coals can produce potentially carcinogenic chemicals called PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). PAHs can be released into the smoke and also form directly on the meat if it is charred.
- Avoid placing meat directly over the coals or heat source where smoke is heaviest to minimize PAHs.
- Lean meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, and veggie burgers are good choices to avoid PAHs.
- When meat is cooked to extremely high temperatures, the heat creates potentially carcinogenic HCAs (heterocyclic amines), and the levels of HCAs can increase the longer the meat is exposed to the high temperatures.
- Seafood and vegetables are less likely to form HCAs.
- A marinade helps prevent HCAs from forming during cooking.
- Precook your meats in the microwave for 30 to 90 seconds and throw out the juice that accumulates. The flavor doesn’t change, but the likelihood of HCAs forming is significantly lowered.
The United States Department of Agriculture has additional healthy grilling tips and information about food safety.
What is your favorite summer cookout food safety tip? Let us know in the comments.
This post was originally published in 2013 and is updated regularly.