Grill It for Safety

by Roberta Duyff, MS RDN FAND

Grill It for Safety

Before you put a burger on the grill, take these precautions:

  • Clean the grill between each use with hot, soapy water. Removing charred food debris from the grill reduces exposure to bacteria.
  • Adjust the grill so food cooks evenly—inside and out. When meat or poultry are too close to the heat source, the outside surfaces cook quickly and may appear done; the inside may not be cooked well enough.
  • If you're grilling at a picnic site, do all the cooking there—from start to finish. Partly cooked meats transported to the picnic may still carry bacteria.
  • Marinate to help keep meat, fish and poultry from drying out.
  • Grill on both sides. Turn meat, poultry and fish over at least once for even cooking. If fish is less than 1/2–inch thick, you don't need to turn it.
  • Grill meat, poultry and fish until cooked through, but not charred. High-heat cooking such as grilling can cause two potentially carcinogenic compounds to form; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mostly from smoke, and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), mostly from charring, as in a well-done steak. These compounds form naturally during cooking and grilling. While research on the health effects isn't conclusive, the quality of the meat is better if you avoid the "black stuff." To reduce charring, especially if you grill a lot, be certain it reaches a safe internal temperature.
  • Cook meat to medium, rather than well done; pre-cook meat first, then quickly grill for flavor. Grill poultry and fish until the internal temperature reaches its target, but the surface isn’t blackened.
  • Marinate. Emerging research indicates that marinating, especially with certain spices and herbs such as turmeric and rosemary, may reduce HCAs.
  • Control hot coals to avoid flare-ups that cause smoke and charring. Trim away visible fat. Cook in the center of the grill—coals on the side—so fat and juices won't drip on them. Drain away high-fat marinades; have a spray bottle with water ready for flare-ups. Never use water to control flames on a gas grill!
  • Scrape off charred areas before eating the meat, poultry or fish.
  • Cooking in a smoker? It's a slow way to cook outdoors, good for less tender meat cuts—and it gives a smoky flavor. For safety's sake, make sure the smoker stays at 250ºF to 300ºF.
  • Again, remember to transfer grilled or smoked food to a clean plate—not the unwashed plate use to bring raw food to the grill or the smoker. Use a clean utensil—not your fingers!
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About the author:

Roberta L Duyff MS RDN FAND

Roberta Duyff, MS RDN FAND

Author of "Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, Fourth Edition" and "365 Days of Healthy Eating from the American Dietetic Association" (both published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey).




  • Cook healthy

    Involve your child in the cutting, mixing and preparation of all meals. Even a snack can be healthy.

  • Eat right

    Sit down together as a family to enjoy a wonderful meal and the opportunity to share the day's experiences with one another.

  • Shop smart

    To encourage a healthy lifestyle, get your children involved in selecting the food that will appear at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.

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