Fire Up the Barbecue

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
Fire Up the Barbecue

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Summer may be the traditional grilling season, but more than half of Americans fire up the barbecue all year-round! According to a recent survey, gas grills are America's favorite grill of choice, with 67 percent of the vote. Charcoal grills follow second (46 percent). And, a small percentage prefer smokers (10 percent) or outdoor electric grills (4 percent).

Whether you're a “Weekend-only Griller” or an “Every Day Grill Gourmet,” beef up your food safety with these helpful, hot-off-the-grill tips.

Develop a Taste for Safety

  • Buy a Food Thermometer. When selecting a thermometer, read the package label. Be sure you're buying a type designed to use with meat. Look for a thermometer made of stainless steel with an easy-to-read dial and shatterproof lens.
  • Clean Your Grill. Take time to make sure your grill is clean and ready for safe use before throwing on your favorite food. Clean your grill by following the manufacturer's guidelines. Also, if you are using a gas grill, check the burner openings to make sure they are clear of any deposits to ensure a safe ignition and even flame.
  • Burn off Bacteria. When you're ready to cook, allow the grill to heat up sufficiently to burn off any lingering bacteria.

Be Adventurous

  • Cut the Fat. Grill turkey burgers instead of beef. Ground turkey breast can be as lean as 99-percent fat-free.
  • Pile on the Nutrients. Add flavor and nutrition to your meal with vegetables cooked right on the grill. Baste vegetables such as peppers, corn, eggplant or onions with a little olive oil or vinaigrette. Season them with herbs and place on a hot grill until they are tender. Or, sprinkle sliced zucchini, tomatoes and carrots with a little water and seasoning, wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil and grill until vegetables are tender.
  • Toast a Healthy Dessert. Grill fruit kebabs, pineapple slices or peach halves on low heat until the fruit is hot and slightly golden. Serve the fruit on top of a scoop of low-fat ice cream or angel food cake for a tasty and nutritious dessert.

Play it Safe

  • Keep the Upper Hand. Did you know that while 77 percent of Americans use different cutting boards for raw meats and ready-to-eat foods, only 9 percent always or usually wash utensils before using them for cooked foods? These grilling shortcuts may save time, but they also can leave you with a case of foodborne illness! Take precautions. Wash cutting boards and utensils in hot, soapy water between uses. Or, use color-coded sets to keep raw meats, seafood and poultry and ready-to-eat foods separate. And always, always wash your hands!
  • Embrace Marinating Musts. Marinate meat in the refrigerator (never on the counter or outside by the grill). And, discard or bring leftover sauces to a boil before reusing them on cooked meats to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Prevent Charring. According to the USDA, recent studies suggest a link between cancer and charred meats and fish. Charring commonly occurs as a result of high-temperature cooking methods such as grilling, frying and broiling. Here are four ways to prevent your meats from charring:
  • Use Your Food Thermometer. According to a recent survey conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 31 percent of people say the most common thing that causes food poisoning is undercooking or not cooking to proper temperatures. But, only 23 percent of Americans use a food thermometer to check the doneness of their hamburgers, chicken breasts and other grilled favorites! Cooking to proper internal temperatures not only helps ensure the taste of your grilled dishes, it also helps ensure their safety.

When You're Chilling

  • Watch the Clock. The Academy survey indicated 21 percent of people believe picnic foods can sit out in summer heat for more than two hours without refrigeration. Not true! In temperatures of 90°F or more, the "two-hour rule" becomes the "one-hour rule." Next time you dine outdoors, keep guests safe by setting out perishable food items in one-hour shifts. After each shift, place uneaten food back in a refrigerator set below 40°F. Or, keep perishable foods on ice to make sure they stay properly chilled.
  • Cut Condiment Bacteria. Data shows that mayonnaise is America's top selling condiment, followed by salsa, ketchup and mustard. Remember condiments should not be left sitting out for more than two hours (one hour in weather above 90°F). It is a smart idea to bring a cooler or keep condiments in a bucket of ice.
  • Let Leftovers Go. While food safety experts say grilled foods have a refrigerator life of only three to four days, many grillers keep leftovers for up to a week or longer. But keeping grilled foods for too long can affect both taste and quality. Make sure your grilled leftovers are as safe as they are delicious by refrigerating foods in shallow containers (no more than 3 inches deep) and writing the date on top to help you keep track. Also be sure to reheat foods to an internal temperature of 165°F before serving a second time around use a food thermometer to check.

Download: Learn more with the Safe Grilling Guide.

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