by guest blogger Toni Becker, member of the Rodale’s editorial team
Blooming flowers are pretty and soil on our hands is heavenly, but the most delicious marker of warm-weather fun is backyard grilling.
As you prepare for your own outdoor feasts, you need to keep safety in mind. Here’s our guide highlighting some potential grilling hazards with tips to avoid them:
Safety Concern #1: Food Contamination
If you’re not careful, bacteria can easily spread to food or transfer from one type of food to another. To avoid it:
- Wash your hands well.
- Properly clean all grill tools, surfaces, and utensils.
- Prepare raw meats and vegetables at different times (whip up salads when the meat is on the grill).
- Scrub all surfaces between prep and use separate cutting boards and utensils for meat and veggies.
- Immediately wash any plates or cutting boards that held raw meat with soap and water; do not use dirty plates for cooked meat.
- Keep meats at a healthy temperature prior to cooking.
- Marinate in the fridge, not the counter.
Safety Concern #2: Undercooked Meat
An undercooked burger doesn’t just taste bad; it can be harmful to your body. To avoid it:
- Use a meat thermometer to determine when meat is fully cooked. Follow this gov guide for correct temperatures.
- Allow the meat to rest after cooking (use the guide above for correct times); as the meat maintains or increases its temperature, it kills more germs.
- Do not stack vegetables on meat until the meat is thoroughly cooked.
Safety Concern #3: Spoiled Food
By allowing food to sit out for an undetermined amount of time, you’re setting up a bacteria playground. To avoid it:
- Keep cold foods under 40 degrees until ready to consume.
- Keep cooked foods on grill or hot until eaten.
- Do not allow food to fall within the “temperature danger-zone,” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than an hour on 90-degree plus days, or two hours on any other day; these temps are a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Immediately package and refrigerate leftovers.
Safety Concern #4: Unwanted Toxins and Hazardous Materials
Whether it’s the meat you choose, your grilling technique, or the utensils you use, the threat of toxins is everywhere. To avoid it:
- Do not use metal scrapers with bristles to clean your grill. Metal bristles can fall off, get stuck on food, and be accidentally ingested. This is a potentially dangerous scenario that can lead to hospitalization. Try a bristle-free brush like this sturdy double-helix design instead.
- Do not burn food to a crisp; charred food exposes your body to chemicals and potential carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
- Avoid charring by cooking beef medium well and scrape off any small charred spots.
- Opt for lean meat since it reduces the development of PAHs, and cut it into smaller pieces, so it cooks faster.
- Marinate meat with acids like lemon juice or vinegar to lessen the formation of HCAs.
- Grill lots of veggies like corn, zucchini, or asparagus to counteract the buildup of HCAs from protein-rich foods.
Safety Concern #5: Grill Mishandling
Fire makes delicious meals, but it can also cook up trouble. To avoid it:
- Set up your grill away from the house and well-trafficked areas; do not put charcoal grills on a wooden deck.
- Brush up on charcoal cooking and other safety methods.
- Use indirect heat on a gas grill to avoid flames (turn off the middle burner, put the meat in the middle, and cook without direct flame under it).
- Close the grill lid if there are any serious flare-ups.
- Keep fire-fighting agents like water, baking soda, and a fire extinguisher at-hand.
- Never squirt liquid fluid on a fire.
Now, that we have safety in mind, let’s have some grill fun! Cook up a savory meal using these Organic Cedar Grilling Wraps. They add a delicious and distinctive wood smoke flavor to fish, shellfish, pork, poultry, beef, and more, while keeping food moist and juicy. Don’t forget the grill pizza stone and skewers, too!
Toni Becker is a part-time content creator at Rodale’s. She is also the personal chef, event planner, chauffeur, and best of all playmate to her young daughter. Her family of three lives in the woods where she finds time to write, cook anything she can from scratch, garden, and build her case of why she needs goats.