I fired up the grill with my family yesterday, and I have to say that few things taste better than food hot off the grill. Unfortunately, grilling can also be a major source of food-borne illness for many summer revelers looking to enjoy the warmer weather. When cooked or prepared improperly, meat can harbor all sorts of bacteria, some of which can be deadly. To help you avoid getting sick this summer, I’ve put together a few recommendations that will allow you to enjoy the grill while keeping your family safe.
Buy a Digital Thermometer
The key factor in killing any dangerous bacteria that might be on or in the meat is to make sure the center of the meat gets hot enough when you cook it. Each meat has its own minimum temperature that should be reached before it’s safe to eat. The only way to know that is to test it directly with a thermometer. I’m not talking about the old analog-dial meat thermometer your grandmother bought for you. Get a digital thermometer so that you know exactly what the temperature is and can have the peace of mind knowing the meat you’ve cooked is safe for everyone to eat. When it comes to your health, analog thermometers just don’t cut it.
Wash Your Vegetables, Not Your Chicken
Some of the things that go on the grill need to be washed, while others should go straight from the package to the flames. In general, fruits and vegetables should be rinsed before you eat them to remove any chemical residues that might have been left on them from the growing process. Don’t worry about using soap because any bacteria on the outside of the vegetable will be killed almost immediately when they hit the hot metal of the grill.
Many people like to rinse their meat before they cook it, especially chicken. This is a big no-no. If any bacteria are on the surface of the meat, rinsing it off sprays these bacteria all over your sink and often all over the rest of your kitchen. As a result, rinsing chicken actually contaminates other food you might be preparing and that might not necessarily be heated over the flames. Remember, the bacteria on the outside will be killed almost immediately by the heat of the grill and any on the inside will also be destroyed as long as the internal temperature hits the right spot (as determined by your digital thermometer).
Cook With Two Sides of the Grill
One of the best ways to get tender meat that’s safely cooked is to use two temperature zones in your grill. On one side, you should have a lower heat mostly based on the heat from the higher temperature second half with direct flame. Rather than searing your food to start out, begin with cooking it in the lower temperature zone. This will allow the inside to heat up to the right temperature. Once it gets there, transfer it to the hot side to give it that crispy barbecued finish that we all love so much while making sure the center is adequately cooked.
Don’t Let It Sit
Even if you think you’ve done everything right on the grill, you can get bacterial growth if you leave the rest of your food sitting around in the sun. This is especially true with sides that people bring for a cookout. Prepare sides away from meat and make sure your hands are clean during prep. Make the food right before you’re going to eat it and don’t let it sit out in the sun for too long. Bringing a cooler for food as well as drinks can be a great way to avoid bacterial growth when you’re transporting food for a meal later in the day.
If you follow these easy steps, you can keep you and your family healthy this summer season. Happy grilling!