Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, pizza, veggies, fish – you name it, you can grill it. By now you’ve probably fired up your grill at least a few times this summer, but how safe are your outdoor cooking practices?
According to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Americans prepare about three billion grilled meals each year. That’s a lot of deliciousness, but the pursuit of grilling perfection also leads to 19,000 Emergency Department visits and 7,900 home fires. On top of those known and tracked incidents, there are thousands of upset stomachs and food poisonings from improperly handled food.
Make sure your meal is as mouth-watering (and safe) as you want it to be by following these tips:
Wash your hands before, during and after preparing food. Your grill might not be equipped with a sink, but it’s very important to wash your hands throughout the grilling process. Use tongs to place your uncooked meat onto the grill instead of your hands (just remember to use different tongs once the meat is cooked).
Marinate meat in the refrigerator and don’t reuse the marinade. If you use a brush to apply the marinade, never use the same brush to baste raw and cooked meat. That’s a recipe for cross-contamination. Also a bad idea: partially grilling meat or poultry to finish cooking later.
Cook hamburgers and bratwursts to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken breasts to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. A meat thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure that foods are safe to eat (read: don’t cut into your meat and “eyeball” it for doneness). Have leftovers? Reheat them to an internal temperature of 165° F before serving a second time around. Again, check the temperature with a meat thermometer.
Don’t leave food, even if it’s fully cooked, out of refrigeration for extended periods of time. Leftovers should be in the refrigerator in shallow, airtight containers within two hours. In hot weather (90° F or warmer), reduce the time to one hour. Leftover grilled foods have a refrigerator life of three to four days. If you don’t finish a leftover within this timeframe, toss it.
Basic Grill Safety:
Keep your grill a safe distance from your house or any building (if possible). Never use a grill in a garage, breezeway, carport, porch, under an awning or any other surface that can catch fire. You’ll also want to watch for anything else overhead, like tree branches.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy when grilling and know how to properly use it. Look over the instructions and check the needle to make sure it’s still in the green area. If your fire extinguisher is more than five years old (or you don’t know how old it is) it’s a good idea to replace it.
Never use gasoline or kerosene to light a charcoal fire. Both can cause an explosion.
Safety While Cooking:
Never leave the grill unattended, especially when young children or pets are nearby. Better yet, keep kids and pets away from the grill at all times.
Whether you’re using coals or a gas grill, use the right equipment for the job. You’ll want insulated, flame retardant mitts, barbeque tongs and utensils close at hand while you’re grilling.
If you’re using coals, remember they get HOT – up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit! Don’t rush to clean up, wait until the coals have completely cooled before disposing of them. It’s a good idea to pour water over the used coals and ashes to make sure they don’t spark another fire.