Barbecue season is officially in full swing, and neighborhoods everywhere are filled with the sweet, smoky smell of charcoal and BBQ sauce. While grilled dishes can be as healthy as they are delicious, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure issues like foodborne illness and fatty calorie-bombs don’t put a crimp in your grilling.
1. Do: Keep hands and utensils clean.
Many illnesses occur when grill masters handle raw meat prior to cooking, pick up bacteria, and then transmit it back to cooked food. Remember to wash hands after handling raw meat, keep a container of wet wipes beside the grill to encourage hand cleaning, and never use the same utensils for both raw and cooked foods. If you have to use the same tongs or grilling forks, wash them in between putting foods on the grill and taking them off.
2. Don’t: Place cold meats right on the grill.
Refrigerated meats can have spots that are colder than others, allowing them to cook unevenly and leaving some areas in the temperature danger zone. All meats to rest and come up to room temperature before grilling, but don’t leave them sitting for too long — sitting at room temperature can encourage the growth of bacteria. Thawing in the microwave and pre-cooking in a pan or oven can help reduce the amount of extra juices in meat, which can limit juices and fat from dripping onto the heat source and releasing potentially cancer-causing compounds.
3. Do: Choose lean meats or vegetables and make a marinade.
Vegetables and lean meats like chicken or fish are the healthiest grilling options. It’s also a good idea to stick to sensible portions of grilled meats — a serving is about the size of a deck of cards. Trimming extra fat and marinading meats beforehand can help increase their flavor while reducing calorie and carcinogen content.
4. Don’t: Use sauces too early.
When cooked over an open flame, the sugars in sweet BBQ sauces tends to char and turn into a hard, bitter, inedible mass that ruins the flavor of a good cut of meat. Use sauces sparingly, and save them for the last ten seconds of cooking. You’ll need less sauce, and the flavor will come through better.
5. Do: Use a thermometer.
A lot of factors can influence how “done” a piece of meat looks, and temperature isn’t always high on the list. A piece of meat can look brown, but still have an unsafe internal temperature. Cutting into meat to check for doneness can also cause some juices to be lost, allowing them to spatter on hot coals. Instead of trying to estimate how done a piece of meat is, use a thermometer.
6. Don’t: Use starter fluid.
Starter fluid might be convenient, but it’s not a good idea for grilling. It can give foods a chemical flavor, and nobody wants to ingest starter chemicals. Take your time when it comes to lighting your charcoal — your food will taste better and be healthier for it.
7. Do: Use fresh meats.
Processed meats are high in salt, fat, and potentially carcinogenic compounds. Skip the sausages and opt for fresh, lean cuts of meat instead. A good marinade will help tenderize meat while imparting whatever flavors you want, without adding anything you don’t.
8. Don’t: Rush or get distracted.
There’s a narrow window between cold and raw, perfect doneness, and inedible cinders. Stay attentive while grilling to keep your meats from turning into dry, singed hockey pucks, and take your time. Well-cooked meat is healthier and safer than burnt or raw meat, not to mention much more satisfying.
9. Do: Put leftovers away quickly.
Even after cooking, it’s a bad idea to leave food sitting around in summer heat. Don’t let leftovers sit around for more than an hour in temperatures over 90°F, or two hours at 72°F. The longer leftovers sit around, the more time there is for bacteria to multiply.
10. Don’t: Use steel brushes to clean grills.
Steel brushes can shed bristles, allowing them to embed themselves into your food and, afterward, into you. Use a pumice stone or bristle-free, coil-shaped brush to scrub your grill thoroughly after use.
Grilling is a natural part of summer, and there’s no reason to miss out. By following these ten Dos and Don’ts, you’ll be able to have a happy, healthy, safe summer full of delicious barbecue.