Safe Tips to Keep the Grill Sizzling

7-19-05 - Summer days outdoors mean good old-fashioned outdoor cooking. But before firing up the grill, it’s important to know safe cooking practices.

Food safety experts stress there are some important tips to keep in mind to prevent illness when cooking meat and poultry outdoors. Burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken and pork are all popular grill fare, but whole meats are generally safer than ground meats.

“The reason they are better is because when the meat is ground up, any bacteria on the outside gets mixed to the inside,” says Dr. Patti Landers, RD/LD, of the OU Health Sciences Center.

That means the inside of that ground meat patty has to get hot enough to kill bacteria. Use a food safety thermometer to be sure. When checking temperatures, ground meat needs to be cooked at 165 degrees. Poultry white meat needs a temperature of 170 degrees, and dark meat, whole chickens and turkeys should be cooked at 180.

“The best way to do chicken is to throw it on the grill and mark it so that it looks nice and gets a little of that smokey flavor – 20 to 30 minutes at most – then finish it up in the oven,” says Landers, “and with a piece of meat like that, you want to take your digital thermometer and stick it in sideways.”

The same is true with burgers, the goal being to test the temperature at the center, the coldest part of the meat. One more precaution: don’t test different meats with the same thermometer, unless it’s cleaned first. Landers suggests keeping a milk jug filled with water-bleach solution next to the grill—one tablespoon of bleach for each gallon of water.

Finally, remember that once the food is off the grill, it needs to be refrigerated within one hour or it could become contaminated with bacteria that might make you, your family, or your friends ill.