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Summer Grilling Safety Tips

Updated April 18, 2022

Christina Bakker

Assistant Professor and SDSU Extension Meat Science Specialist

April in South Dakota can have a variety of weather, from snowstorms to 70-degree days, and with the taste of Spring weather, comes the itch to get out and grill. If you’re like many people, your grill was put away after the first blizzard and has stayed cold for a few months. Before you fire up the grill this season, here are a few reminders on grilling and food safety.

Clean the grill.

Hand cleaning a removed grill grate with a wire brush.
After sitting dormant, your grill could use a good cleaning. Pull the grates out and use a grill brush to remove debris, while inspecting for rust and corrosion. Courtesy: Canva

After sitting dormant for several months, your grill could use a good cleaning. Pull the grates out and remove the heat plates and the grease trap. Using a grill brush, remove the debris from the parts and inspect them. If there are a lot of rust spots or areas of corrosion, you should consider replacing the parts. Areas of rust allow food to stick to the grill and can also transfer rust onto your food. You can use a grill degreaser to clean the parts with more stuck-on food residue, but be sure to follow label directions. If cleaning the grease trap makes your stomach turn, consider purchasing a liner or line the trap with aluminum foil to make clean up easier. Once the interior parts are cleaned, wipe down the side trays and lid handle to give yourself clean surfaces to work with.

Inspect your grill brush.

Grill brush sitting on wood deck railing.
If your grill brush is a few years old, it is important to inspect the bristles. Courtesy: Canva

One of the most-common and easy ways to do a quick clean up on your grill is to use a grill brush. However, if your grill brush is a few years old, it is important to inspect the bristles. If they are flattened or caked with debris, they aren’t as effective as the bristles on a clean brush.

Also, make sure that the bristles are intact. Cheaper-made brushes have a tendency to lose the wire bristles, which can get stuck on the grate and end up in your food, which is a safety issue. When in doubt, get a new brush.

Thaw meat products safely.

Never set meat out to thaw on the countertop or in the sink. Allowing meat to sit at room temperature for extended periods of time gives potentially harmful bacteria time to grow and multiply. There are three accepted methods to thaw meat products safely.

Refrigerator

Using a refrigerator is the preferred method when it comes to preserving meat quality. However, it can take a few days for meat to thaw in the refrigerator, so it is not the ideal method if you are planning to use the meat in the same day. Also, make sure you are storing raw meat products in the lowest portion of your refrigerator possible to avoid cross contamination from leaking packages. Always keep ready-to-eat food away from raw meat.

Microwave

Another common way to thaw meat safely is to use a microwave. This is by far the quickest method, but it should only be used in certain circumstances. By exposing the meat to heat, the meat gets to be within the temperature danger zone very quickly, so it should be cooked thoroughly immediately after microwaving. Additionally, the microwave can begin to cook the meat, which would result in a poorer-quality product.

Cold Water

Another way to safely thaw meat is by submerging it in cold water and changing the water out every 30 minutes. Place the meat in a waterproof packaging (disposable plastic food bags work well) and remove as much air as you can before submerging it to avoid water seeping into the product, making it watery. The speed of this method depends on the size of the cut you are thawing. Pieces of meat that are less than one pound can be thawed in less than one hour. Larger cuts can take several hours.

It is extremely important to use cold water in this method. Warm or hot water may thaw the meat faster, but it also allows the meat to be in the temperature danger zone (40-140°F) for too long, potentially allowing bacteria to grow. Additionally, hot water may start to cook the meat, resulting in a lower-quality product.

Avoid cross contamination.

Man washing hands at an outdoor sink.
Remember to wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially before and after handling raw meat and before handling ready-to-eat food. Courtesy: Canva

As with any other method of cooking, avoiding cross contamination should be in the forefront of your mind while grilling. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially before and after handling raw meat and before handling ready-to-eat food. Also pay attention to the things you touch when you are putting raw meat on the grill. Is the hand you put the burgers on the grill with the same one you used to close the grill lid or open your patio door?

Other things to pay attention to are the countertops where meat was prepared, ensuring your hands were clean when you grabbed your favorite seasoning container, and making sure to put the cooked meat on a clean plate or tray when you are done grilling.

    Cook meat to the appropriate temperature.

    Hand holding meat thermometer to check the doneness of grilled steaks.
    The only surefire way to know if a piece of meat is cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Courtesy: Canva

    From pressing on the top to a steak to cooking chicken until the juices run clear, a lot of theories exist on how to tell if meat is cooked thoroughly. The only surefire way to know if a piece of meat is cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Ground meat (hamburgers) should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F and whole muscle cuts (steaks and chops) can be safely consumed at 145°F. Pork products should also include a 3-minute rest before eating, although all steaks and chops would benefit from rest before eating. This will prevent the juices from purging out and making the meat dry. Raw poultry should be cooked to 165°F.

    For more information on calibrating a meat thermometer or proper cooking temperatures, view the following resources:

    Related Topics

    Food Safety