Grilling Basics

Keep Your Family and Friends Safe and Healthy This Summer

Grilling is healthy cooking method and a fun summer tradition. But for most of us, firing up the grill comes with handling a lot of raw meat, fish, or poultry. Cross contamination can happen more easily than you think and can cause foodborne illness. So here are a few very important tips to help keep your family and friends as healthy and safe as possible.

  • Always start out by scrubbing the grill grates and all grilling utensils like tongs, brush, etc. with warm, soapy water.
  • Use separate utensils and plates for raw foods and cooked foods – this includes your basting brush! Make sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize any utensils, cutting boards, and plates that touch raw meat.
  • Use fresh sauce or marinade to baste cooked meat, fish, or poultry. Don't use marinade that was used on raw poultry as a sauce unless you bring it to a boil on the stove before brushing over cooked meat.
  • Wash your hands before, during and after grilling. Having some hand sanitizer or wet wipes outside near the grill is a great idea if you are handling raw meat.
  • Don’t let cooked food sit out. Be sure to wrap it up and refrigerate it within an hour of cooking to be on the safe side.
  • A food thermometer is the only way to really tell if meat or poultry is really done. Doneness can’t be determined based on color. Here are the temperatures that you’re looking for:
  • Beef, veal, lamb, and pork roasts, steaks, and chops to at least 145⁰F, with a 3-minute rest time after removal from the heat source.
  • Hamburgers and all ground beef, veal, lamb, and pork to at least 160⁰F
  • Chicken (breast, whole, thigh, or wing) and ground poultry to at least 165⁰F
  • Fish to at least 145⁰F or until opaque and flakes easily

*Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration,

Carcinogen Cautions

You’ve probably heard that grilling meat can increase the amount of carcinogens in your food. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when beef, pork, fish, or poultry, are cooked at high-temperatures, such as when grilling directly over an open flame. PAH’s are found in charred foods and HCA’s are found in meats that have been cooked at these high temperatures.

Studies have shown that a high level of exposure to these chemicals can cause cancer in animals but they have not been able to replicate those studies in humans. But as of now, there are no established guidelines for the consumption of foods containing HCAs and PAHs.

Though research has a long way to go, you can minimize your exposure to HCA’s and PAH’s by taking the following steps:

  • Turn your meat more often. Research has shown that this can help reduce HCA formation. Try flipping every minute or even every 30 seconds.
  • A little bit of char is inevitable when you’re grilling, but if any parts are deeply charred or blackened, cut them off before eating.
  • Microwave meat for a few minutes so it is partially cooked before throwing it on the grill. That way, it requires less time on the grill and is exposed to those high temperatures for a shorter amount of time. To decrease cooking time, you can also cut meat into smaller pieces or buy thinner steaks and filets. Fish is another option since it cooks more quickly than most meats and poultry.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat when grilling. When you grill a fatty cut of meat, the fat will drip through the grates and cause smoke which may contain carcinogens. So, always choose lean cuts of meat, trim any visible fat, and remove any skin.
  • Better yet, grill vegetables, fruit, and bread more often. These foods do not have the combination of protein, creatine, and sugar that is needed for HCA’s to form.
  • Clean your grill before and after each use to remove any charred material from the grates.
  • Some research has shown that marinating meats may also help decrease the amount of carcinogens produced.

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