Fire up the grill for a healthy and safe cookout

Last weekend, millions of Americans will be fired up the grill for July 4 celebrations. Be sure to plan ahead and follow these steps to ensure a healthy and safe meal when cooking out with your friends and family.

Image by rawpixel.com
  • Clean the Grill: An important step in preparing the grill is cleaning it. Many people use the same brush year after year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an increase in reports of people swallowing bristles from these grill brushes. To prevent this, replace grill brushes regularly before the bristles wear down or use a brush for cleaning that does not have steel bristles. Also, wipe down the grill with a wet cloth after scrubbing to remove small pieces of bristle on the grill racks that are difficult to see.
  • Select your meat: One of the advantages of grilling is the flavor it adds without extra fat.  Here are some suggestions for healthy meat choices. For hamburgers, try lean ground beef, turkey, chicken or veggie burgers made from chickpeas or black beans.  Another option is chicken, shrimp or fish.  You can make skewers with meat and vegetables or put them together in a “foil packet” to cook on the grill.
  • Marinate: If you want to marinate the food for extra flavor before cooking, be sure to marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Since the marinade has been exposed to bacteria from the raw food, you need to boil the leftover marinade to kill any harmful bacteria before serving it over the cooked meat. A better idea is to keep some marinade aside in a separate container in the refrigerator that you can serve with the meal. 
  • Storage: Raw foods, including meats and vegetables, need to be stored safely in the refrigerator or a cooler until it is time to grill and serve the food. If you buy the meat, poultry or fish more than 2 days before your barbeque, freeze it to prevent it from spoiling. Be sure to thaw it completely, in either the refrigerator or microwave, before grilling it to ensure even cooking.  
  • Use food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked:  Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast.  Watch the temperature to avoid burnt food on the outside and undercooked food on the inside.  Do not rely on its color to determine if it is done.  The only way to determine if a food is cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer.  Ground meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.  Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 °F or until steaming hot. After cooking meat and poultry to a safe temperature, keep it at 140 °F or warmer by placing to the side of the grill rack or in a pre-heated 200 °F oven until ready to serve. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination: When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter instead of the one used for the raw meat.  Bacteria present from the raw meat juices could contaminate the cooked food.  

Plan your menu today for a healthy and safe summer and fire up the grill.  If you have any questions about grilling meat and poultry, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6843 or visit www.fsis.usda.gov .

Hot off the Grill: Healthy Grillin’ ideas!

Some of my fondest summer memories include weekend barbeques at the Jersey shore. Eating outdoors and the smell of food cooking on our grill still makes my mouth water. Grilling isn’t only a summer activity. In fact, during the recent pandemic many people, myself included, found grilling to be a great alternative to using a stove or oven. Seeing grill marks on foods and eating outdoors just makes things taste better. 

Grilling is easy and can be a healthy cooking method, especially if you use lean cuts of meat, skinless chicken, or fish. Marinating foods in juices, vinegars, and wine along with your favorite herbs and spices adds a calorie-free flavor punch. If you prefer bottled marinades, choose one that contains a small amount of oil (preferably olive or canola).  

Grilling can also have a downside regarding our health. When high-fat meats are cooked at high temperatures, two cancer-causing compounds are formed — heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAH). When I first read the science behind this I thought, does this mean no more burgers on the grill? The answer is no. The good news is there are things you can do to reduce the health risk from these compounds.  

1. Choose lean meats, cut them in small pieces, and grill them at a lower temperature longer. For example, instead of a one big burger or chicken breast, I grill burger sliders and chicken kabobs with fruits and vegetables. Plant foods add color and nutrients and don’t form HCAs and PAHs.

2. Marinating meats and poultry 1-2 hours before grilling can reduce these cancer-causing compounds, especially if marinades contain olive-oil and herbs and spices high in antioxidants (oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, cinnamon). My favorite marinade for poultry and vegetables is a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, and one-two drops of lemon juice.

3. Trimming excess fat will limit the fat drippings and PAHs.

4. Flipping meats often prevents them from charring, limiting HCAs from forming.

Recently I discovered many foods you can grill besides meat, poultry, and fish. My new favorites include grilled Cesar salad and an array of fresh vegetables and fruits. Grilled watermelon wedges and pineapple slices (great on chicken or a burger) are delicious and nutrient-rich, and grilled peach halves with shortbread crumbles and strawberries with grilled pound cake drizzled with balsamic glaze are my two new favorite summer desserts. 

Summer is quickly approaching. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get out the grill, clean and fire it up, and have fun with friends and family over a great meal! For hot tips for grilling safely, visit the Partnership for Food Safety Education:  https://www.fightbac.org/?s=grilling+tips&id=12049.

Try this great grilling recipe!

Grilled peaches with shortbread cookie crumbles

  • 4 peaches, preferable Freestone
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup shortbread cookies, finely crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
  • Low-fat frozen vanilla yogurt
  • Amaretto liqueur (optional)
  1. Heat a gas grill to medium.
  2. Cut peaches in half, all the way around. Twist halves off their pits. Remove pits. Brush the cut sides of the peaches lightly with olive oil. Grill, cut side down until grill marks form and flesh softens, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Combine crumbled shortbread cookies with brown sugar and melted butter or margarine. Scoop small amount of mixture into the pit hole of each peach half.
  4. Put peach halves in an aluminum foil pan and move to the side of the grill to continue cooking over indirect heat, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Serve with small scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. Optional: Drizzle with amaretto liqueur.