Summertime is fast approaching, and that means lazy Saturdays parked outside next to a roaring hot barbecue with an ice-cold beverage in your hands and watching the kids play in the yard. Fun times abound, great times are had by all, and memories are made that will last forever.
In the midst of all the preparations, what is sometimes overlooked – even by some of the most seasoned of grillers – is basic safety that can keep a fun afternoon from turning uncomfortable. Below are some of the most common safety questions people have surrounding grilling safety.
Despite the advice of some self-proclaimed grilling experts, you cannot tell when your meat is cooked thoroughly by the color alone. Though the outside will definitely begin to turn a darker shade, the inside of the meat could still be uncooked, especially if the meat is thicker, like steaks or burgers. Uncooked meat is full of harmful bacteria that can cause any number of diseases, some of which may even require hospitalization.
To make sure the meat is cooked all the way, it’s best to invest in a food thermometer that can give you the inside reading within a couple of seconds. Every different type of meat has a different safe internal temperature, so use this chart to help you know when it’s done.
Always remember, never cook meat partially at one time and come back to cook it later. Not only will that spoil the meat, but you’ll also leave entire colonies of bacteria on the meat that would have been killed otherwise. You can begin cooking in the microwave, but make sure you transport it to the grill as soon as possible. Furthermore, keep hot food hot – preferably over 140 degrees Fahrenheit – by placing it in an oven or on a side rack next to the grill.
Once you return from the store, place your meat directly inside a refrigerator to preserve the freshness and keep bacteria from growing. If stored in a refrigerator under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, ground meat and poultry will keep for 1-2 days, while veal, pork, and lamb should keep almost a week.
If you plan on storing the meat for longer periods of time, consider removing it from the original packaging and placing it in a heavy plastic wrap or aluminum foil first, before placing it in the freezer. While the meat will lose quality over time, if the food is kept below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it should keep indefinitely.
Whatever you do, do not leave uncooked meat on the counter at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria loves a warm environment and by that point, the bacteria have set in and the meat is spoiled.
By all means! As long as you’ve placed them in the refrigerator within 1-2 hours after cooking, they should be fine for up to four days. If you freeze them, they will last up to four months. If you’ve left them at room temperature for longer than a couple hours, especially overnight, throw it out.
Absolutely not. Uncooked meat has foodborne bacteria that thrive in the juices that will sit on the plate once the meat is removed, making anything that comes into contact with it – like hands, tools, paper towels – immediately unsanitary. Wash the plate thoroughly before using it for anything else
Or, to be on the safe side, use a brand-new plate. An extra trip through the dishwasher is nothing compared to a couple of days of food poisoning.
Wherever you purchase your meat from (grocery store, butcher, etc.), do a thorough inspection of the packaging before purchase. Look for wraps that have been torn or are stretched, leaving holes in the packaging, and make sure the meat is cold when you pick it up. The same principles of meat spoilage at home apply here, so if the meat feels warm to the touch, put it back. When you get to the checkout, ask for your meat to be bagged separately to avoid bacteria-filled juices to drip on your other groceries.
The best thing to do is return home immediately once you’ve purchased the meat, but if you’re going to be out of the house for a while, bring a cooler with ice inside to store the meat in. While it’s not permanent, the cooler should allow you a few hours of leniency to get your other errands run before the meat goes bad.
Once you’re in the backyard and the meat is ready to go, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you light the grill up. Depending on whether you use wood pellets, propane or charcoal, remember these general guidelines for grilling safety.
Many hardcore grillers swear by charcoal. But even though it’s relatively simpler compared to propane, there are still dangers that can present themselves, such as using the wrong type of starter fluid or throwing out coals before they’ve cooled off. A little patience can go a long way when using charcoal.
Depending on the type of grill you have, you can start the grill in any number of ways, such as starter fluid or even using newspaper. If you do use starter fluid, make sure you have the right type for your grill and do not squeeze any more fluid onto the fire once the flame is going. It’s pointless to do so (fluid will most likely be gone in seconds anyway) and it could start a bigger fire.
If you’re using an electric charcoal lighter, make sure that you use an extra-long extension cord to keep the grill as far away from the house as possible; hang the cord somewhere where kids and pets can’t get to it. Finally, let the coals cool down before you dump them, and always use a metal container instead of a box or something flammable. Keep them in a well-ventilated area also, as they are most likely to smolder for a few hours after the grilling is done.
The great thing about pellet grills/smokers is that they are very safe. They ignite the fire for you, do not require the use of any accelerants to get the fire started, the fuel used is inert and cannot ignite on its own and the area where the fire burns is typically shielded from the cooking area.
What are the things you need to worry about then? When it comes to pellet grills the adage of “an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure” really works. Let’s start at the top.
Although propane is more dangerous than charcoal grills, statistically, a few minor checks before you grill can minimize the danger substantially. Make sure that your hose from the propane tank is connected securely to the burners. Check the regulator and cylinder especially close to make sure those are secure as well. Also, check the hose for a potential leak. Propane has a distinct smell, but it can sometimes be overlooked or ignored completely due to the smaller volume of gas that is escaping (always open up the lid before lighting the grill as gas could have collected underneath the hood). Checking the hose doesn’t take very long, but could save you from paying for propane that’s simply escaping, or something much worse.
To check the hose, simply apply a little bit of soap and water solution to the entire hose, and then turn the propane tank on. If there is a leak, the propane will cause bubbles to appear around the affected area. There are several DIY options to fix the leak if one occurs, but your best bet is to have it serviced by a professional.
Once you light the grill, it’s still wise to check for gas. If you smell propane, turn off the grill immediately and kill the burners. If the gas smell goes away when you turn the burners off, have the grill inspected by a technician; if the smell doesn’t go away, back away from the grill and do not move it in any way. Call the fire department immediately.
No one likes to talk about grilling safety, but with a few simple pointers and a little bit of thought, you can make sure that your outdoor events are as safe as they are fun.
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