Top 10 Tips for Grilling Meats Safely

Pam Schmutz
Home & Garden Information Center

As you fire up the grill for a summer cookout, be sure the foods you serve to family and friends don’t spoil the fun by making people sick! Here are ten tips to prevent this from happening.

  1. Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and during food preparation. Unclean hands are believed to be the number one cause of foodborne illness.
  2. Wash all surfaces thoroughly with soapy warm water and rinse completely, especially after touching raw meats. It is best to sanitize all surfaces that have come in contact with raw meats by immersing them in a freshly made solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.
  3. Keep perishable foods out of the temperature danger zone, which is between 40 °F and 135 °F. Keep cold foods 40 °F or colder and hot foods 135 °F or hotter. After grilling meat, fish and poultry, keep them hot until served by setting them to the side of the grill rack (away from the coals to prevent overcooking). Always throw out perishable foods that have been in the temperature danger zone for more than four hours.
  4. The only safe way to determine if meat is done is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. Cook ground beef and all pork cuts to at least 155 °F. All poultry must be at 165 °F or hotter. Cook beef, veal and lamb roasts, steaks and chops to 145 °F for medium rare, or 160 °F for medium.
  5. Plan ahead to thaw frozen meat, fish or poultry in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf. Thaw in a shallow pan to catch drippings and prevent contamination of other foods with raw meat juices. For quicker thawing, leave meat in original wrapping and soak in cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. If you cannot change the water, then do NOT use this method to thaw. To thaw in the microwave, remove plastic wrapping and use DEFROST setting. Cook meat thawed in the microwave immediately.
  6. Marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the counter. If you want to reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry on cooked food, you must first bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute to kill harmful bacteria.
  7. Keep raw meats separate from other foods. If you carry raw meat to the grill on a platter, always use a clean platter to serve the cooked meat.
  8. Throw out perishable foods that have been off the grill for more than four hours. In hot weather (temperatures above 90 °F) it is best to throw out perishable foods that have been outside for more than two hours. Transport leftovers home in a cooler with plenty of ice.
  9. To grill away from home, pack foods in an insulated cooler with plenty of ice to keep perishable foods at 40 °F or colder. Pack raw meats in plastic bags and separately from canned drinks and ready-to-eat foods. In the car, keep the cooler in the air-conditioned section and at your picnic, in the shade or shelter.
  10. Set the grill in a well-lit, well-ventilated area away from trees, shrubs and buildings. Keep children and pets away from the fire. Have a squirt bottle of water nearby to control flare-ups. Use an approved fire starter; never use gasoline or paint thinner.

Temperature recommendations are based on the 2005 FDA Food Code. For more information, see HGIC 3543, Food Safety for Outdoor Cookouts.

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