Cook Up a Healthier Summer Barbecue

Father and boys with barbecue grill in backyard, focus on dad.  Children 12 and 13 years

We Americans love to grill! Whether it’s classics like steaks, barbecued chicken and burgers, or today’s more healthy choices, like veggies and fruits, we love to put on the apron, get out the tongs, and stand over an outdoor fire.

Before summer barbecue season gets into full swing, take a few minutes to brush up on your grilling safety techniques. Here are four things chefs can do to keep themselves and their guests safer and healthier:

Avoid burns and fires

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers tips to prevent a painful burn or dangerous fire:

  • Barbecue grills, both gas and charcoal, should be used only outdoors.
  • Don’t position the grill under eaves of the house or overhanging branches.
  • If the grill is used on a deck or porch, keep it away from railings.
  • Test gas grills for leaks. (The NFPA offers a how-to video here.)
  • Remove grease and fat buildup from the grates and trays.
  • Never leave the grill unattended, and keep children and pets away.

Avoid food poisoning

Even cooks who are careful to avoid bacteria while they’re cooking indoors can let their guard down in the more informal backyard setting. To avoid foodborne illness:

  • Clean the grill and all utensils with hot, soapy water before you begin.
  • Wash your hands before, during and after handling foods.
  • Bring out the uncooked meat on one platter, but use a clean one once meat is cooked.
  • Keep raw meats at a safe temperature, and refrigerate leftovers promptly.
  • Use a meat thermometer to be sure meats are cooked to the recommended temperature. Visit the  BBQ IQ resource on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to find current recommendations for the safe temperatures for beef, pork, chicken, hot dogs and other meats.

Check your grill brush

Here’s a lesser-known grilling hazard: In April 2016, the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO) confirmed that small metal grill-cleaning brush bristles can detach from the brush, adhere to the grill surface, and become embedded in food. In reported cases, injuries ranged from cuts in the mouth to gastrointestinal injuries and infection requiring surgery.

To prevent these injuries, inspect your brushes regularly, and replace them if they show signs of wear. Thoroughly cleanse the grill and grates after using, in case a bristle is lodged there.

Plan a healthier barbecue menu

If you grill often, remember that good nutrition is the same indoors or out. And it’s also important to know that grilling meats can create dangerous compounds called heterocyclic amines that can lead to certain cancers. The American Institute for Cancer Research, an organization that promotes research and awareness about the role of diet in cancer prevention, offers these ideas for healthier grilling:

  • Cut back on steaks, hot dogs and fatty burgers. Focus first on grilling colorful vegetables and fruits. Try asparagus, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, corn on the cob and eggplant. Apples, peaches, bananas and pears also cook nicely on the grill.
  • Marinate meat. Marinades reduce the formation of the harmful substances that form during grilling.
  • Partially precook meats. Cook meats halfway or more in the microwave, oven or stovetop, to reduce the time they sit on the grill.
  • Go slow and low. To reduce harmful substances caused by charring, use a lower flame. Cut off visible fat that might cause flareups. Discard charred portions of the meat.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2017.