It's summer, and that can only mean one thing—barbecue season! Nothing tastes more delicious than fresh grilled corn on the cob or a flame-broiled juicy burger or finger-licking barbecued chicken or... you get the point. Grilled food is good food. And while this food is tasting so good, it can even be healthful. But remember, safety should always come first when you barbecue.
Barbecuing and Healthful Choices
When you think of barbecued ribs, healthy may not be the first thing that pops into your mind. But it is possible to make grilling good for you by making healthful choices. It just takes a little effort. And, you won't sacrifice any of the flavor. Here are some tips to help:
- Choose leaner meats to grill—Grill chicken, but remove the skin before marinating or cooking it. If you're not grilling chicken, opt for leaner cuts of meat.When shopping, look for the word lean on the label. Avoid high fat meats like steaks, ribs, or sausages.
- Grill a garden of vegetables—Any vegetable can be grilled: onions, peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, corn or squash. Just brush a light coating of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or any type of marinade. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to taste. Then toss them straight on the barbecue or slide the vegetables on to a skewer or wrap them in foil.
- Trim the fat off meat before grilling—Cut off excess fat from the sides of meat before cooking and cut off inside, separable fat before eating.
- Keep meat portions small—Cut the meat into chunks and combine with vegetables on a skewer. Use meat as an accent to the meal, rather than the main dish.
- Grill some fruit for dessert—Pineapple, mangos, apples, peaches, or bananas—just about any fruit can be grilled. Slice fruit into big wedges or chop it into cubes and skewer. Cooking usually takes about 6 to 8 minutes; make sure you turn the fruit occasionally.
Add to your grilling arsenal with some other great grilling recipes.
Barbecuing and Food Safety
Grilling outside is definitely more relaxed and less formal. But you still need to be vigilant about food safety. The following are some tips to keep the bacteria out and the fun in.
- Clean your grill every time you barbecue—bacteria can grow in food particles left on the grill. While the grill is hot, use a heavy wire brush to remove any food particles left on the grill.
- Never use the same dish for raw meat as for cooked—transfer food to a clean plate once it's cooked, using a clean utensil.
- Food for the barbecue should not sit out, especially meats—keep food cold in the refrigerator or a cooler until you are ready to grill it.
- Use a separate cutting board and knife for meats and vegetables—through the years, experts have gone back and forth about which is better, plastic or wood cutting boards. Whichever type you choose, though, it's a good idea to have two—one for raw meat and one for vegetables. Making sure you wash them well after use is also important.
- Wash your hands before and after handling food—this will help prevent cross-contamination.
- Discard or boil marinades—when preparing a marinade, set aside some to use for after the meat is cooked. If you marinated raw meat, boil the marinade for at least one minute before using it to baste the meat on the grill.
- Grill meat until it is cooked, but not charred—some studies have suggested that possible cancer-causing compounds (called heterocyclic aromatic amines) are formed when meat is charred. Scrape off any charred areas before you eat the barbecued meat.
Cook meat thoroughly—to make sure that bacteria is killed throughout the meat, cook meat to the right internal temperature. Use a meat or instant-read thermometer to ensure accuracy. Here are some target temperatures:
- Ground meat products: 160ºF (degrees Fahrenheit) [71ºC (degrees Celsius)], or until the inside is no longer pink and juices run clear
- Fish: 145ºF (63ºC)
- Poultry thighs, breasts, or wings: 165ºF (74ºC), or until juices run clear
- Steak (medium rare to well done) 145°F-170°F (63°C-77°C)
Make sure that you allow the meat to sit for a minumum of three minutes after you remove it from the grill.
Barbecuing and Fire Safety
Although grilling outdoors is great fun, it can be dangerous. Not thinking about safety when you barbecue can lead to serious burns or a severe fire. Follow these important safety tips to help you grill safely:
- Before using your barbecue for the first time each season, check it thoroughly to ensure all hoses are firmly attached and that there are no leaks or blockages before turning on the gas.
- Never use water to control grease flare-ups on gas barbecues.
If you have a propane cylinder:
- Before having a propane cylinder filled, check it for dents, gouges, or other signs of disrepair.
- Do not overfill your propane cylinder.
- Always check the expiration date. The expiration date should be stamped on the bottom of the tank. If you have an old cylinder and are not sure about it, have a propane supplier inspect it first.
- Never store propane cylinders indoors or near a barbecue, heat source, or open flame.
- Always set up the barbecue in an open area at least 10 feet from any house, shed, fence, tree, or other combustible material, such as leaves or brush. Be aware of the wind blowing hot embers.
- It is a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher within reach.
- To prevent burns, use long handled barbecue tools and/or flame retardant mitts.
- Do not wear loose clothing and watch for dangling apron strings and shirt tails.
A backyard chef's guide to healthier grilling. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/features/a-backyard-chefs-guide-to-healthy-grilling. Updated May 20, 2013. Accessed October 18, 2013.
Barbecue and food safety. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/d468f3d9-fb6c-4109-88d7-2931f7132098/Barbecue_Food_Safety.pdf?MOD=AJPERES. Updated May 2011. Accessed October 18, 2013.
Internal cooking temperature chart. What's Cooking America website. Available at: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Information/MeatTemperatureChart.htm. Accessed October 18, 2013.
Tips for safe barbecuing. Hearth, Patio, & Barbeque Association website. Available at: http://static.hpba.org/fileadmin/factsheets/product/FS_SafeBBQ.pdf. Accessed October 18, 2013.
Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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