The grilling season is officially upon us despite the recent rainy days. Take heart. If the weather forecast from the US Weather Service is accurate, Memorial Day should be a warm, sunny day very pleasant for putting flowers in the cemetery and enjoying some outdoor cooking or a family outing.
There must be a million ways to prepare meats for delicious grilling, and some are quite complicated. However, just a few simple tips will keep all that good eating safe to consume.
The foundation of food safety is supported by four pillars: clean, separate, cook and chill.
Keep food and food preparation areas and utensils clean. Start with clean areas and equipment, but remember that even if it is dishwasher sanitized clean at the outset, the dishes gather germs which grow quickly. A sink of soapy water is a quick and safe way to clean up knives, cutting boards, plates and utensils as you go.
Keep foods separated. Keep raw meats and poultry away from salads and other non-cooked items. Use separate utensils and cutting boards and serving dishes for grilled foods and uncooked foods to avoid cross-contamination. That sink full of soapy water will come in handy to wash off plates, knives and cutting boards.
Keep meats cold in the refrigerator until time to start grilling. Marinate meats as desired, but do it in the refrigerator. When the grill is hot and ready to cook, remove meat from the refrigerator and put it on to cook.
Thaw meats properly and thoroughly before you cook them. This means planning ahead to allow time for meat to thaw in the refrigerator — not on the counter. Thoroughly thawed meat begins at an even temperature and will cook evenly.
It is OK to thaw meat in a microwave, but put it on the grill immediately rather than placing it in the refrigerator.
Use a food thermometer to make sure the meat reaches a safe internal temperature. The internal temperature of whole poultry should reach 165 degrees when grilled. The center of ground meat of any kind should also reach 165 degrees.
Cook roasts, steaks or chops of beef, veal, lamb and pork until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.
After eating, refrigerate leftovers quickly — within two hours after serving — to keep food safe.
If you are taking your meal on the road, the same rules apply, but you will need to adapt to conditions at the camp site to keep food safe.
Plan ahead and do a little scouting if possible. If the camp site you will be using does not have running water, take soap and water with you. Plan to heat the water there. If you are uncertain of the cleanliness of the water, boil it to sterilize it before you wash with it or drink it.
Take along moist towelettes, a couple of sets of utensils or disposable forks, knives and spoons to make the process easier.
Use an ice chest to keep food cold as you travel and to keep leftovers safe. If you are going on a trip that spans several days, plan to replenish ice often to keep the food inside safe.
As meat thaws, juices often leak from the packaging. Put them where those juices will not contaminate non-cooked foods or produce. Put them into a sealed container or place them on the lower section of an ice chest with produce above. That way juices will not drip down onto these items.
After eating, put leftovers into the ice chest so they can cool down and remain safe to eat.
Enjoy your family, friends, the weather and good eating for the Memorial Day holiday and throughout the summer season. Enjoy your favorite recipes — but do it safely.