Tips for grilling outdoors

Grilling is a summer tradition.

During the summer, many people enjoy cookouts with family and friends. Grilling outdoors is particularly popular in my home state of Texas.

While cooking outdoors is a wonderful way to prepare tasty, delicious dishes from meats to vegetables to desserts, it can be hazardous to your health if certain safety guidelines aren’t followed. Here are some tips for safe grilling:

Preparing Meats for the Grill:

• Buy ground meat and poultry no more than one to two days in advance. If it is going to be longer, freeze them. Larger cuts of meat, like steaks, should be grilled or frozen within four days of purchase.

• Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator or microwave before grilling. Meat thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately. Food should never be thawed on the counter.

• Marinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator. During grilling, avoid brushing the food with marinade that touched the raw meat.

• Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.

• Hamburger patties should be made about 1/2-inch thick and 4 inches in diameter to help them cook fully and evenly.

Transporting:

• Transport meat and poultry in a cooler with ice, and pack the cooler just before leaving. Open the cooler as little as possible.

• In order to prevent cross-contamination, raw meat and poultry should be kept separate from cooked foods and foods eaten raw, like fruits and vegetables. Pack drinks in a separate cooler.

• The cooler should stay in an air-conditioned car during transportation and in a shaded spot once you’ve arrived. Only take out the amount of food you can grill at one time.

Grilling:

• To kill microorganisms, scrape and heat the grill before putting on the meat or poultry.

• Grilled foods brown on the outside quickly, so the only way to correctly determine doneness is to check the internal temperature with a thermometer. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat — away from bone, fat or gristle — near the end of the cooking time. Wash the thermometer between testing different meats and before and after each use.

Recommended safe minimum internal temperatures are as follows:

145 degrees F for steaks, roasts and fish

160 F for ground beef and pork

165 F for whole poultry, chicken pieces or ground patties

• Do not flip steaks with a fork; it can puncture the meat and cause bacteria to get inside.

• Remove food from the grill with clean utensils, and put it on a clean serving dish to prevent cross-contamination.

• Discard any food, cooked or uncooked, left out of refrigeration for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 F.

Try my recipe for Spicy Herb Butter as a topping for your grilled meats, grilled seafood and vegetables. It makes an 8-inch-long tube of herb butter that will keep for up to a month in the freezer.

Spicy Herb Butter

1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely minced green onions, whites and green parts

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tablespoon minced oregano leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. In a large bowl, mix the butter, oil and all other ingredients with a rubber spatula until evenly combined. Lay about a foot long section of plastic wrap on a work surface. Put the herb butter on the bottom center of the plastic wrap, and form into a mound about 8 inches long.

2. Fold the bottom edge of the plastic wrap over the butter and roll the enclosed butter forward until completely wrapped, forming a tube of butter about 1–1/2 inches in diameter. Twist the ends together like a party favor. Refrigerate until firm, or freeze for up to 1 month. Sliced as needed and serve atop grilled meat, seafood or vegetables as desired. •••

(Additional information provided by Christeena Haynes, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Dallas County, University of Missouri Extension.)

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is www.divapro.com