For most of us Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of our summer season. Memorial day was originally called “Decoration Day” and was actually started in the years following the Civil War. It …
For most of us Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of our summer season. Memorial day was originally called “Decoration Day” and was actually started in the years following the Civil War. It became a national holiday in 1971. Memorial Day (not to be confused with veterans day) is a time to reflect, remember, and honor all those brave men and women who gave their lives defending the freedoms which all of us in this country enjoy and often take for granted.
Memorial weekend usually marks for us a time when school is out, the weather is warm (ok for the past few days it has been downright hot), summer time vegetables are growing in gardens and raised beds all around the county, and many folks enjoy outdoor activities of all descriptions.
For me, it almost seems inevitable that I find myself behind the grill at some point in time during memorial weekend. If you are like me and find yourself as either the “self-appointed” or designated “grill master” at your outing or family gathering, here are a couple tips that may help you do so more safely.
Probably all of us have heard or read at some point that grilling increases your cancer risk as compared to other cookery methods. Actually there seems to be some truth to that in the fact that cooking meats at high temperatures can produce chemicals called heterocyclic amines which have been linked to increased cancer risk. Also as the fats from meats drip onto hot coals it produces polyaromatic hydrocarbons also linked to increased cancer risk (there’s a couple 50 cent words to drop on friends while sitting around the BBQ grill). While this may be surprising to some, it does not mean that we should all ditch our BBQ grills – I certainly do not plan to abandon mine and in fact I just drug it out of the garage to get ready for this weekend. Instead opt for lower fat content leaner meat or steak cuts and trim off any excess fat. Even ground beef burgers which are commonly 27% fat content come in lower fat higher lean options (you can now buy ground beef with as much as 90-93 percent lean).
Choose vegetables as a grill option. Vegetables have no proteins and thus do not create any of the aforementioned risks. I always try to include some vegetable options for my grilling endeavors including peppers, onions, squash, zucchini, corn on the cob, and even tomatoes (all make great choices for grilling).
Try wrapping your grill items in foil (you can cook some meats and veggies together in the same wrap or do them individually). If you do not wrap meats to cook them on your grill, flip them often in order to avoid char marks and burned areas which is where the bulk of the risk comes from.
Finally for those of us who love our BBQ grills, keep in mind that nothing ruins an outing or family gathering worse than food borne illness (and all the unpleasantries that goes with it). Make sure you wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before handling food that you are going to cook and also certainly after you handle any raw meat product of any kind. Dry your hands on a disposable single use paper towel (I hate to admit this but that is NOT what your favorite grill apron or pants legs are for – hey admit it we’ve all been there done that).
Keep separate coolers for hot items and cold items. Cold storage items such as potato salads, pasta and pasta salads, fruits, and veggies need to be stored on ice or refrigerated at 40 degrees or under until ready to serve. Also keep a separate ice cooler for use only for drinks and certainly use separate plates and platters for cooked meats and foods – this helps to avoid cross contamination problems.
Regardless of what you are cooking (or how) a simple meat thermometer is an essential item to have around. Checking the internal temperature of your meat items is the only way to ensure that they are done thoroughly and cooked to a safe to eat temperature. Chicken, turkey, and other poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and any ground meats including sausages and hamburgers need to be cooked to at least 160 degrees. Whole muscle cuts such as steaks, roasts, and chops should be cooked to 145 degrees internal temperature.
Once all the cooking (and eating) is done, there is the question of what to do with the leftovers. Two hours is the maximum time that any food item should be left out away from refrigeration; after this amount of time bacterial growth can and probably will begin. Store your leftover food as quickly as possible in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or less. When you use your leftovers, be sure to heat them up to the temperatures above before serving.
Hopefully these tips will help to keep you and your family safe from food borne illness during your memorial day get togethers (and for me that certainly includes running the grill). I also hope that we all take just a moment during our holiday cooking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, or travelling to reflect and honor all those who gave their lives so that we can continue to enjoy the freedom to do those things.