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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Smart Cook-out

Well, the weather's heating up and that means that many of us will be having periodic cook-outs with friends and family.  It's one of the joys of this time of the year.

Unfortunately, some people tend to let basic food safety rules fly out the window when they move
from cooking in the kitchen to cooking outside.  That's too bad, because no one wants their guests or themselves to get sick from their cook-out.

So let's take a quick look at some basic, but very important, tips for making your cook-out a safe time for everyone.
  • The first thing you should always do--no matter where you're cooking--is to make sure your hands are washed well.  Do this before, during and after cooking. 
  • If you haven't already, before you grill any kind of meat, go out and buy a food thermometer.  Measuring the temperature is the only true way of telling if something is cooked enough or not.  Yes, there are all sorts of tricks to test doneness by touch or sight, but they aren't foolproof.  Take the temperature and you can't go wrong.  Burgers should be cooked to 155 degrees and steaks/roasts to 145 for medium-rare or 160 for medium.  Poultry should always be cooked to 165.  The thermometer probe should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat to get the best reading.
  • Hot food should be kept hot until it is ready to be served.  So if it's done, move the stuff you're cooking to a cooler side of the grill until ready to be put out for your guests.  In the same way, cold foods should be kept cold as long as possible.  Keep them in the fridge until ready to be set out or at least in a cooler with ice.
  • The food you use should be bought no earlier than a day or two before your cook-out.  Using the freshest ingredients is a great way to combat food-borne problems. 
  • Perishable foods should not be set out for more than 2 hours before being refrigerated.  (No more than 1 hour if it's 90 degrees or more.)  No big deal.  Let every take what they want, put it in the fridge or coolers and bring it back out if you need to.
  • Speaking of coolers, always have separate coolers--one for food you will or have prepared and one for drinks.  The drink cooler will be opened again and again so any perishable food in there won't stay cold as long.  Full coolers stay cold longer, so be sure to have extra ice or ice packs to help keep the cooler as full as possible.
  • The biggest thing you need to do is avoid cross-contamination at all costs.  Have separate cutting boards for raw meat and other items.  Never put cooked meats back on the plate that held it while raw.  (I always put a sheet of foil over a plate to hold the raw meat, then remove it when you put it on the grill.  Voila!  Clean plate!)  Don't use the same utensils--knives, tongs or whatever--for raw meat and other items.  Don't reuse marinade that has had raw meat in it (although you can use it to baste the meat on the grill).
Get familiar with these simple rules and you won't have any problems when hosting your summer cook-outs.  Have fun!

For a few good grilling recipes, check out my June newsletter, which can be found on my Facebook page.

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