End of winter’s chill means it’s time for the grill

  • Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Now that warmer weather is here, gatherings have moved from the hearth to the grill.

Sipping a tart lemonade, a glass of sweet tea or your favorite beverage while juicy burgers are sizzling on the grill captures the essence of a summer outing.

But a festive event isnít a license to abandon some safe practices Ė from using proper equipment to choosing the right meats and keeping certain foods cold. After all, you want to be sure youíre creating lasting memories for all the right reasons.

Knowing how to use a grill involves more than lighting a match or turning on the gas. According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, from 2007 to 2011, gas grills were involved in an annual average of 7,200 home fires in 2007-2011, while charcoal or other solid-fueled grills were involved in an annual average of 1,400 home fires. More than one-quarter of the home structure fires involving grills started on a courtyard, terrace or patio, and 29 percent started on an exterior balcony or open porch.

As tempting as it can be on a humid evening or with one of our Southern summer storms approaching, never use a propane or charcoal grill indoors or under eaves and overhanging branches.

Be sure to place a grill far away from the home or any other structure. Before firing up your grill, make sure it is clean and free of grease.

To start a charcoal grill, you can use a charcoal chimney starter that allows you to start the charcoal using newspaper as a fuel, a charcoal starter fluid or an electric charcoal starter. If using an electric starter, use an extension cord for outdoor use. Always let the coals cool completely fully before disposing of them in a metal container.

If using a gas grill, be sure to check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year.

A good way to check is to put soap and water on the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles. If the test shows sign of a leak, get the grill serviced before use. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department immediately.

Once you know your grill is safe, itís time to pick the right meat. Grilling definitely flavorizes any food, but grilling can cause carcinogens, such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, to form when fat from meat is heated to high temperatures or when the fat drips into the flames.

Having lean cuts of meat, poultry or fish lessens the risk of the formation of these cancer-causing compounds. Trimming away excess fat helps, and using a marinade counteracts the heat and reduces the amount of carcinogens that can form.

Here are a few tips for preparing safe, healthy grilled foods:

To lessen how long the meat stays on the grill, pre-cook it in the microwave for up to one minute.

Select healthy meats such as lean or extra lean ground beef (90-95 percent lean), lean turkey burgers (choose all white meat), veggie burgers or nitrate-free turkey dogs. Remove the skin on poultry to reduce the fat content by half.

Cook hamburgers or bratwursts to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken breasts to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a meat thermometer to ensure foods are safe to eat. Never partly grill the meat and finish cooking it later.

The enzyme bromelain, found in pineapple, and the enzyme papain, found in papaya, are natural meat tenderizers.

Homemade marinades can be inexpensive, are normally less processed and are easy to make. Add an acidic ingredient such as lemon or lime juice, wine, vinegar or yogurt, and mix with your favorite herbs and spices. ē Allow enough time for the two items to work. The acid tenderizes the meat on the surface and adds flavor, while the herbs and spices add flavor and zest.

By grilling safely, picking the right meats and preparing them safely, youíre on your way to enjoying your summer gatherings. Happy grilling!

Crystal Cates, RD, LD, CDE, is a registered dietitian with Georgetown Hospital/Sodexo. She counsels patients on healthy meal planning and frequently provides healthy and safe-eating and cooking tips in the community.

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