Keep your food safe at cookouts

ELLSWORTH — In Maine, and across much of the nation, Memorial Day weekend is the official kickoff for the grilling season. Burgers and hot dogs will sizzle on patios, porches and outdoor kitchens through the summer, fall and even in some part during the winter.

When grilling, though, foods are very susceptible to bacteria and other harmful pathogens. Therefore, keep meat, poultry and seafood refrigerated until ready to use.

After cooking meat, poultry or seafood on the grill, keep it at 140 F or warmer until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack. Cooked meat can be kept hot in a warm oven (approximately 200 F), in a chafing dish, or on a warming tray.

In hot weather, food should never sit out for more than one hour.

Marinate meat, poultry or seafood to tenderize or add flavor. Keep food in the refrigerator and not on the counter.

If marinades are to be used as a sauce for the cooked meat, either reserve a portion before putting raw meat and poultry in it, or boil it before using on cooked meat to destroy any harmful bacteria.

Precooking food on a stove is a good way to reduce grilling time. Make sure that the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete cooking.

One of the challenges of cooking over high, open heat is the difficulty in determining just how long to keep foods over the flame. Take them off too soon and they may be undercooked. Wait too long and items may be dry and charred. Use these tips to make grilling easy and safe.

Preheat and prepare the grill

Be sure to preheat the grill to between 400 F and 500 F. Use a nonstick spray on the grates while the grill is heating. This way foods will not stick and create a mess that will ultimately require considerable cleaning.

Buy a meat thermometer

One of the easiest ways to take the guesswork out of grilling is to use a meat thermometer. By knowing internal temperatures in a few seconds, grillmasters can have juicy foods that are cooked to the correct temperature so food-borne illnesses do not become a problem. Cooking by sight is inaccurate, as the outside of the food may look well done even though the inside is still pink. Thermometers allow cooks to avoid cutting open foods to check doneness, spilling out tasty juices in the process.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises on minimal internal temperatures for meats and poultry ( Keep in mind that food continues to cook when it is taken off the grill. Therefore, removing a few minutes before it has reached a certain temperature is ideal.

Fish is fast

Don’t avoid grilling fish because of its delicacy. Using wood planks or any of the newer grilling gadgets available can keep flaky fish from falling through the grates. Plus, fish is an ideal go-to when one is really short on cooking time. If necessary, experiment with varieties of fish that are durable, such as salmon or tuna.

Leave an empty spot

Have an unheated area of the grill or one that is set to a low temperature so there is somewhere to move food if a flare-up occurs or if something is cooking too fast. This is also a good spot to finish foods that may need a little more time over indirect heat such as burgers that require melted cheese.

Use sauce at the end

Avoid charring foods by using sugary sauces toward the end of cooking. Otherwise, the sauce can burn quickly and contribute to potentially carcinogenic char.

Grilling can be made easier with a few tricks of the trade. The results will be delicious, healthy and safe to enjoy.

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