Simply put, nearly everything about grilling season makes it one of the best times of the year. You can enjoy the outdoors while you meal prep, almost every barbecue recipe is supremely shareable, and it’s a casual yet fun way to entertain. Unfortunately, grilling is also ripe with opportunities to make some major food safety mistakes if you’re not armed with the proper grilling tips, which can leave you and your summer party guests more susceptible to foodborne illnesses and upset stomachs.
More than 128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year as a result of a foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the most common culinary culprits are almost all things that you might grill (produce, meat, and poultry are the top three).
To guarantee you’re sending everyone home satisfied rather than sick, steer clear of these grilling goof-ups at your next BBQ.
Make a clean sweep of things before you heat things up—it’s that simple.
“When you first use the grill in summer, clean it with a wire brush. The high heat of the grill should kill all of the pathogens, but this extra step will help you make sure you’re being food safe,” says Deirdre Schlungger, CEO of the nationwide non-profit Stop Foodborne Illness. “Most of what you’re removing will be dirt, but there could potentially be droppings from birds or other creatures.” Our stomachs are turning already thinking about accidentally ingesting any of that.
After preheating the grill, use a grill brush to give the grates a good scrub, and wipe the grates down with vegetable oil before adding food,” explains Morgan Bolling, senior editor at Cook’s Country Magazine (a part of America’s Test Kitchen) in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to removing any bonus “ingredients” from nature, “an unclean cooking grate can impart off-flavors into your food. Oiling the grill grates helps prevent sticking.”
No need to reach for anything too scientific either, says Vincent Sturgis, a chef evaluator at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, Colorado.
“I try to stay away from chemicals on my grill. This helps prevent cross-contamination if not all chemicals are removed properly,” he says. Who wants to munch on meat that’s been tinged with chemicals?
After brushing up on your grill prep, make sure you turn up the heat early enough.
“Be sure to preheat your grill thoroughly—we suggest 5 minutes for charcoal after adding the lit coals, or 15 minutes for gas over high heat,” Bolling says. “This helps scrape off any residual food stuck to grill grates and is another extra step to help prevent food from sticking.” This also ensures that the grill gets hot enough to evenly and thoroughly cook your food. By waiting until the heat gets hot enough, you’re not guesstimating if your food is done or not. This would be akin to putting your food in the oven when it’s still preheating, so why risk it?
Your fridge is a big tool to fight foodborne illness at the barbecue, too.