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Published May 09, 2009, 12:00 AM

PRAIRIE FARE: Grilling season stirs the senses

If you haven’t used your grill in a while, give it a good spring cleaning. Scour the grate with a wire brush. Save future cleaning time by using a nonstick cooking spray to prevent food from sticking to the grill.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, Grand Forks Herald

I admired some blooming tulips and crocuses on my way home from work. Inspired by these signs of spring, I decided to check whether my perennial plants survived the long winter. My lilies were poking their green sprouts out of the ground victoriously.

Not only is spring a feast for our eyes, but our other senses also can enjoy the seasonal changes. The chirping birds are waking me up in the morning, sometimes a little earlier than I’d like. I’m awaiting the scent of newly mown grass.

I’m especially awaiting the aroma of grilled food emanating from my neighbors’ backyards. That always inspires a menu in my home.

Some people brave the elements and grill outdoors all winter. For others, grilled food is a real treat during warmer months.

If you haven’t used your grill in a while, give it a good spring cleaning. Scour the grate with a wire brush. Save future cleaning time by using a nonstick cooking spray to prevent food from sticking to the grill.

Keep safety in mind. Place your grill in a well-ventilated, level surface and away from overhangs, deck railings and shrubs. Use long-handled tongs and flame-retardant mitts to protect your hands.

Preheat your grill. You can estimate the approximate temperature by counting how many seconds you can hold your hands 4 inches above the coals. If you can hold your hands in place for four seconds, your grill is at medium heat or about 300 to 350 degrees. If you can hold your hands in place for less than two seconds, you have a hot grill at about 375 degrees.

However, don’t be a hero when testing the temperature of the grill by this method because you could burn yourself.

Be sure to bring a clean plate and clean utensils to the grill to collect the food. If you use the same plate that held the raw meat, you could be adding some unwanted “secret ingredients” to your meal.

Salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria are unwanted guests at your party and often are spread by cross contamination.

Use a food thermometer every time you grill. Don’t trust color as an indicator of doneness. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every four burgers turns brown before reaching a safe internal temperature.

Be sure you know the location of your thermometer’s sensing area. Many thermometers need to be inserted sideways into a thinner cut of meat because their sensing area is on the stem instead of the tip. Some digital thermometers have the sensing area at the tip.

Many thermometers can be calibrated or adjusted for accuracy. To calibrate, make a mixture of half crushed ice and half cold water. Place your thermometer in the ice mixture and allow it to stand. The thermometer should register 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing point of water. If it doesn’t, adjust the calibration nut under the thermometer head until it reaches 32 degrees and then check again.

Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, away from fat and bone. Clean your food thermometer well after use because a dirty thermometer can cross-contaminate other foods.

For safety, cook to these safe minimum internal temperatures recommended by the USDA:

Chicken breast: 165 degrees.

Hamburgers: 160 degrees.

Steak (medium rare): 145 degrees.

Pork: 160 degrees.

You can reduce grilling time by starting the cooking process inside. For example, you can use a microwave oven to thaw meat and partially cook it, as long as the food is placed on a preheated grill immediately.

Don’t reuse marinade. If you use a marinade to tenderize or add flavor to foods, reserve some of the marinade that didn’t touch the meat in a separate bowl. You can use that as a dipping sauce.

Meat, poultry and fish aren’t the only foods that can be grilled. Try grilled fruit or grilled vegetables, whether directly on the grill or in a foil packet.

Here’s a tasty grilled dessert. For more information about food safety, visit the NDSU Extension Service publications Web site at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/foodsafe.html.

Grilled Apples in Foil

3 cups apple slices, peeled

¼ cup butter or margarine, melted

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoon brown sugar

In a small bowl, mix margarine, lemon juice, cinnamon and brown sugar. Place sliced apples on a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Top with butter or margarine mixture. Fold the edges of the foil to seal. Grill on low to medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Serve warm.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 20 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 8 g of fat, 3 g of fiber, and 0 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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