I have a healthy respect for grills.
We received a gas grill for our wedding, and my husband kept rebuilding it periodically for almost 25 years.
I’m not sure if he was being nostalgic, romantic or frugal. I think the latter. At least I didn’t say “cheap.”
I decided I should learn how to use the grill several years ago. Lighting it involved quite a protocol. I followed the protocol and tried to ignite the grill. That didn’t work.
I “primed” it some more. The grill practically exploded upon ignition. I didn’t know that I could jump backward that fast.
Fortunately, I still had eyebrows and hair after the incident. I didn’t set the house on fire, either.
I turned all grilling duties over to my husband. Forever. I also bought him a new grill. Maybe that was his underlying motive. I do enjoy his outdoor cooking.
Lately, the aroma of grilled food has been wafting through my neighborhood and my own backyard.
Safety is paramount in several ways while grilling, from fire prevention at the grill to food safety in the kitchen.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 70% of adults have a grill or a smoker. Unfortunately, 8,900 home fires involving grills or other outdoor cooking equipment occurred between 2014 and 2018. Of those, 3,900 were structure fires.
July is the peak month for grilling-related fires. It’s also National Grilling Month.
As we move cooking outdoors, I have a true/false quiz for you based on information from the NFPA.
- True/false. You never should leave your grill unattended.
- True/false. You should keep children and pets at least 3 feet away from the grill.
- True/false. You should position your grill away from your home, deck railings and under overhanging branches.
- True/false. You only should use propane and charcoal barbecue grills outdoors.
- True/false. After grilling in a charcoal grill, you should be sure the coals are completely cool before disposing of them in a metal container.
As you might have guessed, all of those statements are true.
If you prefer to “burn” or blacken your protein foods, I encourage caution. According to the National Cancer Institute, compounds called “heterocyclic amines” (HCAs) can form in muscle foods (beef, poultry, pork, fish) during exposure to open flames or high temperatures during grilling. HCAs could increase your risk of colon, breast and stomach cancers.
However, you can take some steps to maintain the flavor, juiciness and safety of grilled foods:
- Cook foods to a safe temperature using a food thermometer to gauge doneness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends an internal temperature of 165 F for poultry and 160 F for hamburgers. Yes, you can enjoy a rare steak if you prefer, but eating rare hamburgers is not recommended.
- Try a marinade to add flavor and reduce the amount of HCAs that form. Allow about 1/4 cup of marinade per pound of meat. Marinades containing acidic ingredients such as salsa, vinegar or lemon juice seem to be particularly effective at reducing the formation of HCAs. When researchers marinated chicken breasts in a mixture containing lemon juice, vinegar and flavorings, they noted a reduction in HCA formation by more than 90%.
- Marinate meat and poultry in a refrigerator, not on the counter. Turn the meat in the marinade occasionally for even flavoring.
- For good quality, don’t overdo the marinating process. For tender cuts, such as tenderloin, rib eye or sirloin, allow up to two hours for marinating. For less tender cuts, such as flank, skirt, chuck shoulder or top round, allow at least six hours (up to 24 hours) for marinating.
- If you want to use some of the marinade for sauce after the meat is cooked, reserve some before you put the meat in it.
- Avoid flare-ups when grilling by using lean meats and trimming excess fat from the meat.
- Whether you like marinated or plain meat, cook at a lower heat setting or raise the grate on your grill. If you happen to char the edges of the meat, trim the burned parts prior to serving.
- Add some grilled fruits and vegetables to your menu. Because fruits and vegetables are low in protein, HCAs do not form during the grilling process.
- Bring a clean plate or serving tray to collect your delicious meal.
See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/food-preparation/grilling-1 for more grilling information from NDSU Extension.
Here’s a simple marinade to try on chicken, beef, pork or poultry.
Zesty Italian Marinade
2/3 cup prepared Italian dressing
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chili powder
Combine all ingredients and mix well.
Depending on the brand of dressing, each tablespoon of marinade has about 50 calories, 5 grams fat, 0 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber and 150 milligrams sodium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.)