Grillmasters Get a Food Safety Lesson
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Grillmasters Get a Food Safety Lesson

Two Sides of Grilled Food

Grilled foods are usually considered healthy because they are cooked without fat. For instance, a typical 4-ounce chicken breast cooked on the grill contains about 7 grams of fat, while a 4-ounce serving of fast-food fried chicken contains about 17 grams of fat.

Although your waistline is better off with grilled cuisine, the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) points out that grilling might increase the risk of cancer. Cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced when meat (eg, fish, beef, and chicken) is cooked at the high temperatures used in grilling and broiling. Other cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when meat fat drips onto hot coals. As food cooks on the grill, flames and smoke help deposit the PAHs onto the food.

What You Can Do to Be Safe

There are steps that you can take to lower your risk of these potentially cancer-causing chemicals:

  • Trim the fat. To minimize the PAHs from forming, trim as much fat as you can from the meat.
  • Marinate. Some studies suggest that marinating meat before grilling may reduce the formation of HCAs.
  • Precook. Pop the meat in the microwave to partially cook it before grilling.
  • Use smaller cuts of meat. Smaller cuts take less time to grill. You can also flip your food often, which can further shorten grilling time.
  • Remove charred parts. After grilling, cut off any charred parts from the meat.
  • Eat your fruits and veggies. Add variety to your meals by grilling fruits and veggies instead of meat. Vegetables do not produce HCAs.

Other Ways to Be a Safe Grillmaster

Follow these safe food preparation guidelines during your next grilling adventure:

  • Frequently wash your hands and surfaces. This can prevent cross-contamination of bacteria, like E. coli.
  • Use separate plates. Use one cutting board for raw meats and a clean one for other foods in order to reduce bacteria crossover. Be sure to use separate plates, utensils, and platters for raw and cooked foods. For instance, if the raw steaks are carried out on a platter and tongs are used for placing them on the grill, you must use a new clean platter and tongs for taking the cooked steaks off the grill when they are done.
  • Keep the temperatures appropriate. Meats should be refrigerated while marinating and up to the point of being cooked. When the grilling starts, be sure the internal temperature of meats is appropriate to kill bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures. Leftovers should be refrigerated immediately and tossed if left out more than one hour in hot temperatures.

Here are some minimum safe food internal temperatures:

Cooked whole poultry165°F
Cooked chicken breasts165°F
Cooked ground meat160°F
Cooked beef, veal, lamb roasts, and chops145°-160°F
All cuts of cooked pork160°F

A Simple Meal on the Grill

With the grilling basics all nailed down, try this great meal cooked mostly on the grill in only one hour!

Marinated Flank Steak

Start with 1-2 pounds of flank steak marinated in a commercial marinade. Or, try your own marinade by mixing together the following ingredients:

Cooking oil1/3 cup
Soy sauce1/3 cup
Red wine vinegar1/3 cup
Lemon juice2 tablespoons
Worcestershire sauce1 tablespoon
Dry mustard1 teaspoon
Garlic2 cloves
Pepper1/4 teaspoon

Place the mixture in a large plastic bag, seal, and coat all sides of the meat. Place in refrigerator and marinate for at least one hour or overnight. Cook at least 5 minutes on each side or to degree of doneness desired. Cut steak diagonally across into thin slices before serving.

Corn on the Cob

Take silk (husk) off corn. Place corn cobs on a sheet of heavy foil. Top with several pats of butter and 3 tablespoons water. Wrap corn in foil and seal foil tightly at top to keep butter and moisture in while cooking. Heat on grill for at least 30 minutes or until tender.

Warm Garlic Bread

Take a loaf of Italian or French bread and slice at 1-inch intervals. Warm 1/8 cup butter and mix with 1/8 cup olive oil; mix with several cloves of minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Spread mixture on bread slices. Place loaf of bread on heavy foil and seal ends to keep in moisture. Heat for about 20 minutes.

Grilled Fruit Kabobs

Melted butter1/4 cup
Brown sugar2 tablespoons
Fresh lime for grated lime rind and lime juice1 fresh lime
Cinnamon1 teaspoon

Use any fresh fruit cut into one-inch pieces such as pineapple, apples, nectarines, melon, bananas, or large whole strawberries. In a small bowl, stir together melted butter or margarine, brown sugar, grated lime rind, lime juice, and cinnamon until sugar is dissolved. Thread fruit alternately onto metal skewers. Brush kabobs with butter or margarine mixture and place on barbecue grill. Grill for 6-8 minutes, turning frequently and brushing generously with butter mixture, until the fruit starts to brown and is heated through.


American Dietetic Association


Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition

Dietitians of Canada


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Barbecue and food safety. Food Safety and Inspection Service website. Available at: Updated April 25, 2007. Accessed May 19, 2011.

Brown E. Father's Day grill tips. Star Chefs website. Available at: . Published 1998. Accessed May 19, 2011.

Calories in chicken and meat. Weight Loss Resources website. Available at: Accessed May 19, 2011.

Grilling and cancer: rating the risk. American Institute for Cancer Risk website. Available at: Published July 2006. Accessed May 19, 2011.

McDonald's USA nutrition facts for popular menu items. McDonald's website. Available at: Accessed May 19, 2011.

Salmon CP, Knize MG, Felton JS. Effects of marinating on heterocyclic amine carcinogen formation in grilled chicken. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 1997;35:433-441.

Turn down grill heat on cancer risk. website. Available at: Accessed May 19, 2011.

Last reviewed May 2011 by Brian Randall, MD

Last updated Updated: 5/19/2011

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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