3. Inspect your grill brush
A grill brush is a great tool for removing charred residue from grates, but if you use a wire brush, be aware that bristles may fall off and later get stuck in your food. After cleaning your grill with a brush, use a wet cloth or paper towel to wipe off any loose bristles. One way to avoid the risk of bristles altogether is to instead use a balled-up piece of aluminum foil to scrub the grates. If the grill is cool, grasp the foil ball with your hand and scrub; if it's hot, use a pair of tongs as a makeshift handle.
4. Separate raw and cooked foods
Cross contamination is the enemy, so don't use the same utensils and plates that came into contact with raw meats to serve the meal. Don't let fruits, vegetables and other foods you plan to eat uncooked come into contact with raw meats, meat juices or meat marinades. Wash your hands with soap and water before cooking and again after handling raw meats. Raw meats, including poultry and seafood, can be contaminated with salmonella, E. coli and other potentially harmful bacteria.
5. Refrigerate foods properly
Raw meat, poultry and seafood needs to be kept refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit until just before you're ready to throw them on the grill. Germs can start to multiply once the internal temperature rises above 40 degrees. In general, leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of cooking. However, if you are grilling on a hot day and it's above 90 degrees outside, food should be refrigerated or frozen within one hour of cooking.
6. Avoid smoked, charred or well-done meats
Safe minimum cooking temperatures
- Ground beef, pork, veal, lamb: 160 degrees
- Ground chicken, turkey: 165 degrees
- Steaks, roasts, chops: 145 degrees
- Poultry: 165 degrees
- Fresh pork, ham: 145 degrees
- Precooked ham: 165 degrees
- Fish with fins: 145 degrees
Consuming muscle meat including beef, pork, poultry and fish that has been prepared using high heat or smoke can increase cancer risks, according to the National Cancer Institute. Potentially harmful chemicals are formed when substances inside the meat react to the high heat, flames and smoke. To reduce risks, avoid prolonged cooking at high heat, use a microwave to precook meat prior to grilling, continuously turn meat when it's being cooked over a high-heat source, and removed charred portions before consuming, advises the National Cancer Institute.
7. Beware undercooked meats
In general, make sure that meat, poultry and seafood are cooked to their recommended safe internal temperatures by using a food thermometer. Otherwise, the heat may not be sufficient to kill any potentially harmful germs that may be present. Since fruits and vegetables may cook more quickly than meats, if you are cooking them together on a skewer — as with kebabs — make sure the meat is fully cooked to a safe internal temperature. Cooking meats and produce on separate skewers can make it easier to prepare each to the desired level of doneness.
Editor's Note: This article, originally published June 29, 2021, has been updated with new information.
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency's Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.