Grilling is becoming increasingly popular. You can find a grill or smoker in 70 percent of American households, the highest percentage recorded since the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) began tracking consumer trends, according to its 2023 report.
However, as popular as grilling may be, the grill likely isn't the most commonly used cooking appliance you own. So it's understandable that cooking mistakes can be made, even by the most proficient home chefs, that can put health at risk — especially the health of older adults.
"Food safety is important for everyone, but it's extremely important for people who may be more vulnerable to severe food poisoning,” says Brian Katzowitz, health communications specialist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Adults older than 65, because of weakened immune systems, may be more likely to get sick with a foodborne illness."
To help weekend grill masters avoid exposing themselves and their dining companions to foodborne illnesses and other health risks, we asked two experts — the CDC’s Brian Katzowitz and Robyn Goldberg, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author of The Eating Disorder Trap — for advice. Here are seven tips for safer and healthier backyard cookouts.
1. You choose charcoal over propane
Gas maintained its position in 63 percent of homes since the last report in 2019, according to the 2022 report. Propane gas grills are a healthier option, according to Goldberg, because they create less smoke than charcoal grills. While charcoal itself isn’t carcinogenic, smoke is. Gas grills also carry a smaller carbon footprint, Goldberg adds, making them better for the environment than charcoal. However, charcoal has grown in popularity. Sixty-five percent of grill owners have a charcoal grill, up from 49 percent in 2019. Gas maintained its position in 63 percent of homes since the last report in 2019. (Note: The data accounts for those who own both propane and charcoal grills, according to the HPBA.)