Whether it's burgers, hot dogs, chicken or kebabs, nothing signals the start of warmer weather like the season's first barbeque.
But before you fire up the grill, check out these tips to make sure your family and friends enjoy a safe and healthy meal.
Food Safety 101
Keep it clean. Keep bacteria at bay by scouring grill grates with a stiff, clean brush between uses to remove grease and bits of charred food.
Cook evenly. If you cook food too close to the heat, the outside may look done, but the inside may not be hot enough to destroy harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to ensure thorough cooking.
Cook completely. Don't partially cook meat, poultry or fish at home and then carry it to the picnic site to finish cooking. Doing so may keep these foods in the temperature "danger zone" of 40 to 140 degrees F, when bacteria can multiply rapidly.
Avoid charring or flare-ups. Grill meat, poultry and fish until thoroughly cooked but not charred or blackened. Charring causes potentially harmful compounds called "heterocyclic amines" (HCAs) to form, so don't overcook meats and always remove blackened areas before eating. Also, don't expose foods to smoke caused by fat dripping onto coals — before cooking, trim visible fat from meat and drain off high-fat marinades.
Make a clean transfer. To avoid contaminating cooked food with bacteria, place cooked food on a clean plate — not the plate you used for the raw food, unless you wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water in between. The same rule applies to utensils.
Typical grill fare is often high in fat and calories. Try these options for a healthy and delicious change of taste:
Veggie or soy burgers, turkey burgers (look for lean ground turkey meat), bison burgers or portabella mushroom burgers.
Skinless chicken breasts or turkey tenderloins.
Lean meats such as beef or pork tenderloin or London broil.
Salmon, halibut or other firm fish steaks—place directly on the grill. For thin fish filets, wrap in foil packets with julienned vegetables, herbs, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Lean beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetable kebabs.
Vegetables, such as zucchini, red pepper, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, onion and asparagus. Thread chunks on skewers or use a grilling basket or tray to keep veggies from falling through grates.
Fruits, such as apricots, plums, nectarines, apples, pears and peaches. Brush chunks with vegetable oil, sprinkle with cinnamon, and skewer or wrap in foil.
Before grilling, marinate meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables in low-fat salad dressing. Or, make your own with balsamic vinegar, reduced-sodium soy sauce, lemon juice or wine, mixed with olive oil and fresh or dried herbs.
To speed clean-up time, toss meat, poultry or fish and the marinade into a gallon-size plastic bag, seal and turn to coat. Refrigerate until grill time. After you remove the meat, discard leftover marinade. To use the marinade as a dip or sauce, make a double batch and use half to marinate the food and the rest as a condiment.