Grilling out for the patriotic holiday weekend is a tradition COVID-19 cannot cancel, but there are still health concerns people should consider to not add food poisoning to a pandemic.
Before cooking, the grill needs to be clean. Halley Molstad, RD nutrition therapy with Gundersen Health System, advised using a cloth to clean crates. Wire brushes can help, but the grill will need to be wiped again to clean up any wire bristles that may have broke loose.
“You don’t want any of those to make their way into your food,” Molstad said. “Also, if you have a more advanced grill, maybe a gas grill or something like that, you want to make sure that you are cleaning out grease traps.”
Meat cooking temperatures should also be top of mind. Whole pieces of meat like steak, pork chops, or fish should be cooked to 145 degrees. Poultry needs to hit 165 degrees. Molstad said they look for 160 degrees for ground beef or ground pork.
“Having a meat thermometer can be really useful,” Molstad said. “Sometimes people think if they use a meat thermometer, they are going to be forced to overcook the meat, but that is not true. It can actually help you prevent overcooking the meats.”
Raw meats should be separated from cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Fruits Vegetables should be cooked on the grill first to avoid any raw meat juices from contaminating the food. Additionally, plates used to carry raw meats should not then be used to carry cooked foods.
For some, the meat freezer may be a little empty this 4th of July. Major meat processors were closed for a time because of COVID-19, and local butchers are swamped with orders. Molstad said there are alternatives that cook well on the grill.
“We tend to overdo the meat to begin with, so if you can try to bring some veggies or fruit onto the grill, even corn on the cob, that might help you reduce your food costs because you’re not going to be purchasing as much meat,” Molstad said. “There are a lot of fruits and veggies that do really well on the grill. If you think anything you would roast in your oven you can probably do on the grill and get that same, great, smoky brown flavor.”
Although burgers, brats, and hot dogs are staples for July 4, pizzas on the grill could be a fun way to start a new tradition with a wood-fired flavor at home.
“Just try to think outside the box a little bit and try some more fruits and veggies on the grill,” Molstad said.