Do you know the difference between grilling and smoking foods? Grilling is cooking food over direct heat. Its intensity is similar to broiling, so tender meats and poultry are best for grilling. A grill is a utensil made of parallel bars on which food is cooked over charcoal, wood or special rocks heated by gas or electricity.

Smoking is cooking food indirectly in the presence of a fire. It can be done in a covered grill if a pan of water is placed beneath the meat on the grill; or meats can be smoked in a “smoker,” which is an outdoor cooker especially designed for smoking foods. Smoking is done much more slowly than grilling, so less-tender meats benefit from this method, and a natural smoke flavoring permeates the meat. The temperature in the smoker should be maintained at 250 to 300 ºF for safety.

Safe Handling: Some recipes state to marinate meat and poultry for several hours or days, either to tenderize or add flavor. Acid in the marinade breaks down connective tissue in meats. This is especially beneficial in lean meats, such as “Select” grade, which do not have a lot of fat marbling to enhance tenderness. Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If some of the marinade is to be used for basting during cooking or as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade. Do not reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry on cooked food unless it is boiled first to destroy any bacteria.

If you choose to pre-cook meat or poultry, do so immediately before grilling. Once food is on the grill, cook until it reaches a safe temperature as determined with a meat thermometer.

When carrying food to a picnic site, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. If take-out foods such as fried chicken or barbecued beef will be reheated on the grill, and the food will not be eaten within two hours of pickup, buy them ahead of time and chill thoroughly.

Place raw meat packages in plastic bags and pack separately from canned drinks and ready-to-eat foods that might otherwise become contaminated. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degrees. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.

• In the car, keep the cooler in the air-conditioned passenger compartment; at the picnic, in the shade or shelter.

• Avoid opening the cooler’s lid, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in another cooler.

• When handling raw meat, remove from the cooler only the amount that will fit on the grill.

Handling: Pack clean, soapy sponges, cloths and wet towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands. Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters for separately handling the raw foods and the cooked foods. Never use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Any bacteria present in raw meat or juices can contaminate the safely cooked meat.

Cooking Equipment: For grilling and smoking, buy good-quality charcoal, briquettes or aromatic wood chips. Set the grill or smoker in a well-lit, well-ventilated area away from trees, shrubbery and buildings. Only use approved fire starter, never gasoline or paint thinner, for example. 

Building a Fire: Keep children and pets away from the fire. Have a squirt bottle of water nearby to control flare-ups. Do not wear baggy clothes. Use flame-resistant mitts, hot pads and cooking utensils with long handles. 

Let charcoal get red-hot with gray ash, about 10 to 20 minutes depending upon the quantity. Spread out the charcoal under the grilling surface or bank it around the drip pan for smoking. Replenish charcoal if necessary for grilling. Add about 15 briquettes every hour to maintain temperatures between 250 and 300 °F in a smoker. For hickory-smoked flavor, add a half-cup water-soaked wood chips or flakes during the last 30 minutes of smoking.

Use long-handled tongs when placing or turning meat on the grill to avoid the loss of juices that keep meat moist and tender. Piercing meat with a fork or knife can also affect food safety. Bacteria are normally found only on the external surface, so roasts and steaks cooked to an internal temperature of 145 °F will be safe because the outside will reach a temperature high enough to kill the surface bacteria. However, if a steak is poked or stabbed, these bacteria can be pushed inside, and then the meat must be cooked to 155 °F, the same as hamburger. 

Cooking Times: Cooking time depends on many factors: type of meat; its size and shape; distance of food from the heat; the temperature of the coals; and the weather. Use a thermometer to be sure foods reach proper temperatures to destroy any bacteria present. Cook beef, lamb and veal steaks, roasts and chops to 145 °F for medium rare or 160 °F for medium. Cook ground meats and all cuts of pork to 155 °F. Cook poultry to 165 °F or hotter. These temperatures ensure that foodborne bacteria have been destroyed. 

When using a sauce, apply during the last 15 to 30 minutes of grilling to prevent excess browning or burning.

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