For grilling, select meats that are low in fat and trim off any excess fat before cooking. Research shows that the higher the fat level in meats, the more carcinogens are produced during charcoal broiling.
Keep meat, poultry, salads and other perishables refrigerated or in an insulated cooler with an ice source until ready to grill. Marinate meats in a glass dish in the refrigerator - not on the kitchen counter. Once the meat has been put on the grill, throw away any leftover marinade. It will contain any bacteria found on the surface of the raw meat. If you want to use some marinade as a sauce or dip, separate it into another container before starting the marinating process.
Precooking can save time at the grill site and reduce charring. However, for safety's sake, make sure the foods go directly from the microwave or oven to the grill. Foods also may be completely cooked, then quickly reheated on the grill later.
Take outside only the quantity of food that you will cook and eat. Foods should not sit in warm temperatures for more than two hours. When it is warmer than 85 degrees, the time limit should be an hour or less.
Are the coals ready?
For safety and quality, make sure the coals are ready before adding the food to the grill. Coals should show a light coating of ash for optimal heat. Cook meat until done, but not charred. You should use a meat thermometer to be certain meat is cooked to the proper temperature and doneness.
Discourage flare-ups, since burning fat or juice can produce harmful smoke. If smoke from dripping fat is too heavy, move the food to another section of the grill, rotate the grill or reduce the heat. If you are using a gas or electric grill, lower the temperature setting. For conventional grills, use a squirt bottle of water to dampen the coals.
When possible, use a drip pan to catch dripping fat. Metal drip pans are available where outdoor cooking equipment is sold, or make your own from heavy-duty aluminum foil. Make sure the drip pan does not rest on burning coals.
With gas or electric grills, follow the manufacturer's instructions on the use and placement of drip pans.
Serve food from the grill on a clean platter, not one that held the raw food prior to cooking.
After grilling, serve food immediately to keep hot foods hot.
Clean the grill after each use.
Refrigerate any leftovers promptly. If this is not possible and the perishable food will sit at warm temperatures longer than two hours, the safest motto is, "when in doubt, throw it out."
If you would like information on cooking temperatures and how to use a meat thermometer, send a self-addressed, stamped, 33-cent, business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Office, 1260 Maryland Ave., Hagerstown, Md. 21740. Mark the envelope, "Cook."
Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.
Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator, University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.