Get Fired UP! Tips for Grilling Meat

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  Of all the foods that can be prepared on the grill, meat is king with everyone’s goal to cook it to perfection.  Whether it is steak, pork chops, chicken, or fish, knowing how to grill each type of meat is crucial for success. There’s nothing worse than overcooking or undercooking the priciest part of the meal! Meat, chicken, hamburgers, or seafood must be fully cooked to a safe internal temperature before serving to prevent falling ill after eating from food poisoning. 

Grill Safely to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses

Before starting any grilling, care needs to be taken to prevent foodborne illness.  The risk of foodborne illness increases during the summer months because disease-causing bacteria grow faster on raw meat and poultry products in warmer weather. Bacteria also need moisture to flourish and summer weather, often hot and humid, provides the perfect conditions. Follow these four USDA recommendations to keep friends and family safe from foodborne illness:

  • Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.  Prior to placing food on the grill, wipe the grill surface or clean the grill grates with a stiff brush. If a stiff brush is used, inspect the grill surface to ensure there are no bristles left behind; bristles can cause physical contamination if it sticks to the food.
  • Separate – Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.  Place grilled food on a clean plate, not the plate you used to carry the raw meat to the grill.
  • Cook – Use a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry are cooked to a safe temperature to kill harmful germs. When smoking, keep temperatures inside the smoker at 225oF to 300oF to keep meat at a safe temperature while it cooks [1].
    145oF – whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature)
    145oF – fish
    160oF – hamburgers and other ground beef
    165oF – all poultry
    135oF – all pre-cooked meats, like hot dogs
  • Chill – Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly – within two hours of cooking (one hour if above 90oF outside.).
    For more food grilling safety tips, see Food Safety Tips to Grilling Pros and Beginners provided by the USDA .

Tips to Ensure Your MEAT Masterpieces Come Off the Grill Flawlessly

  • Prepare the grill by cleaning the grill grates as previously stated. Oil the grates. A great tip I learned from a program on IPTV is to slice an onion in half, stab one half on the onion with a long fork, dip the onion in oil and rub the grates with the onion. It not only does a great job on getting oil on the grates without flare up, but also seasons the grates a little.
  • Pat meat dry using paper towels to remove any excess moisture that would otherwise steam-cook the meat or inhibit caramelization.
  • Liberally rub the meat with a dry brine or salt and pepper to help keep the meat from drying out.  For steaks and chops, season just before grilling.  Salt pulls moisture to the surface so seasoning when the grill is ready keeps that process from drawing moisture out of the meat and making it wet. It helps to rub the meat with a little bit of olive oil prior to seasoning as it helps to hold the seasoning in place.
  • If possible, establish a two-zone cooking area in the grill.  One area should be hot for searing (cooking briefly over high heat) the meat and the other at a cooler temperature for cooking the meat to the desired doneness after searing.  If this is not possible, turn the heat down on the grill after searing. 
  • Once the meat is on the grill, resist all urges to touch or lift it until it releases from the grill naturally. This will aid in solid grill marks which lend flavor and keep the meat from tearing. Once the meat releases, turn it often to allow even cooking.
  • Use a meat thermometer to gauge when the meat is done using the USDA’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart, updated in 2020.  After grilling, hot foods should be kept at a minimum of 140⁰F.
  • After the meat has reached temperature, allow it to rest before slicing or eating so the meat has time to reabsorb its favorable juices and make the meat soft and moist.  Cover with foil and let rest a minimum of 3 minutes before serving. The meat temperature will also rise a small amount while resting.
  • Slice the meat against the grain. Cuts made perpendicular to the grain results in short meat fibers which gives a tender bite of meat.

Meat Grilling Specifics from the Pros

For specifics on grilling the various meat types see the following:
Grilling Pork by the National Pork Board.
Grilling Basics for Beef or Expert Grilling Advice from Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Also, How to Grill Steaks Perfectly… For Beginners by Omaha Steaks.  
Poultry Grilling Guide by Weber, B&G Foods, Inc.
How to Grill Fish by the Institute of Culinary Education.

Grilling is more than throwing some meat on a hot grill.  Whether using a gas or charcoal grill, following a few steps when grilling and knowing how to cook and how long to cook the particular food will help assure a successful outcome. The Get Fired Up! grilling tips continues with Grilling Sides–Fruits and Vegetables and Baking on the Grill.

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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