Safe grilling guidelines
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Safe food handling is always important, but grilling brings special challenges. Follow safe food handling guidelines by washing your hands before preparing food and keeping all utensils, dishes and work areas as clean as possible. It's important to thaw meat in the refrigerator and always use a food thermometer to check that meat and poultry have reached recommended temperatures.
Mishandling raw meat is often a cause of foodborne illness.
- Completely defrost meat in the refrigerator so it cooks evenly on the grill.
- When defrosting in the microwave, place meat on the grill immediately. Partially cooked meat is the perfect place for bacteria to grow.
Grilling browns food on the outside but is it done on the inside? A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study found 1 out of 4 hamburgers looked done on the outside but hadn't reached the safe cooking temperature of 160 degrees F on the inside. The color of the meat doesn't mean it has reached a safe temperature needed to rid the meat of bacteria that could make you and your family sick.
Partially cooked meat is the perfect place for bacteria to grow.
The only way to know if your grilled food is safe to eat is to use a food thermometer. Insert the thermometer into two or three places including the thickest part of the food.
- Hamburgers, ground pork patties, all ground meat mixtures - 160° F.
- Chicken, poultry - 165 to 180 F.
- Beaf steak: medium-rare - 145 F.
- Beaf steak: medium - 160 F.
- Beaf steak: well-done - 170 F.
- Pork chops, steaks - 145 F with 3-minute rest time.
- Reheating cooked meats (e.g., hot dogs) - 165 F.
Thermometers are easy to use and take the guesswork out of grilling. For burgers, use a thin stemmed digital food thermometer. Insert it into the thickest part of the burger. Remember to clean the thermometer with hot soapy water, rinse and air dry after each use.
Before serving, keep cooked meats hot, at 140 F or warmer, by setting them to the side of the grill rack where they will not overcook.
Do not allow meat to sit out for more than 2 hours, and limit to 1 hour if the outside temperature is higher than 90 F. Food that sits out longer should be thrown away because bacteria have grown and spread through the food.
After putting meat on the grill, wash hands before preparing anything else. Juice from the meat should not touch cooked meat or other parts of the meal, such as salad or fresh fruits and vegetables. Wash hands for 15 to 20 seconds using warm, soapy water.
- When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter and utensils. Never reuse utensils that have touched raw meat with cooked, ready-to-eat foods.
Research suggests that grilling may raise the risk of some cancers. Grilling can cause red meats, poultry, game and fish to produce compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which may cause cancer. Also, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when fat drips onto hot coals or stones and can deposit back onto food by smoke and flare-ups.
The American Cancer Society states that eating moderate amounts of grilled foods does not pose a problem if they are not charred. To prevent charring, follow these tips:
Cook meats at lower temperatures by turning the gas down or waiting for charcoal to become low-burning embers.
Raise the grilling surface from the heat source.
Marinate; it can reduce the amount of HCAs by as much as 92 to 99%.
Use lean meat and trim visible fat.
Use tongs or a spatula to turn food and flip meat often.
Remove all charred portions before serving.
Always use a food thermometer to be sure meats and poultry are cooked to a safe internal temperature and doneness. For approximate cooking times for use in meal planning, see the following chart compiled from various resources. Times are based on meat at refrigerator temperatures. Remember that outdoor grills can vary in heat. When using a barbecue sauce, apply during the last 15 to 30 minutes of grilling to prevent excess browning or burning.
When using indirect heat (smoking), the grill must be covered with its lid.
Grilling food safely - approximate grilling times and temperatures for meat and poultry
|Item||Size||Grilling time||Internal temp in degrees F|
|Beef - steaks||3/4 inch thick||3 to 4 minutes per side||Medium rare 145|
|Beef - steaks||3/4 inch thick||4 to 5 minutes per side||Medium 160|
|Beef - kabobs||1-inch cubes||3 to 4 minutes per side||145 to 160|
|Beef - hamburger patties||1/2 inch thick||3 minutes per side||160|
|Beef - roast, rolled rump (indirect heat)||4 to 6 lbs.||18 to 22 minutes per pound||145 to 160|
|Beef - roast, sirloin tip (indirect heat)||3 1/2 to 4 lbs.||20 to 25 minutes per pound||145 to 160|
|Beef - ribs, Back||cut in 1-rib portions||10 minutes per side||160|
|Beef - tenderloin||Half, 2 to 3 lbs.||10 to 12 minutes per side||Medium rare 145|
|Beef - tenderloin||Whole, 4 to 6 lbs.||12 to 15 minutes per side||Medium 160|
|Ham - fully cooked (indirect heat)||any size||8 to 10 minutes per pound||140|
|Ham - cook-before-eating (indirect heat)||Whole, 10 to 14 lbs.||10 to 15 minutes per pound||160|
|Ham - cook-before-eating (indirect heat)||Half, 5 to 7 lbs.||12 to 18 minutes per pound||160|
|Ham - cook-before-eating (indirect heat)||Portion, 3 to 4 lbs.||30 to 35 minutes per pound||160|
|Lamb - chops, shoulder, loin, or rib||1" thick||5 minutes per side||145 to 160|
|Lamb - steaks, sirloin, or leg||1" thick||5 minutes per side||145 to 160|
|Lamb - kabobs||1" cubes||4 minutes per side||145 to 160|
|Lamb - patties, ground||4 oz., 1/2" thick||3 minutes per side||160|
|Lamb - leg, butterflied||4 to 7 lbs.||40 to 50 minutes total||145 to 160|
|Ostrich or Emu|
|Ostrich or Emu - fan filets, steaks, or kabobs||3/4" thick||3 minutes per side||Medium rare 145|
|Ostrich or Emu - patties, ground||1/2" thick||3 minutes per side||160|
|Pork - chops, bone-in or boneless||3/4" thick||3 to 4 minutes per side||Medium 145 (3 minute stand time)|
|Pork - chops, bone-in or boneless||1 1/2" thick||7 to 8 minutes per side||Medium 145 (3 minute stand time)|
|Pork - tenderloin||1/2 to 1 1/2 lbs.||15 to 25 minutes total||Medium 145 (3 minute stand time)|
|Pork - ribs (indirect heat)||2 to 4 lbs.||1 1/2 to 2 hours||145 (3 minute stand time)|
|Pork - patties, ground||1/2" thick||4 to 5 minutes per side||160|
|Veal - chops, steaks||1" thick||5 to 7 minutes per side||145 to 160|
|Roast, boneless (indirect heat)||2 to 3 lbs.||18 to 20 minutes per pound||145 to 160|
|Venison - roast, saddle or leg||6 to 7 lbs.||25 to 30 minutes per pound||145 to 160|
|Venison - steaks||3/4" thick||4 to 5 minutes per side||Medium rare 145|
|6 to 7 minutes per side||Medium 160|
|Chicken - whole (indirect heat), not stuffed, broiler fryer||3 to 4 lbs.||60 to 75 minutes||180 as measured in the thigh|
|Chicken - whole (indirect heat), not stuffed, roasting hen||5 to 7 lbs.||18 to 25 minutes per pound||180 as measured in the thigh|
|Chicken - whole (indirect heat), not stuffed, Capon||4 to 8 lbs.||15 to 20 minutes per pound||180 as measured in the thigh|
|Chicken - whole (indirect heat), not stuffed, Cornish hens||18 to 24 oz.||45 to 55 minutes||180 as measured in the thigh|
|Chicken - breast halves, bone-in||6 to 8 oz. each||10 to 15 minutes per side||170|
|Chicken - breast halves, boneless||4 oz. each||6 to 8 minutes per side||170|
|Chicken - patties, ground||1/2" thick||6 to 8 minutes per side||165|
|Chicken - other parts: Legs or thighs||4 to 8 oz.||10 to 15 minutes per side||180|
|Chicken - drumsticks||4 oz.||8 to 12 minutes per side||180|
|Chicken - wings, wingettes||2 to 3 oz.||8 to 12 minutes per side||180|
|Duck or Goose*|
|Duckling, whole (indirect heat)||4 1/2 lbs. (not stuffed)||2 1/2 hours||180 to 185|
|Duckling, quartered (indirect heat)||4 1/2 lbs.||1 hr., 25 minutes||180 to 185|
|Goose, whole (indirect heat)||8 to 12 lbs.||18 to 20 minutes per pound||180 to 185|
|Whole turkey (indirect heat)||8 to 12 lbs.||2 to 3 hours||180 as measured in the thigh|
|Whole turkey (indirect heat)||12 to 16 lbs.||3 to 4 hours||180 as measured in the thigh|
|Whole turkey (indirect heat)||16 to 24 lbs.||Not recommended||180 as measured in the thigh|
|Turkey - breast, bone-in||4 to 7 lbs.||1 to 1 3/4 hours||170|
|Turkey - breast, boneless||2 3/4 to 3 1/2 lbs.||Not recommended|
|Turkey - thighs and drumsticks (indirect heat)||8 to 16 oz.||1 1/2 to 2 hours||180|
|Turkey - thighs and drumsticks - direct heat (pre-cook 1 hr.)||8 to 16 oz.||8 to 10 minutes per side||180|
|Boneless turkey roll (indirect heat)||2 to 5 lbs.||1 1/2 to 2 hours||170 to 175|
|Boneless turkey roll (indirect heat)||5 to 10 lbs.||2 to 3 1/2 hours||170 to 175|
|Turkey - patties, ground||1/2" thick||6 to 8 minutes per side||165|
*Safe cooking temperature for poultry was lowered to 165° F in 2006. However, for best flavor and quality, 170° F to 180° F is recommended.
Reviewed in 2018