Outdoor Cooking – Safe Practices

Outdoor cooking is meant to be a fun and festive event so a little careful planning and awareness can ensure that your next barbecue is fun, safe, enjoyable and tasty. Not only should you be careful when setting up a barbecue but ensuring that safe food handling and cooking practices are used is critical to your next outdoor event’s success.

Grill Safety

When cooking on a barbecue, hibachi, or a barbecue pit make sure that you and your guests are safe. Hot coals, hot surfaces or grease flare ups can create a dangerous situation. Whether using coals or a gas grill you should be aware of fire safety at all times. Some critical items to consider:

  • Make sure any outside games and traffic paths are away from your grill so that someone doesn’t accidentally push over it over or gets burned on a hot surface. Also, be aware of pets getting too close.
  • Be sure to use proper utensils that are long enough and capable of handling the weight of what you are cooking.
  • Follow all correct lighting procedures weather using gas or coals. Turn the gas on only when you are ready to light and never throw lighter fluid on already lit coals or flames.

Food Safety

Perhaps one of the biggest dangers that people overlook is proper food safety. While setting up a barbecue safely is more obvious because the dangers are more readily seen, food born illness can create an uncomfortable and even dangerous situation if proper food handling and cooking procedures are not done correctly. The challenges of refrigeration and improper cooking can create unsafe food for consumption very quickly and spoil your outdoor event. It begins with shopping and doesn’t end until the last leftover is eaten.

When shopping, be sure to purchase your meats last. Utilize the plastic bags at the store for the raw meats and make sure they are all bagged separate from other perishables such as fruits and vegetables. Drive directly home from the store and refrigerate within two hours and certainly sooner (less than 1 hour) if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees. Freeze ground meats and poultry if they’re not going to be used within 2 days and other meats within 4 to 5 days.

When transporting to a picnic or even outside, make sure that the meats remain in an ice chest below 40 degrees and keep cool until you’re ready to cook. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight to avoid any warm spots. Also, make sure that any beverages are in a separate cooler so that raw meats don’t contaminate drink containers. Be sure to use different utensils and plates when handling uncooked meats versus handling cooked items for serving. Always wash your hands thoroughly after putting on the meats to cook and prior to handling the finished product.

Cook meats to their proper temperatures to ensure correct cooking. Use a quality meat thermometer and check thick portions and never near a bone, fat, or gristle. Internal meat temperatures are as follows:

  • Poultry: 165 deg F
  • Ground Beef: 160 deg F
  • Beef, Veal and Lamb:
    • Medium rare 145 deg F
    • Medium 160 deg F
  • Pork: 160 deg F.

When smoking meats, be sure to smoking temperatures are maintained at 250 deg to 300 deg until the internal temperatures above are reached. If pre-cooking, make sure that you start your final cooking just after pre-cooking, without delay. Be sure to keep foods hot at 140 deg F or higher until serving. If outside weather is above 90 def F, don’t let food set out for more than an hour. Be sure to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of serving and within an hour if over 90 def F.


As outlined above, a few simple precautions can make or break a great outdoor cooking event. Be aware of your surroundings when cooking and be sure to follow safe food handling and cooking practices. A good cooking thermometer is essential to your barbecue supplies. And yes, good sauces, good meats and a great BBQ are required but safe practices are also critical BBQ supplies.