Living Well Los Alamos: Summer Barbeque Safety

Los Alamos Extension Home Economist and 4-H Agent

With our warm weather this winter it’s not uncommon to catch a whiff of dinner cooking on a barbeque grill somewhere in your neighborhood. The aroma conjures up spending time in the yard with family and friends while eating potato salad, coleslaw and corn on the cob. This summer keep your friends and families safe by following a few basic barbeque safety rules. 

Proper barbeque safety begins with an annual inspection of the grill. Clear the grill of any debris and grease. If using a gas grill, be sure all hoses and connections are working properly. To do this brush or spray soapy water on the connections and look to make sure there is no bubbling at any of the connections. If you use a charcoal grill inspect the body of the grill to ascertain there are no weak spots from rust.

Position the grill on a flat surface at least 10 feet from any structure, fence or overhanging branches. Do not grill under a porch or inside a garage or tent. Open your gas grill lid before you light it. If using lighter fluid in a charcoal grill, allow it to soak into briquettes for a few minutes before lighting them so that any vapors have time to evaporate. When storing extra charcoal keep it in a metal container with a tight fitting lid to keep it dry; wet charcoal can spontaneously combust and start a fire. Lastly, make sure you never move your grill or dispose of ashes until the grill is completely cooled.

Once your grill is in working order it’s time to consider food safety when barbequing. Think about taking a cooler and ice packs to the market to keep foods cool while transporting. Once home, freeze or refrigerate meat within two hours of purchasing it. If the temperature is above 900, freeze or refrigerate perishables within one hour. If ground meat or poultry is not going to be used within a day or two, place it in the freezer. Other cuts of meat should be used within 4-5 days.

The best way to thaw meats and seafood is in the refrigerator. Simply remove the package from the freezer and place it on a tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. If you are in a hurry you can use the cold-water method. Place food into sealed packages and submerge in cold water. Food should never be thawed at room temperature on the counter.

Marinades can add flavor to and tenderize many grilled foods. Oftentimes they consist of oils, seasonings, and acidic products. Marinating should take place in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meats can be marinated for up to two days before cooking. Chops, roasts, and steaks can be placed in marinade for up to five days. If a marinade is going to be used as a sauce on cooked items, reserve some aside for later use. Any marinade that was used on raw products must be brought to a full boil to destroy potentially dangerous bacteria before being used on cooked foods.

If you use a wire bristle brush to clean your grill, wipe the grates with a clean damp towel to remove any wire bristles that may have dislodged before you begin cooking. Be sure to clean all utensils, cutting boards, and platters to avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods. The following chart indicates the minimum temperature that meats should be cooked to.


  • Whole poultry: 165 °F
  • Poultry breasts: 165 °F
  • Ground poultry: 165 °F
  • Ground meats: 160 °F
  • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 °F and allow to rest at least 3 minutes.

Always use a meat thermometer to determine temperature, you cannot safely check for doneness visually. All foods should be stored in the refrigerator within two hours (or one hour if above 90°F).

An inspection of your equipment and following some basic food safety rules means you can enjoy one of the season’s most beloved pastimes without worry.

Source: USDA Barbeque and Food Safety

Helen Idzorek is the Extension Home Economist and 4-H Agent for NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached via email at or at 505-662-2656. The Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Service is located in the Community Building at 475 20th St, Suite A, Los Alamos, NM 87544. Find them on facebook or visit their website at New Mexico State University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.