Grilling Messups and Miscues


It may seem simple to cook on the outdoor grill, but it can be a little tricky if you don’t know some vital information. Gary Crawford has some examples.

“And now….grilling fizzles and flops, part 2.”

“I like to tell the story of how my husband grilled a turkey in an hour, by setting it on fire in the grill.”  That’s Mary Ann Gravely, she’s with the USDA’s meat and poultry hot line.  So, how in the world did that turkey catch on fire?  We’ll give you that story here in a minute.

Mary Ann says, actually one of the biggest goofs that many of us make when grilling, isn’t over cooking to the point of combustion, but under-cooking, not killing all the bacteria that may be on it.  And just eye-balling it won’t do the trick…

“The only way to know if you’ve cooked something thoroughly, is by using a meat thermometer, you can’t tell by looking.”

So, right off the bat, even if it’s an insult to our so-called expertise at the grill, she says a meat thermometer is just as important as all the other grilling tools we use.  As well as having the phone number of the fire department handy.

But, if you don’t know what temperature your foods need to be cooked to, the thermometer isn’t much use to us.  And those cooking temperatures have changed.  

“If you’re cooking a whole cut of meat, like a steak, or a roast, or chops, whether it be beef, pork, or lamb, we recommend cooking it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, then a three-minute resting time, and then you know it’s safe.”

Now, whole birds, or parts, get those parts up to 165 degrees, and it will be safe to eat.  They may still look a little pink in places, so…”you may prefer to cook it to a little higher temperature just for personal preference.”  But, not as high as Mary Ann’s husband did on that turkey. 

So, many of us simply put burgers on the grill.  Mary Ann says we really need to get the center of that patty to at least 160 degrees.  And no matter what we always thought…”color isn’t a reliable indicator of doneness.”  That patty could be brown, with no pink and still not be cooked hot enough to kill the bacteria. 

So, to review; whole cuts of meat and pork, 145 degrees with a three-minute stand time, poultry 165, ground beef, 160.

Oh, and promised to explain how Mary Ann’s husband grilled a turkey to the point of making it turkey flambé; “the turkey has a lot of juices, and they dripped down, and my husband is not one to spend a lot of time watching food grill, so he put the turkey on the grill, he covered it and he walked away, and when he came back and opened it, I guess the air….whoosh! the turkey was on fire! It had a very nice black coating.”

So, if you have questions about grilling, or any other food safety questions call the Meat and Poultry hotline, 1-888-MPHOTLINE.'

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.