Dust off those grills, fill the propane tank or buy a new sack of briquettes -- it's time to move the kitchen outside for the summer.
Sure, summer doesn't officially arrive for almost another month but according to a survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 56 percent of those polled will be firing up their grill over the Memorial Day weekend. That's why the HPBA has declared May to be National Barbecue Month, said Leslie Wheeler, HPBA spokesperson in a news release.
The association's survey also revealed that we're a nation of dedicated grillers. Once we get going, 45 percent of us do our cooking outside at least twice a week now through early fall.
Outdoor cooking tends to be casual, which makes this a good time to review some basic grilling practices.
While simply grilling meats and other foods adds a rich, smoky flavor, marinades and rubs are popular ways to season grilled goods.
Al Drake of West Richland, who makes and markets a wide variety of seasoned rubs and marinades, recommends spraying meats with a little olive oil before rubbing on the seasonings.
"Use your fingers to really massage it into the meat. Or, if you're squeamish, use the back of a spoon," Drake said.
Let the meat sit in the marinade -- in the fridge, not on the kitchen counter -- about an hour for smaller, thinner cuts or up to three days for a roast, he said.
Drake also likes to make a paste of fresh rosemary, Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil and a tablespoon of either his roasted garlic peppercorn or steak seasoning.
"Just mix it together and rub it all over the meat. It's excellent for either a leg of lamb or a beef roast," he said.
You can find his seasonings -- Drake's Meat Rubs -- at Ranch & Home in Pasco and Kennewick and Yoke's Fresh Market stores. Or go to www.drakesmeatrubs.com.
Keep it clean
Use separate platters and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Or wash them in hot soapy water before reusing. Allowing raw meat and poultry or their juices to come into contact with cooked foods can contaminate it with harmful bacteria.
Be careful, too, if you partially precook foods destined for the grill. Take them directly from the stove or microwave to the grill with no lag time between, which could allow bacteria to multiply.
When is it done?
Don't guess -- use an instant-read thermometer (even barbecue pros use them). Don't let it touch any bones, or you'll get a false reading.
According to the USDA, meats are safe to eat when they reach: 165 degrees for poultry, 160 degrees for burgers and all cuts of pork and 145 degrees for medium-rare beef and lamb or 160 degrees for medium.
For steaks, chops and chicken, you also can follow this tip from Steven Raichlen, author of 10 Easy Ways to Master the Grill: "Poke the meat with your finger. If it feels soft and squishy, it's rare; if you feel it yield, it's medium-rare; if it yields slightly, it's medium; if firm and springy, well-done."
Another piece of advice from Raichlen is to "align the food on your grill in a neat row with soldierly precision. That helps you keep track of which foods went on the fire first, so you can turn them and take them off in order."
The key to cooking safely on a gas or charcoal grill should always be common sense. To keep your cookout fun, safe and easy, follow these tips from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association and the Propane Education & Research Council:
-- Place your grill on a level surface away from buildings, overhangs and high traffic areas.
-- When lighting a grill, keep the top open. Use an electric or chimney to start the briquettes rather than a lighter fluid. Wait for the flames to die down before grilling.
When connecting the cylinder to a propane gas grill burner for the first time, use a leak-detection solution (a 50/50 mixture of water and liquid soap) to check connections for tightness. Do not use matches or lighters to check for leaks.
Never pour an accelerant such as lighter fluid or gasoline on the grill.
-- Wear clothing without loose shirt tails, ties or anything that could catch fire as you work at the grill. Use long handled tools and well-padded pot holders.
-- Trim excess fat from meats to avoid flare-ups. But just in case, keep a spray bottle of water handy.
-- Never leave a hot grill unattended. When finished cooking, close the lid and, if using gas, turn off the burners and close the cylinder valve.
-- Keep track of your owner's manual and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
-- After filling or exchanging a cylinder, take it home immediately. Keep the vehicle ventilated and the cylinder valve closed and capped. Always use, transport or store cylinders outdoors in an upright (vertical) position.
Do not store spare cylinders near the grill or smoke while handling a propane cylinder.
Where to get help, recipes
-- Call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline, 888-674-6854. The hotline is staffed from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays year-round (English or Spanish). Recorded food safety messages are available 24/7. Or go to the Food Safety and Inspection Service website, www.fsis.usda.gov.
-- The Weber Grill-Line, staffed by a specially trained team of Weber-certified barbecue experts, is open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. They can provide answers to questions on food and product safety in charcoal and gas grills, offer recipe suggestions and meal-planning tips. Call 800-474-5568.
-- Weber also has a free booklet, Weber's Grilling What's Good For You, with recipes, grilling tips for lean meats, fish and vegetables and nutritional analysis charts for favorite grilled foods. Call the Grill-Line, 800-474-5568, or download it at www.weber.com/goodforyou.
-- For recipes, go to www.weber.com; The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, www.hpba.org; Allrecipes.com, http://allrecipes.com.
* Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org.