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The things you need to know about BBQ foods

Break out the sauces and seasonings!  TODAY food editor Phil Lempert has juicy tips on meats and fishes for a summer grill.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It's summertime and the backyard cooking is fun and easy! Just get out that BBQ and get ready for the next few months of outdoor grilling and eating at the picnic table! According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association about 89 million Americans BBQ — and the typical BBQ household grills outdoors 25 times from mid-May to mid-September. Here are my simple tips to make sure that every one of your BBQs come out perfect:Always grill meats that are totally thawed
To make sure you buy the freshest beef possible, make sure that the meat is brightly colored and no extra juices in package. When it comes to grilling a little fat is a good thing! The fat helps keep the meat tender — it actually prevents the juices from escaping and melts into the meat as you cook it.

Be sure to use totally thawed meats — otherwise the inside will be undercooked while the outside may look perfect!

Grill flare ups may add excitement to the BBQ, but take steps to avoid them. Not only can they be dangerous to the people standing near the grill — but these flare ups will actually spoil your foods by cooking them unevenly and often burning them.

Best betsHamburgers: Use ground chuck that is at least 20 percent fat. Make the burgers at least a half inch thick — grill over a medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes total — turn ONLY once — and never squish down the meat with your spatula (it dries the meat out and forces the fat down into the fire which will then flare up).

Steaks: Use steaks that are about an inch thick and well-marbled (visible fat streaks through the meat). Use a marinade to tenderize them at least one hour under refrigeration before cooking and then grill on high for 5 to 7 minutes on each side — and turn ONLY once. My recommendation is to use rib eye, porterhouse, strip and of course filet mignon.

Chicken: Use chicken breasts that are marinated 20 to 30 minutes (to keep them from drying out) and cook for 8–12 minutes over a medium flame until thoroughly cooked and the juices run clear.

Salmon: Use pieces that are ½ to 1 inch thick and grill for 4-6 minutes per ½” over medium flame and turn ONLY once.

Shrimp: Grill shrimp until they turn pink over a medium flame — usually 5–7 minutes and turn ONLY once.

And if you are looking to make your BBQing a little fancier, try The Original Rangoon Company Ready-to-grill skewers of tender, juicy filet mignon wrapped in black peppered bacon or all natural scallops wrapped in slices of premium lean bacon.  The 8 oz. package of Scallops Wrapped in Premium Lean Bacon and a 6 oz. package of Filet Mignon Wrapped in Bacon retail at just $5.99 per package.

And always use a meat thermometer to make sure the meats are cooked thoroughly!

  • Chicken 180 degrees
  • Burgers (beef) 160 degrees
  • Burgers (turkey) 165 degrees
  • Beef, veal, lamb (steaks, chops, roasts) 145 degrees
  • Pork 160 degrees

Read the sauce labels before you grill
Many of today’s commercial sauces and marinades contain sugars — which burns at a low temperature and will burn the meats. Choose a sauce that doesn’t contain sugar or be sure to add sauce after grilling.

The best BBQ sauces use tomato sauce, mustard or vinegar as a base and the first ingredient — tomato sauce will also burn easily so be sure to add these to the meats only after cooking.

Make your own marinade
Marinating meats not only add flavor, but the correct marinade will improve the tenderness of the meat by breaking down its fibers. Use marinades that contain little or no sugar as the sugar burns at a low temperature.

Marinades need an “acid” (citrus juices, wine, yogurt) and an “emulsifier” (olive oil) to produce the best result. The acid tenderizes while the emulsifier carries the flavor throughout the meats.Making your own marinade is easy — and you can modify this basic recipe to taste — make only enough to use each time and discard the rest. Never reuse or brush on meat after it’s cooked.

One-quarter cup lemon, orange or grapefruit juice

3 Tablespoons of chopped green onion

1 Tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

¾ teaspoon fresh grated ginger

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

And always… Make sure that you follow the basic food safety guidelines!

Here are some quick and easy grilling tips to help keep your family and friends safe this Labor Day:

  • Wash hands often, especially after handling raw foods.
  • Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separated by using color-coded plates, utensils and cutting boards to avoid cross contamination.
  • Make sure foods stay properly chilled to avoid the spread of bacteria. Keep perishable foods in a cooler filled with ice — versus setting them out on the picnic table — and drop in a refrigerator thermometer to make sure the cooler temperature stays below 40ºF.

For more food and health information as well as recipes, check out Phil’s website at

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .