Three Tips for a Safe Cookout

200295822-001Cooking outdoors makes for a wonderful family meal or a great dinner party. That’s all the more reason to make sure you follow a few simple safety tips. For many outdoor cooks, refrigeration and the closest sink, is located inside the house and away from the grill. Chances are there won’t be any food safety related problems during your next outdoor grilling session but I thought sharing three safety tips would be a good idea.

Wash Your Hands

Have you read the articles about shopping cart contamination? Research from the University of Arizona found that 72 percent of shopping carts that were tested were found to be contaminated with fecal matter and a solid 50 percent also contained E.coli. How does that translate to outdoor cooking? Simple, wash your hands. Because of the outdoor setting you may be separated from your sink. Think about it. How many times do you wash your hands, rinse items and wipe down surfaces when you’re cooking in your kitchen. Hopefully the answer is either “a bunch” or “too many times to count.” This act cuts down on cross contamination.

If you have a complete outdoor kitchen like those found on Outdora, you may have a sink and water and other assorted sanitation items ready to go. If you don’t, then the solution is as simple as store- bought handy wipes. Place several handy wipe containers around for people to use freely. Having one at the grill may not be enough because people may not see it especially during an event with more than just family. You can also set a container of wipes on each table, near the drinks and garbage container. I think you will be surprised by the number of people that take the time to wipe their hands down.

Ice, Ice Baby

If you are storing drinks in ice and also providing ice for consumption then you need to have the two containers separate from one another. One container holds cans and bottles of beverages that are covered in ice while a separate container holds clean ice for consumption. An ice scoop should be used as well.

Here is a neat trick that’s similar to parents hiding cookies on the top shelf well out of the reach of children. Set the scoop and container and of ice that is to be used for consumption on raised surface such as a table instead of on the ground. This may keep children from walking up and grabbing a few ice cubes after they have been playing in the yard or with the pets. Oh, a container of handy wipes nearby would be a good idea.


I’m not going to go over all of rules for keeping foods at the proper temperature. What I’ll do instead is give you a rule of thumb that I mention during my chef demos.

“Keep the cold food cold and keep the hot food hot.”

If the food you are serving was stored in the fridge then that food needs to be kept chilled before, after and possibly during serving. Hot food from the grill, oven, barbecue or stove should be warmed. Think of the serving lines at a Chinese buffet. The hot food is kept hot by using steam tables and the cold food is chilled over ice.

This may not apply if you are only cooking a few burgers that will be eaten as soon as they are removed from the grill. If you’re feeding a group with assorted appetizers which is followed by a buffet style meal then the need for proper temperature control over a longer period of time increases. Crock pots, warmers, chaffing trays and thermal servers can keep things warm. Ice and re-usable cold packs can keep things chilled. You can also make your own ice filled chillers by placing several small bowls containing food that needs to be chilled into a larger casserole dish which is then filled with ice. You can cover the ice with cloth or even flowers. Keeping food covered also helps maintain a proper temperature.

If you don’t have a way to chill or warm foods while serving then keep the serving time as short as possible. Cook it, serve it, properly store or discard it as soon as possible. The longer food stays out and either warms up or cools down the higher the risk.

I hope these tips are informative and at the very least motivate you to study up on other ways you can improve your safe cooking habits.


Kent Whitaker, known as The Deck Chef, is a cookbook and culinary writer. His books are available nationally and include Smoke in the Mountains – The Art of Appalachian Barbecue, Checkered Flag Cooking – Tailgating Stock Car Racing and the state by state Hometown Cookbook series which he co-authors with Sheila Simmons.  To date the series includes the Tennessee Hometown Cookbook, The Georgia Hometown Cookbook, The Mississippi Hometown Cookbook, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina.

Kent is the winner of the Emeril Live Barbecue Contest on Food Network and Gold Medal recipient from the American Authors Association in the culinary and cookbook genre. You can contact Kent via email – thedeckchef[at]hotmail[dot]com or visit him online at

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