Simple Tips for a Healthy and Safe Cookout

Related topics: Health & Wellness, Eating Right, Safety

Summer is here! For many of us, that means enjoying one of the season's best staples—the cookout! Here's some great information from the National Council on Aging to help keep your gathering safer and healthier.

Senior man grilling for his family

Whether it's a gathering in the park to grill or a church BBQ on Sunday afternoon, summer cookouts can be lots of fun. And cookouts are also a great way for older adults to stay healthy during the summer.

From socializing with friends and chasing the grandchildren to enjoying fresh, nutritious food from your local grocery store or farmers market, this beloved activity is jam-packed with mental and physical wellness opportunities.

To ensure your cookouts this season are both fun and safe, here are a few tips from the USDA.

Healthy eating

A cookout can be a healthy choice in the summer. Here are a few tips for kicking up the nutrition without missing out on any of the grilling action.

  • Grill fruits and veggies: Toss some tomatoes, pineapple, or even your full ear of corn right on the grill. The heat will enhance the flavors, but be careful not to overcook them.
  • Pick the right meat: Lean proteins are both better for you and easier to grill. Meats high in fat can lead to flare ups as the fat drips on the flames.
  • Skewer the meat: Making a kabob is an easy way to cut down on cooking time, control serving sizes, and make your grandkids at least try their veggies.
  • Kick up the flavors: If the smoky taste of grilled meat isn't enough for you, there's always a marinade. Some favorite marinade ingredients include wines, vinegars, lemon or lime juice, low-sodium soy sauce, honey, garlic, onions, herbs, and spices. Remember that less is more if it's a high-sugar or high-fat sauce. Don't use marinade that has had uncooked meat in it as a sauce.

4 steps to food safety

It's always best to keep a clean cooking space, but that's a little harder to do outside. Here are 4 easy tips, so no one gets sick.

  • Clean: Sanitize everything regularly—from your hands and grilling utensils, to your corn on the cob and those potatoes you plan to use for potato salad (yes, potato skins need to be cleaned even if you plan to peel them)!
  • Separate: Keep raw and cooked foods separate and use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, and eggs. Don't cut your watermelon on the same surface you used to slice the chicken for your skewers. Even if you've washed the cutting board or bowl by hand, it's always best not to re-use it until it's been through the dishwasher.
  • Cook: Even if you believe you're a pro at telling if your burgers or hot dogs are done by texture and color alone, you should still use a meat thermometer to ensure your food has reached the recommended temperature (see chart below).
  • Chill: Illness-causing bacteria manifest on perishable foods within just two hours, and on a hot summer day when it’s 90° or warmer, cut that time in half to one hour! Get those leftovers in the refrigerator—or throw them in a cooler of ice if out at the park—quickly.

Grilling safety infographic

Grill like a PRO

If you’re not using a thermometer because you're not sure the best way to test the meat, here's a simple chart to help you grill like a PRO:

Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat.

Read the temperature.

  • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145° F with a 3-minute rest time
  • Ground meats: 160° F
  • Whole poultry, poultry breasts, and ground poultry: 165° F

Off the Grill.

To learn more about food safety and how to keep you and your loved ones safe, visit or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

Source: The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is a respected national leader and trusted partner to help people aged 60+ meet the challenges of aging. Their mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. Through innovative community programs and services, online help, and advocacy, NCOA is partnering with nonprofit organizations, government, and business to improve the health and economic security of 10 million older adults by 2020.