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Big on BBQ food? This guide will keep your food safe to eat

BBQ food skewers of vegetables are prepared to grill, lying on a grate

The common wisdom is that you can never really know what it feels like to be a particular person until you have walked a mile in their shoes. But before you grab your Lonsdale two piece and look for some stranger’s clodhoppers, bite down on that chill pill. You can join us for a bit of life swapping safely ensconced in the comfort of your chair. You are now Oliver Twist. After another impossibly miserable day working in the parish workhouse, you are sitting in a large stone hall confronted by a bowl of thin gruel (sorry no BBQ food for you). This has been your diet for months, it isn’t sufficient to nourish you and basically you are an unwilling participant in some systematic starvation campaign – brought to you by the loving hearts of Mr Bumble and Mr Limbkins. However needs must and you gulp down the gruel, licking the bowl (and your fingers) to ensure that no drop of precious nutrition is wasted. However, the hunger won’t subside. What do you do?


With your bowl in hand, you get up and walk towards the rather plump and rotund Mr Bumble. Eyes down and in a faint voice you utter six of the most famous words in English Literature ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ If you’re already rocking in the foetal position, come back to us. You are not a character in a Dickensian epic. Look around. You are you – all comfy in your nice home. Go on have another biscuit. This is a blog about BBQ food and BBQ food ideas so we will cut to the elusive chase. Despite Oliver’s starvation and wretched situation, the gruel also went down a treat because it was warm. So in spite of everything else, it did lift Oliver’s spirits even if only for a fleeting second. This got us to thinking. Many of us are so focused on the creation of our BBQ food that the serving can almost become an afterthought. But hot food should be served hot and cold food must be served cold. This is for health reasons as well as taste. Is it really as simple as it sounds?  You have multiple meat dishes with different cooking times, perhaps salads and desserts, as well as guests arriving at different times in the day. How do you ensure all your carnivorous and vegetarian BBQ food is served at the correct temperature?  Let us paint the BBQ food picture for you.


Meaty BBQ food lies in an open smoker surrounded by smoke


Got great BBQ food ideas? Don’t let bacteria ruin your masterpiece

So what’s all the fuss about? Food is food right? As long as it’s cooked at the correct temp then surely it’s good to go? Does it really matter if that fruit salad has been baking in the sun for a few hours?  The short answer (despite a safety time window that we will explain in due course) is that BBQ food really needs to be kept and served at the correct temperatures. Yes it’s about taste to a certain degree, but most importantly it’s about preventing the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness. This contamination is a sure-fire way to ensure your next BBQ is a total ghost town complete with tumbleweed and one scavenging crow. If this dystopian BBQ food future has you breaking out in a cold sweat of anxiety, fear not. With a little advice from us, some planning and a touch of diligence, all your BBQ food will be safe and delicious.


So what temperatures are safe for hot and cold BBQ food?

The current wisdom amongst the culinary boffins is that once you have safely cooked your BBQ food to the correct temperature, warm BBQ food should be kept at a minimum of least 60°C or more. Chilled food should be at least 4.4°C. The best and most accurate way to check that your BBQ food is being stored at optimum temperature is to periodically monitor your dishes with a properly calibrated food thermometer.


How long can I leave my BBQ food out?

This question always raises its head out of the cerebral sands of curiosity. And with good reason too. You see (as we touched on before) a BBQ is not just a BBQ: it’s a deterministic happening with multiple chains of temporal causality based on external circumstance. Sometimes it’s nice to swing from language like a trapeze. Basically if you peel back the verbosity, what we’re saying is that with any BBQ there are many external factors at play (guest arrival times, cooking times per dish, the weather) that can affect the synchronicity and syncopation of your cooking – meaning it can be a little tricky to have all your BBQ food ready to eat at the correct temperature at the same time. This inevitably leads to some BBQ food being left out, other dishes being stored, or perhaps (and most preferably) all your BBQ food being safely stored and maintained until serving. The reality is that you can leave food out for up to 2 hours before it becomes a little risky on your old Timothy Tummy, provided you keep the food within the general safe BBQ food temperature range which is between 4.4°C and 60°C. After these two precious hours have passed, you should really be looking to move your food to the freezer, fridge or any other cooler. Alternatively you can throw out the BBQ food detritus if you prefer  – just try not to waste food if you can. Quick caveat detour: If you are serving your BBQ food and the surrounding air temperature is above 32.2°C, then you have approximately one hour before you should be storing all your scrumptious leftovers.

A man stands over his meaty BBQ food in the grill as flames rise up


How to keep food warm at a BBQ?

Before we delve into the particulars just a general piece of strategy for you. A little planning goes a very long way. Get ahead of the curve with some solid pre BBQ prep. Map out what you are grilling and preparing, as well how long it takes to cook or make each dish. Once you see the cooking times you can plan the chronology of what to cook and when to ensure a perfectly timed crescendo of BBQ food beauty. The safest bet is to cook and grill as much as you can ahead of time and then keep it stored at the correct temperatures. If you leave everything to the last minute, it’s harder to think clearly and get your sequencing right. Basically those lovely steaks will become an ice-cold shadow of their former selves while your ribs aren’t even cooked yet.  Think. Plan. Act.

So how do you keep your BBQ food nice and toasty? Let’s goooo!


Use your kitchen appliances

Perhaps the easiest way is to store your food is in a warm oven. Not only can you take advantage of all the storage volume, you can also use the stovetop on low heat to keep additional goodies warm. A microwave and even toaster (used in the correct manner) can help keep the heat. Just don’t try sticking a roast chicken in the latter – that’s a serious poultry based violation for Mr Toaster. The only slight downside to using your kitchen appliances is that there will be a certain amount of toing and froing from outside to inside to back outside again. Ok it’s not exactly triathlon level exertion, however it does mean leaving the grill and your guests from time to time. #justsayin.

A close up of chicken skewer BBQ food sizzling on a grill


Use your barbecue grill

The answer is staring you in the face…literally. Your barbecue is actually a great place to keep your vegetarian BBQ food and meats all warm and toasty before serving. The key to a moderated and temperature-tastic utopia? The arrangement of your charcoal. The old one side shuffle always works a treat. Basically when your charcoal is hot and good to go, just push it all to one side of your grill base. Essentially with this move you are creating two heat zones.

The side with the charcoal is your direct heat zone for cooking. The empty side directly adjacent is your indirect heat zone. So once your BBQ food is safely cooked, simply make the old switcheroo and shift it to the indirect heat zone.  It will keep nice and warm thanks to the indirect heat moving around it, but it won’t continue to cook itself into Carbons Ville Upon Black. So easy. So effective. Just be aware that how much room you have will be dependent on the size of your grill plate and how much BBQ food you are cooking over your direct heat zone.


Use an insulated cooler or thermal heat bag

Super straightforward insight here; just pop all your lovely BBQ food ideas and creations into the receptacle and you’re basically pretty much there. To help lock in some additional heat, just add a few plastic or glass bottles containing hot water into your cooler or heat bag. Job done.


Meaty BBQ food lies in an open smoker surrounded by smoke


How to keep food cold at a BBQ?


Use your fridge

Again we’re not splitting the atom here – a fridge will keep everything nice and frosty for you. However it is fairly restrictive, in the sense that once you pull out your dishes for serving al fresco, they will inevitably start to heat up. You could set up your chilled BBQ food indoors, so your guests get their cold fix before heading out to the grill for their carnivorous desires. Or they could do it the other way around. The point being that the experience is a little fractured and not ideal. Really people should be able to survey the lay of the BBQ land and pick everything accordingly.


Use natural shade or create your own

Ok this is only a small little thing to help, however figures show quite dramatic temperature decreases between direct sunshine and the shade. Even if you have a more aggressive chilling strategy up your metaphorical sleeve, make things even easier by setting up and serving cold BBQ food in the shade. Low hanging tree branches or the overhang of a roof will work. Can’t find either? Just pop up a beach or garden umbrella.


Use coolers and make your own ‘serving’ cooler

A cooler topped up with a bed of ice can definitely be cool enough for BBQ School if you catch our drift. However, as they are usually bulky and deep rather than wide, they don’t have great serving potential. People have to reach up and over the edge to serve themselves. It’s doable but not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. Why not get a little more hands on and create your own ‘serving’ cooler? It’s actually very easy to do.  The most important thing is to get your mitts on a large rectangular plastic tub such as an under-the-bed storage box, or children’s toy storage box. Then fill the box with ice almost up to the edges. Then simply place your cold food in bowls and embed them into the ice. Makes sure you really bush the bowls down to ensure maximum cooling from the ice.

Follow these basic guidelines and you will avoid many a sticky situation. Speaking of sticky, we know we’ve been focusing on the BBQ serving endgame, but some of you have been asking how to stop food sticking to your BBQ. Here are three quick tips.


How to stop food sticking to BBQ?

  1. Keep your grill clean.
    Before you cook anything make sure your grill is nice and clean. Food sticks to the cooking debris and dirt from previous BBQ sessions so keep your grill sparkling and on point.
  2. Make your grill a little slicker
    Another tip is to keep your grill lubricated.  A quick and easy coat of cooking oil on a hot grill grate will work wonders.
  3. Bring the heat
    Your grill should be hot before you add any food for cooking. The hot grates will sear your food making it easier to release when needed.

Feeling enlightened? We hope so. Go fire up that grill and make some sumptuous and stupendously salivating servings of BBQ delight. Here are some recipes to help