Labor Day Weekend is the unofficial end of summer, and if you’re a summer griller, then this is your last hurrah of the season. Unfortunately, it’s also prime time for cooking mishaps.
Enjoy the remaining lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer by avoiding these common cooking and/or grilling mishaps that can land you or someone you served in the emergency room.
The case of the exploding hot dog
Hot dogs are easy to prepare, right? If you’re buying the store brands, then the hot dogs are pre-cooked, so you don’t even have to worry about undercooking them. (Of course, the flavor and texture will suffer if you don’t heat the dogs properly). Unfortunately, if you overcook a hot dog, it can explode right on your grill. (Yes, you read that right.)
How to avoid: Make tiny incisions to release the juices and heat, and only place the hot dogs on the grill in an area without direct heat. Flip every two or three minutes to get that charred look and then top yours off with your favorite garnishes! (Cheese, onions, sauerkraut, and ketchup, please!)
If your hot dog does happen to explode – duck and cover! The meat can burn you, and any wayward parts can ignite flammable materials around your grill. If you’re uninjured, check the area for the start of a fire and grab your fire extinguisher or the bucket of sand you have around to douse any embers.
Need a grill for more indirect heating space? We hear you! You can never go wrong with a new grill before Labor Day, and it might incite you to grill through the fall and into the winter.
Taking charbroiled to another level
If you’re like Bobby Flay, then you like the ratio of your burgers to be 80% lean / 20% fat. All the juiciness of that burger can drip right onto the grill, and if you’re not paying attention, you can find your burgers a bit more than “well done.” You can also find your home in a similar predicament since more than half of all home cooking fires are started by grease.
How to avoid: If you’re grilling, focus on the grill, and do not leave it unattended. Also, grill responsibly. Wait to pop your beer until after you’re done with the grill.
The funky flavor debacle of 2021
Using a slow cooker for your pulled pork this day? It’s a great idea if you’re looking to make room on your grill for burgers and hot dogs. But if the taste is a bit off and not because it wasn’t on your charcoal grill for six hours, there’s a checklist of things you might have done (or not done) to achieve this unfortunate result.
How to avoid: Did you use raw meat instead of browning your pork first? (This is not a necessary step but can change the flavor of the finished product.) Did you load alcohol into the pot? (It doesn’t “burn off” like when you cook on a stove.) Did you overcook the pork? (Consider a KitchenAid slow cooker with a timer to prevent this from happening again, though we’re sure your family will never let you forget it.)
Of course, you need to practice safety – like with any appliance. We all know from This is Us what happens when good appliances go bad (if an appliance is damaged – throw it out, whether it’s your slow cooker or your toaster). Mishaps with slow cookers can happen from any number of things – overfilling, overcooking, not defrosting. So make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, such as filling the pot 2/3 of the way and not to the top.
Nuking the wrong foods
Your family is getting hangry. Perhaps your grill is smaller than you anticipated, and you decide to use your microwave to speed up the cooking process. While this may not cause illness on Labor Day, microwaving processed meats can lead to the formation of cholesterol oxidation products, which aren’t heart healthy. Plus, hot dogs, as we know, can explode – in the microwave just as easily as on the grill.
Also, don’t look to reheat potatoes in a microwave. The radiation won’t kill any botulism that may have formed at room temperature. (Use a countertop oven instead.)
How to avoid: Use the microwave for microwavable-safe food, and definitely do not use any aluminum foil, metal, or plastic. If by some chance you do notice any sparking, turn off your microwave and call your appliance repair professional or handyman to investigate.
Hosting an unintended “after party” – in your bathroom
Your backyard was enchanting. The food was delicious. Your family had a wonderful time, but then there was a mad dash for the bathroom(s). What could you have possibly done wrong to spur this impromptu after party?
How to avoid: If you don’t use a food thermometer, you probably should start. Also, check the USDA’s website to find out the safe internal temperature(s) of your grilling meat. Cross-contamination with bacteria could also be a factor.
If you became sick after finishing up the leftovers, you might want to check your refrigerator. Putting food away within two hours of cooking should keep it fresh and stop bacteria from growing, but if your refrigerator isn’t as cold as it should be, then call a professional to service it.
Prevent your next mishap
Check your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Accidents do happen, but if a home fire does occur, you’ll want to be alerted immediately. Then get out and stay out.
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Originally published on Sep. 2, 2021; updated Sept. 3, 2021