As the Fourth of July approaches, the smell of barbecue marks the start of celebrations that bring together family and friends for quintessential American cooking pastimes.

Alongside fireworks, food is the biggest staple of Independence Day celebrations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is urging everyone to take food safety precautions during food preparations to ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday.

“Fourth of July is a great time to use the grill and smoker to cook delicious meats and poultry,” said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Emilio Esteban. “Whichever method you use, reduce your risk of foodborne illness by using a food thermometer to measure the safe minimum internal temperature, and reduce cross-contamination by using separate utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry.”

Here are some essential grilling and smoking food safety tips from the USDA to keep in mind during your celebratory cookout:

1. Thaw meat or poultry first

Smoking uses low temperatures to cook food, and frozen food would take too long to reach a safe internal temperature before bacteria can start to multiply. While frozen foods can be grilled safely, they will take longer and may cook unevenly.

2. Marinate in the refrigerator

Marinating tenderizes and flavors meat and poultry before grilling and smoking. Always marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If basting meat and poultry during grilling or smoking, and you want to use some of the marinade as a sauce, put aside a portion of the marinade that has not been in contact with the raw meat or poultry. If using a marinade that has already been used on raw meat or poultry, boil it first to destroy harmful bacteria.

3. Keep raw meat and poultry separate

Use different cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and poultry and food that is fully cooked or ready to eat to avoid cross-contamination with bacteria.

4. Keep the smoker and grill at a safe temperature

If you are using a smoker or grill to smoke meats, you will need two types of thermometers: one for the food to determine safe internal temperature and an oven-safe thermometer to monitor that the air temperature in the smoker or grill stays between 225 and 300 degrees F throughout the cooking process.

5. Cook meats to a safe internal temperature

  • Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
  • Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
  • Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

The USDA emphasizes the importance of using a food thermometer to ensure meats reach the correct internal temperature, reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses.

For those with food safety questions, the USDA offers several resources:

  • Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).
  • Email questions to
  • Chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

For a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July, remember these food safety tips and ensure your grilling and smoking practices keep everyone happy and healthy. Happy grilling!

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)