Barbecuing may be synonymous with summertime Americana, but gas fires and food poisoning don’t quite fit that image. As the weather warms and patios beckon, local food experts offer some tips for keeping outdoor cooking from being an extreme sport.

The most important thing to remember is to not leave your grill unattended for a long time, said Mark Cartwright, assistant manager at Barbeques Galore in Roseville. He warns that it’s especially important to keep an eye on the barbecue when trying to burn everything off after a meal.

There are also several precautions that can be taken to ensure that barbecued food is safe, said Rosemary Carter, the Youth Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program representative with the UC cooperative extension. Meat should be defrosted in the refrigerator, especially in warm weather.

If you plan to partially cook meat in the microwave, be sure to take it immediately from there to the grill. Meat that is warmed up and then allowed to cool down is especially susceptible to bacteria growth, which occurs most quickly when food is between 40 and 140 degrees.

If the marinade is going to be used for a dipping sauce, Carter recommends that you boil the sauce to eliminate any contaminants from the raw meat.

Carter also emphasized that sufficiently cooking meat, especially hamburger, is important. Ground beef is at a higher risk for contamination because it has gone through more processing and had more air exposure. Use a thermometer to check the temperature – meat should be cooked to 160 degrees, not just until it’s the right color, Carter said. "It may look like it’s done, but if it hasn’t reached a high enough temperature, it’s not," she said.

After cooking, be sure to put the meat on a clean plate. Food should be left out for no longer than an hour after grilling and leftovers should be refrigerated as soon as possible.