Barbecue by its very nature is a subjective culinary practice, it's difficult to claim a proper way to cook or grill. One can use any number of spices, herbs, rubs or 'mops,' salts, or sauces to dress meat. There are numerous styles of barbecuing in the United States alone, and the barbecue tradition is strong in Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as many other regions throughout the world. But while variations in flavoring the meat widely differ, cooking your food to the correct temperature is important to the overall taste and safety of eating meat.
Bacteria are just about everywhere, but most are not harmful to humans. There are bacteria used in yogurt production, used to make cheeses and to make sourdough breads. Then there are, of course, the dangerous pathogenic bacteria which can cause illness. Most bacteria can be controlled or killed by storing, cooking, and cooling your food properly.
Typically, dangerous bacteria will grow on food at a temperature range of about 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. With favorable conditions, such as having sufficient oxygen and moisture, or on highly acidic foods, bacteria populations can double in size every 20 minutes. This is why it's important never to leave food out at room temperature for prolonged periods of time.
Cooling food to below 40 degrees will not kill bacteria, but it will slow the growth of the bacterium preventing the bacteria from spoiling your food. Refrigerating food, however, does not keep food indefinitely. Freezing your food will not kill bacteria (many bacteria survive in the coldest depths of the oceans at freezing or near-freezing temperatures), but effectively causes bacteria to lapse into a dormant state and does typically allow you to keep your food indefinitely.
When it comes to your grill, determining the temperature can be difficult if you don't have a thermometer. Gas grills are easy. They typically come with thermometers and you can easily adjust the flame on a gas grill by simply turning the knob, or opening the gas valve further on the tank. But when it comes topit smokers and charcoal grills, you may not have a way to gauge how hot the coals have become. Here's a simple method you can use with just your hand. A low heat (225-250 degrees Fahrenheit) is evident if a thick ash is covering the coals and there is a light orange coloring. Placing your hand 4 inches above the coals, you should be able to hold it there about 11-14 seconds. For a medium heat (325-350 degrees), the coals will glow a bright orange and you should be able to maintain your hand over the coals for roughly 6-8 seconds. A high heat (450-650 degrees) will be evident with very bright orange coals, usually emitting flames, and you'd only be able to withstand the intensity of the heat for 2-3 seconds.
Proper grilling and barbecuing is done at a variety of temperatures. For instance, with poultries and seafood, meats are typically first placed over the hottest part of the grill to brown the outside before it is moved over medium heat to cook the middle. With gas grills, the owner often has the flexibility within the grill to create different cooking temperatures throughout the basin simply by lighting or not lighting some of the burners. With charcoal grills though, this is harder to accomplish. Depending on the size and shape of your grill, you may not have room to create various heating sections. When grilling, it is standard to create a pyramid of the charcoal lumps or briquettes. This construction is ideal to get all the charcoal to light and begin to burn. Once the charcoal has fired for about 15 minutes, you spread it over the bottom of the basin. To create a "sectioned" heating grid, divide the coals into piles, pulling the largest pile to one side of the grill. Next to that would be a smaller pile. Opposite the large pile you should have no coals, using this section to slow cook or smoke your meats, or to at least keep them warm between servings.