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Cooking meat on the grill is one of life’s top-tier satisfactions. Not only is it fun and absorbing to do, the results, if you get them right, enhance your day, your week, even your life as a whole. The perfect cut, perfectly cooked, is the stuff of legend. You can look back on it in years to come, and the smile will come back to your lips, and to the lips of everyone with whom you shared that experience.
Get it wrong though, and you’ll never speak of it again. You’ll add your name to the Book of Grilling Cliché, as one who should never be allowed near a pair of tongs again. If you serve prime rib that’s crusted and succulent on the outside, but still gelatinous and blue on the inside, people will tackle you like a football player to stop you from getting your hands on the grill again.
And that’s if you’re lucky. Because cooking meat to the wrong temperature can have consequences far beyond a mouthful of what-am-I-eating-here? Some of our most popular meats contain bacteria in their raw form that need precise and thorough cooking to kill, so they’re safe for human consumption. Cook your meat to the wrong temperature and you – and everyone you feed with it – could be at risk of anything from a Bad Day in The Bathroom, through to death. Yes, actual death. No, that’s not just media panic put about by Gordon Ramsay and Top Chef. You can literally die from incorrectly cooked meat.
And whereas some bacteria are likely to be already in some popular meats and need killing by the correct cooking process, other meats are made more dangerous than they otherwise would be by the processes of getting it from hoof or claw to your grill.
Step right up, it’s time to play Wheel! Of! Bacterial Death!
Sure, but to a purpose. Meat can be gorgeous. It can make your taste buds sizzle and sear itself into your memory as a great experience.
But for that to happen, you have to take meat just a little seriously. You have to go into the grilling and cooking process with respect. Respect for the animal that was alive till you got hungry. Respect for your own life, and the lives of those you’re feeding.
That means cooking your meat right.
You can cook some meats bloody as hell if you like, or you can char them till they’re tasty, chewy rubbery hunks. That’s on you and your personal taste. But cook it till it’s safe, for sure, and then cook it so you get the results you want from it, wherever on the cooking spectrum you sit.
Know your temperatures and you can get those results every time. Cooking meat is not rocket science. By the time you tear your eyes away from this page, you’ll know what to do and where to aim to get any grilling result you want.
The Scary Stuff – What Can Happen If You Eat Undercooked Meats
You’re going to want to pull on your big pants for this section. We’re not out to needlessly scare you about every mouthful of food you eat – we promise. But if we’re going to understand why it’s important to cook meat to the correct temperatures…we need to be armed with knowledge. Buckle up – we’re going down to a microscopic level, where things wriggle, and squirm, and teem. The level where things are so gruesome they can only be described in dead languages like Latin, and where things need killing if they’re not to kill you right back.
Let’s follow the example of those sons of fun, the Center for Disease Control, and break this down into meat groups.
And since this is America, let’s start with the Big Four: Chicken, Beef, Pork, and Turkey.
Chicken, Beef Pork, And Turkey
Raw meat in the 21st century, once it’s been through its life and death and processing to end up at your local supermarket (or farmer’s market – no, there’s little by way of improvement just because it’s ‘organic.’ Sorry) is – or can be a rich gumbo of potentially hazardous bacterial life. If you don’t cook it well enough, to the right temperature to kill all of these potential pests, you could be putting this roll call of joy into your system:
Campylobacter – causes an estimated 1.5 million cases of illness in the US every year.
What kind of illness?
So glad you asked.
Diarrhea (often bloody), fever, and stomach cramps. For starters. Sometimes, just for extra fun, nausea and vomiting join in the chorus of bathroom woe.
Symptoms usually start between 2-5 days after infection and last about one week.
That, friends, is one hell of a week.
For all we may sound flippant, this is nothing whatsoever to take lightly. And here’s the kicker. Most people recover from Campylobacter on their own, while some others need antibiotics procured from them by a friend or relative because there’s no way you’re driving your explosive cramping stomach to the pharmacy.
Some people experience complications from campylobacter, such as irritable bowel syndrome, temporary paralysis, and arthritis.
In some extremely unlucky people with weakened immune systems – whether from blood disorders, AIDS, or being treated with chemotherapy – campylobacter gets into the bloodstream and causes a life-threatening infection.
Not fun. This is Reason #1 why Chicken Tartare is not on any menu, anywhere. Eat pink chicken, you’re spinning the Wheel Of Bathroom Nightmares, and it could even kill you.
Campylobacter, perversely enough, is one of the less serious, or at least less fatal, bacteria you might encounter from undercooked chicken – and indeed, other undercooked meats. It is, however, the one that’s most likely to be in most raw chicken. Place your bets…
That was just the first thing that could be hiding on your undercooked chicken. We did say you were gonna need your big pants for this section.
Salmonella – Causes an estimated 1.35 million infections in the US each year. Of those, it leads to around 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths. You can get salmonella from other sources, but food is by far the biggest cause of transmission.
Symptoms? Remarkably similar to those of campylobacter – diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps. You can get the symptoms much faster with salmonella, though – anything from 6 hours to 6 days after eating the contaminated food. And in most cases of salmonella, you shouldn’t take antibiotics. Which can be tricky, because telling it apart from campylobacter, which in some cases can respond to antibiotics, can be tricky. There’s also no reason why both bacterial organisms shouldn’t be on the same piece of undercooked meat.
Clostridium perfringens – really doesn’t play fair. It’s a bacteria, and the chances are it’s alive and kicking in your gut right now. It’s a native of the human digestive system as well as those of other animals. But eating meat contaminated with Clostridium perfringens from outside can cause your digestive system to do star jumps. Again with the diarrhea, again with the cramping, and again with the symptoms within 6-24 hours. On the up-side, there’s no fever or vomiting with Clostridium perfringens, and it usually doesn’t last longer than 24 hours.
When people say they’ve had a 24-hour ‘stomach flu,’ there’s a good chance that what they’ve actually had is Clostridium perfringens.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering how an intestinal tract bacteria gets onto meat sold in stores…you probably don’t want to know about US slaughterhouse policies in great detail, just maybe take our word for it. The insides get out.
Coli – Speaking of the insides getting out, welcome to E. Coli. Like Clostridium perfringens, we have it in our intestines, as do other animals. E.Coli is actually a collective name for six types of similar bacteria. And cue the (often bloody) diarrhea, the stomach cramps, the vomiting. Usually, people will recover from E. Coli within 5-7 days, and fever is not a particular symptom, but can sometimes accompany the infection.
So, a week of deep unpleasantness. Worth avoiding, but not up there with the fatal bacteria, right?
Around 5–10% of people who get E.Coli go on to develop a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). How do you know if you have that? Exhaustion, reduced frequency of urination, and the color in your cheeks drains out. If that happens to you – get to a hospital. You could be looking at kidney malfunction or shutdown. Most people who get HUS recover within a couple of weeks. But not all. Some suffer permanent damage. Some others…don’t suffer it for long.
All these infections can be killed or minimized by proper food handling and cooking.
So, fish and seafood, then?
You might think so, but fish and seafood are just as susceptible to bacteria that can make you sick. There are also issues with parasites, mercury, and accidental thawing in transit.
Leave fish or shellfish out for more than 2 hours, and you might as well throw it away. There are Mercury issues with some fish and shellfish, but there’s not a great deal you can do about that. For everything else though, there are basic food hygiene tips to adhere to. Buy fresh if possible. Look for movement from any crustaceans (crab, lobster), because they deteriorate rapidly after death. Tap mussels to make sure they react and close up. If they don’t open up during cooking, discard them, they’re dangerous.
And then – and this really can’t be stressed too highly – cook them to the right temperature to kill any bacteria.
So What’s the Right Temperature?
When you fire up your grill, before you start worrying about cooking meat and fish the way you and your guests most enjoy it, your first job is to not kill anyone.
For that, you need to hit a minimum internal temperature. That minimum internal temperature varies from meat to meat.
According to the CDC, the following is what you’re aiming for as a safe minimum.
|Food||Type||Internal Temperature (°F)|
|Ground meat and meat mixtures||Beef, pork, veal, lamb||160|
|Fresh beef, veal, lamb||Steaks, roasts, chops
Rest time: 3 minutes
|Poultry||All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing)||165|
|Pork and ham||Fresh pork, including fresh ham
Rest time: 3 minutes
|Precooked ham (to reheat)
Note: Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F
|Eggs and egg dishes||Eggs||Cook until yolk and white are firm|
|Egg dishes (such as frittata, quiche)||160|
|Leftovers and casseroles||Leftovers and casseroles||165|
|Seafood||Fish with fins||145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork|
|Shrimp, lobster, crab, and scallops||Cook until flesh is pearly or white, and opaque|
|Clams, oysters, mussels||Cook until shells open during cooking|
The Fun Stuff – Cooking Meat How You Like It
Let’s all take a deep breath and leave the world of microorganisms, parasites, explosive diarrhea, and vomiting behind. We’re trying to have a cookout here!
Let’s turn our attention to the good side of temperature knowledge. The side where you asked for a medium-rare steak, and you instantly know how to translate that instruction to factors of heat, time, and steak thickness. The side where you’re a meat-wizard, a fish-witch, or a unicorn of infinite grilling wisdom.
There are ways of complicating this beyond all usefulness – believe us, we’ve stood at many a grill hemming and hawing about how to tell what’s done to what level.
The reason it gets confusing is because there’s one set of constants. And then there’s a whole universe of floating factors, which to some extent makes anything we can say meaningless when it comes to cooking times.
We don’t blame you. But it just takes a little thinking through.
In fact, let’s be specific and take steak.
We can say with some certainty that this applies:
|Steak||Rare||Medium Rare||Medium||Medium Well||Well|
Great – that’s straightforward, right? Stick your top-notch meat thermometer in your tomahawk steak, watch for the internal temperature, flip it once to cook on both sides, rest for about 15 minutes. Serve to your impatient cookout guests. Try and ignore the fact that according to the CDC, everything below a medium is not strictly safe to eat in terms of bacteria. Remember that according to the CDC, nobody should eat sashimi if they want to be absolutely safe either.
Knowing the temperature at which a kind of meat is cooked to a certain level is fine. Gloriously for those of us who want an easy life, if you stick a meat thermometer in any steak and the internal temp is 145F, you can be pretty certain it will be medium.
Except for two things.
One, that’s just steak. What about brisket? What’s the ideal internal temperature for that?
Did we mention grilling and smoking is a highly competitive hobby, and that if you get three grillmasters in a room together, they’ll give you eight different answers to a simple question? Some say 195F is the perfect internal temperature for brisket. Some Say 203F. With the ever-present warning that brisket, once removed from the grill, can still increase its internal temperature by up to 10 degrees.
Pull the non-existent bones from that one, we dare you.
On short ribs, there’s what almost approaches consensus. Somewhere around the 203-205F mark, you’ll find the perfect internal temperature for succulent, juicy short ribs. Hallelujah, grill be praised.
And two, what happens if you butcher your beef, and get, say, one steak that’s an inch thick and another that’s two inches thick? The cooking temperature at which they’re medium will be the same. But the time it will take each of them to get to that internal temperature will be entirely different.
And that’s just steak. There’s a lot more to beef than steak. Then there’s pork. And lamb. Chicken and poultry. And finally, there’s fish and seafood.
That’s a lot of calculation if you do it cut for cut, meat for meat.
What we need if we want to cut that calculation down is a semi-automatic calculator. There are fully automatic click-button calculators of cooking times, but it’s probably better to have a ready reckoner, so you can see the interaction of elements.
How do we get to some semi-automatic calculator?
We need a gang of magic numbers.
Get the magic numbers and you can extrapolate from them. If you know that x=1, you can extrapolate that 2x=2, and 10x=10. So if you can say with some certainty that a 1-inch porterhouse steak takes 7-9 minutes to cook to medium…so what? There’s one other vital number you need to make the math work – you need a figure by which a standard thickness or weight increase adds to the cooking time. If a 1-inch porterhouse takes 7-9 minutes to cook to medium, what about an inch and a half porterhouse? What effect does that extra half-inch have on grilling times?
Luckily, we’re not the first grillmasters in the world. Plenty have been here before us. On average, the wisdom of the grillmasters says, for every half-inch extra of thickness, add five minutes.
That gives us a straightforward equation of thickness, doneness, and cooking time.
It’s never going to be quite that simple of course, because different rules apply to steaks and roasts. And even with steaks, you never just flop a steak on the grill, flip it halfway through a predetermined cooking time and serve it. There’s searing of fat to do before the cooking time begins. There’s resting time afterward.
With roasts, there’s a whole different approach, using indirect heat rather than direct heat. That said, we can present the basic numbers that should get you where you need to go with the variety of steaks, different rib types, and roasts that make up beef grilling. Add your searing and resting times, and remember the upscaling value of roughly 5 minutes per half-inch of thickness for steaks. For intermediate levels of doneness (medium rare, medium well), look to the borderlines between states and use your judgment.
|Cut||Thickness / Weight||Rare (125 F)||Medium (140 F)||Well (170 F)|
|New York Strip||1 inch||8 to 10 minutes||10 to 12 minutes||12 to 14 minutes|
|Ribeye||3/4 inch||5 to 7 minutes||7 to 9 minutes||9 to 11 minutes|
|Porterhouse, top loin, tenderloin, sirloin||1 inch||6 to 7 minutes||7 to 9 minutes||9 to 11 minutes|
|Flank steak||1 to 1 1/2 pounds||10 to 15 minutes||15 to 19 minutes||19 to 23 minutes|
|Brisket||5 to 6 pounds||2 1/2 to 3 hours|
|Rib roast||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/4 to 2 1/4 hours||2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours||2 3/4 to 3 1/4 hours|
|Top round||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours||1 1/4 to 2 1/4 hours||2 to 2 1/2 hours|
|Eye of round||2 to 3 pounds||50 minutes to 1 1/4 hours||1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours||1 3/4 to 2 hours|
|Rib eye||4 to 6 pounds||1 to 1 1/2 hours||1 1/2 to 2 hours||2 to 2 1/2 hours|
|Sirloin roast (boneless)||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/2 to 2 hours||2 to 2 1/2 hours||2 1/2 to 3 hours|
|Half tenderloin||2 to 3 pounds||45 to 60 minutes|
|Whole tenderloin||4 to 6 pounds||50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours|
|Tri-Tip||3 to 5 pounds||1 to 1 3/4 hours||1 3/4 to 2 1/4 hours||2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours|
As with beef, pork steaks (and for this assessment, chops too) should be cooked over direct heat and flipped halfway through to ensure they’re cooked evenly. The US pork industry has a ready reckoner for degrees of pork doneness, temperature, and time.
Choose how you want your pork cooked, it says, and apply the following temperature gauge.
|Pork||Medium Rare||Medium||Medium Well||Well|
In terms of some of the most popular cuts, the optimum internal temperatures, says the pork industry, run as follows.
|Pork Loin||145° F – 160° F|
|Tenderloin||145° F – 160° F|
|Pork Chop||145° F – 160° F|
|Ground Pork||160° F|
Again, the experience of previous grillmasters has given us a ready reckoner for timings for which the various cuts of pork should be grilled. Ideally, with roast pork, you want to be safe, rather than sorry – while it’s not as intensely dangerous as undercooked chicken, undercooked pork can harbor bacteria and can also be indigestible to the human stomach.
|Cut||Thickness||When Fully Cooked||Medium (150 F)||Well (160 F)|
|Chops||3/4 to 2 inches||10 to 12 minutes||14 to 19 minutes|
|Loin, ribs, shoulder||1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches||35 to 40 minutes||40 to 45 minutes|
|Blade steak||1/2 inch||10 to 12 minutes||12 to 14 minutes|
|Fully cooked ham, slices||1 inch||12 minutes|
|Boneless portion||4 to 6 pounds||1 to 2 hours|
|Smoked picnic||5 to 8 pounds||1 to 2 1/2 hours|
|Whole bone-in ham||10 to 12 pounds||2 to 2 3/4 hours|
|Sirloin roast or loin blade||3 to 4 pounds||1 to 2 hours||2 to 3 hours|
|Rib crown roast||4 to 6 pounds||3/4 to 2 hours||2 to 3 hours|
|Country style ribs||3 to 4 pounds||1 1/4 to 1 1/2|
|Spareribs or loin back ribs||3 to 4 pounds||1 1/4 hours|
|Single top loin roast, boneless||2 to 4 pounds||3/4 to 1 1/4 hours||1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours|
|Double top loin roast, boneless||3 to 5 pounds||1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours||1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours|
The USDA recently announced that the perfect safe internal temperature for poultry would not be adjusted, even when other meats like pork saw their minimum safe temperatures rounded down, with the addition of new resting times. So the minimum safe internal temperature remains at 165F.
The reason for that is that unlike most other meats, no-one wishing to a) stay alive and b) stay out of court serves poultry anything below a medium. There are not the same gradations of rare, medium, and well done in poultry as there are in most other meats. In poultry, the gradations are dangerous, juicy, and dry.
While the minimum safe internal temperature is 165F, to be extra safe and still have juicy birds, we’re classing medium here as 170F, with well done at 180F. Again, there’s some mixing and matching at work here between the poultry pieces that are easier to measure in weight, and those it is easier to measure by thickness.
|Type||Thickness/Weight||Medium (170 F)||Well (180 F)|
|Chicken breasts, boneless and skinless||4 to 5 ounces each||10 to 12 minutes|
|Turkey patties||3/4 inch thick||10 to 12 minutes|
|Turkey tenderloin steaks||4 to 6 ounces each||10 to 12 minutes|
|Broiler-fryer chicken (whole)||4 to 5 pounds||1 3/4 to 2 hours|
|Chicken parts||from a 3- to 4-pound bird||35 to 45 minutes|
|Whole turkey||10 to 12 pounds||2 to 3 hours|
|Turkey breasts||4 to 6 pounds||1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours|
|Turkey drumsticks||1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds||3/4 to 1 1/4 hours|
|Turkey tenderloin||1 inch||14 to 15 minutes|
Fish And Seafood
Fish and seafood suffer from the opposite issue to poultry. Where with poultry, too low a temperature can be dangerous to anyone who eats it, with fish and seafood, there’s more of a tightrope. Yes, there’s an optimum safe internal temperature – 145F – if you overcook fish or seafood even slightly, it has ways of making you instantly aware that you’ve messed up.
Flaky fish will go either rubbery or mealy. Flatter fish will more or less turn into a fishy water of disappointment and beam itself down through the bars of your grill, a testament to your utter failure. Overcooked crustaceans like crab and lobster become a cross between fishy chewing gum and the insole of a training shoe. Scallops become the bungs for messages of despair sealed in bottles and thrown back to the ocean.
So – no pressure there, then.
One of the major keys to success when grilling fish or seafood is to go with a medium-hot grill. Too hot and you get fish that sticks, self-immolates of turns to disappointment. Too cold and you risk the fish absorbing too much oil and becoming flabby and bland. The one real exception to this is tuna – the fish that thinks it’s a beefsteak. As such, treat it like a steak, sear it first, and cook it at the minimum safe temperature at least.
|1 inch thick||10 minutes|
|1 to 1 1/2 inches thick||10 to 15 minutes|
|2 to 2 1/2 inches thick||20 to 30 minutes|
|1/2 inch thick||6 to 8 minutes|
|3/4 inch thick||8 to 10 minutes|
|Fillets and steaks||1 inch thick||10 minutes|
|Cubed (for kababs)||1 inch thick||8 to 10 minutes|
|Lobster (whole)||2 pounds||18 to 20 minutes|
|Lobster tails||8 to 10 ounces||8 to 10 minutes|
|Shrimp||Large (10 to 15 pounds)||5 to 6 minutes|
|Scallops||1 to 2 inches in diameter||4 to 6 minutes|
|Clams (in shell)||Medium sized||5 to 8 minutes|
|Mussels (in shell)||Less than 12 per pound||4 to 5 minutes|
|Oysters (in shell)||Small in size||8 minutes|
|Crabs (whole)||2 1/2 pounds||10 to 12 minutes|
What about hamburgers and hot dogs? They’re cookout favorites, but we haven’t mentioned them yet. That’s because their cooking time is generally so short and sweet, it felt odd to add them to any of our standard tables.
Most hot dogs come pre-cooked in their packages, so you’re not required to cook them slowly to get rid of all the potential bacteria. A handful of minutes, usually seven at most, with the occasional turn to get a char to the skin and a snap to the casing, and they’re good to go.
With hamburgers, whether you’re buying pre-prepared patties or making and shaping your own, sear them off for around two minutes on each side, to get the traditional crust of joy. Then you simply add two or three minutes of cooking time for every level of doneness you want to go through, so two minutes for bloody as hell, four minutes for juicy as hope, six minutes for the tastiest hockey puck in town.
Health & Safety
We’ve seen the sorts of bacterial infections that can come with not cooking meat at high enough temperatures. These are real and dangerous. Unless you have a particular affection for explosive diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever, and the possibility of longer-term consequence or even death, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would take risks with undercooked meat.
And yet we’ve seen that the minimum safe temperature for killing all bacterial risks comes out, even in steak, at medium. That leaves a heck of a lot of vampires out there taking risks with rare, medium-rare, and even bleu steak.
Meanwhile, no-one much is demanding their chicken be cooked pink, because the risks are better known and perhaps better understood when it comes to undercooked poultry.
One in six Americans get food poisoning each year. Summer – peak cookout season – is still the time of the greatest concentration of those cases. And while other sources of infection, like fresh produce, are gaining ground, it’s still undercooked chicken that’s the leading cause of American food poisoning, according to the American Osteopathic Association. The AOA says that the regular and proper use of a meat thermometer would be instrumental in cutting the rates of food poisoning in the US.
Here’s the thing. You can look at a pink, undercooked chicken and be aware that it’s probably not received enough heat to kill all the bacteria. So people instinctively avoid pink, undercooked chicken, in the same way they tend to avoid food with blue bold on it unless it happens to be a cheese.
There’s no such visual cue to tell you if your burger or your steak has been cooked long enough, at high enough temperatures, to kill all the potentially fatal bacteria. You just can’t tell when you look at it – that’s not how it works. Sure, you can be pretty certain that a bleu steak has been waved vaguely in the direction of a lightbulb, which is massively unlikely to have been enough to get the job done. But there’s a whole gray – or probably, pink – area of undercooked meat out there, and the pressure of cooking for larger parties at cookouts means people probably aren’t being vigilant enough in those circumstances.
Meat The Thermometer. Or, Vice Versa
Meat thermometers are not by any means difficult things to master. They’re essentially a probe to show you the internal temperature of the meat you’re cooking. They need to penetrate to the thickest part of any meat, because it’s at the thickest part that the heat will take longest to penetrate. That means if the meat thermometer says it’s safe at those depths, it stands to reason that everywhere else in the piece of meat is safe too.
Apart from being an easy to use tool that can show you if you’re likely to have cooked your meat to a temperature where it will be bacteria-free, it’s also the most effective, least mystical, and most scientific way of cooking meat to order. Once you know the core temperatures of the states of doneness for the particular cuts of meat you’re cooking, using a meat thermometer allows you to say with a degree of certainty that it’s cooked as your guests want it.
And yet there’s a significant reluctance on the part of many American grillers to use a meat thermometer in their cookouts.
On the one hand, the grill chef is probably very busy in a demanding cookout, and so might feel they don’t have the time to be relying on a piece of technology to confirm what they ‘know’ about the doneness of meat.
On the other, there’s likely to be a point of pride involved. The notion that you don’t need technological help to know when a steak or a pork chop or a piece of tuna is cooked is a part of the mystique of the grill. There are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, grillmasters up and down the country whose self-belief is entirely warranted.
But there are also weekend grillers, buying into the mystique without necessarily having put in the hours to develop the instincts that would justify it. Heck, there are even grill types like pellet grills where most manufacturers build in probe meat thermometers.
One in six people get food poisoning in the US every year, remember? That includes around 3,000 deaths from foodborne disease or infection. You don’t need a meat thermometer.
Bet your life?
Interestingly, while there’s undoubtedly a case for more grill cooks using a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the meat they’re cooking, there may well be another factor at play too.
In 2018, the USDA conducted an experiment with people cooking food. Some were shown a presentation about the use of meat thermometers, others were not. Everyone was provided with meat thermometers. Perhaps naturally enough, those who had seen the presentation on meat thermometers were much more likely to use them – around 75% of those who had watched the presentation tried to use the thermometer, as opposed to 34% of those who hadn’t watched the presentation.
But that wasn’t all the USDA discovered.
It’s worth taking a deep breath for this next bit.
The USDA asked the volunteers to prepare turkey burgers and salad – standard summer fare and a favorite lighter snack at many a cookout.
The Administration also laced the turkey with a harmless virus. As you do.
What that meant though was that the Administration was able to run its own small scale ‘track and trace’ operation after the experiment. There were traces of the virus…everywhere. On the salad. On the surfaces, on taps, knives, forks, dressing bottles, drawer handles, door handles, you name it. The virus was everywhere. It was everywhere because quite apart from the public not being keen to use meat thermometers to know if their meat is bacteria-free, most people, even when handling raw and potentially infected meat in an unhurried kitchen setting, don’t wash their hands, and so spread potential bacteria and viruses.
In a cookout situation, do you scrub your tongs clean after every touch of raw meat?
It only makes good sense to know your ideal temperatures and cooking times when you’re holding a cookout – it lets you know, in a pressurized cooking environment with many proteins and orders on hand at any one time, what you’re doing, for whom, and why. It leads to happier guests, and more lives touched with that wonderful thing – beautiful grilled meat, cooked to order. There are few pleasures like it, and knowing your cooking times and temperatures helps you spread that joy.
Use a meat thermometer though, to check that your meat is not only at the temperature and level of doneness that your guests want, but that you’ve killed as many bacteria as possible. Or you might be spreading something far less pleasant instead.