As the weather warms up, you're either blowing the last bit of snow or the last bit of pollen away from your grills...
So, it’s time to remind ourselves of some simple food safety practices to keep our family and friends safe as we entertain them with summer tailgates, pool parties, and BBQs.
Sanitizing is Key
One of the most important and overlooked practices is proper hand washing.
Yes, gloves help to keep contaminants off your hands and food. But hot water, antibacterial soap, and about 20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing will take care of most potentially harmful germs. It’s also a good idea to make sure your cutting boards are in good shape. There may be deep gauges in your boards that can trap bits of raw meat and bacteria. Also, be sure to give your REC TEC a good high temperature burn off to clean the grates and drip pan. It's not a bad idea to clean the grease spout with a paper towel, as well. I keep Lysol wipes and sanitizer spray handy for those spills that get out of hand.
Keep your hands and food clean with our new Nitrile Gloves!
Buying, Freezing, Thawing
If y’all are like me, it's hard to pass up a sale when pork butts are under 80¢ per pound.
I'll buy a few and store them in the freezer for a rainy day cook. The freezer in my garage is full of brisket, butts, chicken quarters... and ice cream! I make sure to check the dates when I'm buying at the grocery store to make sure the meat isn’t expiring the next day. Honestly, the majority of meats bought in bulk are stored in Cryovac vacuum bags. Beef can last up to six weeks and pork (bone in) can last up to 22 days. If you plan on freezing, do so quickly. You don’t want to wait until right before the "Use By" date to freeze, as the meat might have already begun to spoil. Make sure your freezer is in proper working order and store the meat towards the rear or bottom (away from the door) to avoid freeze/thaw cycles when the freezer door is opened. If the freezer goes into a thaw cycle, this freeze/thaw process will develop water crystals on the meat, commonly called freezer burn. When you're ready to thaw, the best way to do so is under refrigeration. You want to avoid leaving meat sitting on a counter because it will be exposed to the "temperature danger zone" for far too long, increasing the odds of the meat developing pathogens. You have a four hour time limit for foods to be exposed to the 40℉ - 140℉ range. Larger butts and briskets might take up to two days to thaw completely, so allow yourself enough time to ensure its thawed properly and ready to go on your REC TEC.
The Science of Smoking
Smoking is one of the oldest food preservation methods.
Fish and other meats can be exposed to smoke for several hours to draw out the moisture. The purpose of this is to preserve these protein-rich foods, which would otherwise spoil quickly, for long periods of time. There are two reasons for this type of preservation: to dehydrate, and to expose meat to the antibacterial properties of phenols and other chemicals in the smoke. In modern times, many cultures consider the enhanced flavor of smoked foods a delicacy. The smoke ring in meat is caused by a reaction that occurs when pellets are burned and release nitrogen dioxide. This gas infuses the meat during the smoking process. Meat is naturally red due to the myoglobin found in protein, and protein naturally turns brown as it's cooked. In a smoker, it turns a nice red color due to that chemical reaction. Once the protein in meat reaches about 130ºF - 140ºF, the chemical reaction no longer occurs. That’s why the smoke ring doesn’t penetrate through the entire brisket or pork butt. Believe it or not, you can still achieve a smoke ring with the hot and fast method. However, it's usually not too deep because the meat is exposed to nitrogen dioxide for less time. You might be asking yourself, "What about the temperature danger zone for long cooks with a brisket?" The answer is simple… When you're cooking a solid muscle, nothing has contaminated the interior of the meat. The smoked outside layer protects and kills off potentially harmful bacteria. The longer something is smoked, it essentially becomes pasteurized. It is when meat is processed, like ground beef, that the contaminants are incorporated into the meat. Clean your probes! It is easy to unknowingly insert a contaminated probe or thermometer into your meat.
Internal Finishing Temperatures
Oftentimes, when talking with customers, I get a lot of the same questions about the internal temperatures for various BBQ dishes.
Just the other day, I had a conversation with a customer that told me his pork butt was done at 145℉ because that’s when pork is safe to eat. Technically, yes, the pork is safe to eat. However, it will not be tender and succulent. Briskets tend to become tender around 203℉ - 208℉, pork butts around 195ºF - 198℉, and pork ribs around 195℉ - 203℉. As the meat rests, you can get a few degrees of carryover cooking, especially if you're running your REC TEC on the hot side. Dictating doneness is one of the hardest things for new smokers to do. When using temperature as a guide, use a wooden skewer to test for tenderness. If inserted, the skewers should insert easily with little resistance. This test is great for butts, ribs, and briskets!
Our BullPen Instant Read Thermometer guarantees an accurate read, every time.
When In Doubt, Throw It Out
A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to food safety.
Keeping your work areas sanitary and cooking foods to their proper internal temperatures is so important. You also want to make sure your hot foods remain over 140℉ and your cold foods are kept as cold as possible. If you are bulk cooking, you'll need to break your food up into smaller sizes and get it cooled as quickly as possible to properly reheat. Eat leftovers within 4 days, and reheat to a minimum of 165℉ (per the USDA). If something doesn’t look or smell right, it’s probably not. You can always give us a call at 706-922-0890, we're always here to help. Happy grilling, and we'll see you at the REC TEC!
Get ready for those summer BBQs with Jody's Backyard Pork Butt video!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Mueller is a WORLDCHEFS-certified master chef, and the Director of Culinary Innovation at REC TEC Grills. He has over 18 years of experience and is knowledgeable in all things food and cooking.