If you didn’t already know how important food safety was before this, you will today. Harmful or even dangerous bacteria is everywhere… from the meat packing plants to the grocery store to even inside your own fridge.
But when you know what that it takes to keep your BBQ safe – both before and after cooking – you can eliminate the danger.
When I purchase any meat from a grocery store or a butcher, I always remove it from the packaging and wash it under cold water first. This isn’t going to kill any bacteria, but it will remove any packaging liquid, blood or anything that might have gotten on the meat in the process.
You often hear folks refer to the “danger zone” when talking about meat, and it’s the range of temperature where bacteria grows most rapidly. That’s between 40° and 140°F. Limiting the amount of time that your meat stays in this range is the KEY. This means that uncooked meat needs to ALWAYS stay iced down below 40° – and that cooked meat needs to be held at temperatures above 140°F.
Now, if you go to a contest and walk around you will see whole hogs, shoulders, briskets – and all other cuts of meat – sitting out on tables with guys trimming or injecting them. What’s critical here is TIME.
You basically have a 2 hour window that uncooked meat can set-out before you are in trouble (in temps above 90° that time is reduced to only 1 hour). So it’s perfectly fine for you to work on your BBQ before putting it on the smoker – and it’s fine for you to let your meat set-out so it can come up to room temperature (which is something you ALWAYS want to do before putting your meat on the grill.) As long as you always have that 1-2 hour window in the back of your mind, you will be fine.
Now let’s talk about the actual cooking of the meat. You just really want to keep a few, key things in mine. Know the proper cooking temperatures – and know when the meat is done.
Here are the USDA guidelines as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat:
– Whole cuts of meat to 145°F (including pork, steaks, roasts, and chops)
– Ground meats to 160°F (including ground beef, veal, lamb, and pork).
– Poultry products to 165°F (including ground chicken and turkey).
if you’ve been watching the news, you know that they just lowered the guidelines for pork to 145 °F – and this is great for pork loins, but for the bigger cuts of meat like shoulders and hams – I still think you need to take them to at LEAST 165°F. Of course… It’s not true BBQ until the fat has completely rendered and it’s falling apart (and that’s closer to 200°F).
Of course… holding the meat safely once it’s cooked is really your biggest challenge.
In competitions we use insulated food carriers and dry coolers with towels. And there are a few tricks you can use…
– You can heat water to place inside your insulated coolers to warm the air.
– You can use heated fire bricks wrapped in foil to keep things warm.
– And you can use a probe thermometer to always keep an eye on the temp while you are holding them.
A wrapped butt, shoulder or brisket in a cooler will hold steady for 4 -6 hours – no problem.
We are always storing left-over BBQ. Whether it’s at the end of a contest or at a cook-out at the house. And I want to make sure that I get the BBQ in zip-lock bag and then into a cooler with ice or a fridge as fast as possible… if that BBQ stays in the “danger zone” (after cooking it and before getting it on ice) for longer than 2 hours… I throw it away.
Cooked BBQ will last inside a the fridge for 1 – 2 days no problem… but after that time it needs to be frozen.
And one final thing you should know is that freezing meat is the absolutely ONLY way to prevent any bacteria from growing on it