Grill it safely

I recently went to a large outdoor family event where lots of hamburgers were being cooked on grills.  Was there a food thermometer in sight?

Nope.

I really don’t understand why people are so resistant to using a food thermometer when cooking. The only way to be sure that meat is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria is with a thermometer.  This means on the grill, too. Many folks are not in the habit of using these tools and they are easily forgotten when cooking outside.

A June 27, 2017  news release * from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service  says that recent research “found that only 24 percent of the public uses a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers and only 42 percent do so when cooking chicken.” “I’m glad to see that the percentage of people using a thermometer is getting better, a 2002 survey showed that only 6% of cooks used thermometers on burgers.

The safe minimum cooking temperature for ground meats, including beef, pork, veal and lamb, is 160 degrees.  If you have turkey or chicken burgers they should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  If you’re making steak or pork chops they only need to be cooked to 145 degrees.

While many folks use it as a guide, color is not a good indicator for doneness of ground beef.  If raw ground beef is somewhat brown to start with, it may look fully cooked before it reaches a safe temperature. Conversely, some burgers may still be pink and have already reached a safe temperature.

You may ask: “why are there different temperatures for steak and ground beef?”  The pathogen of concern here is E.coli and the problem is with the grinding. If there are any bacteria on the surface of the meat it will be mixed in when the meat is ground. On-the other hand, when a steak is placed on a grill or under the broiler, any bacteria that may be on the surface is destroyed by the high heat.

Chicken and other poultry are usually associated with the bacteria called salmonella. It takes a little higher temperature to destroy this, so that’s why all chicken or other poultry should be  cooked to a minimum internal temp of 165 degrees F.

The take-home message:  if you don’t have a food thermometer—think about buying one.  If you already have one, please dig it out and use it. It takes the guess work out of cooking meats and lets you have confidence that the meat you’re serving will not make someone sick.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

*https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2017/06/27/fsis-provides-pro-grilling-tips-summer-barbecues

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updated on 11-20-2017