A good quality BBQ thermometer is an essential item for al-fresco cooking.
Warm weather and long evenings make the ideal combination for a barbecue. It’s a relaxed way to eat and socialize. There is a need to be a little cautious however, as this might sometimes lead to a more relaxed approach to food preparation and that is not such a good idea.
The storage, preparation and handling of meat, in particular chicken and pork, needs as much care outdoors, as it does indoors. A large-scale study reports that cases of reported food poisoning double in barbecue season, compared to the annual average.
The study reveals some other startling statistics;
It’s estimated that in cases where the person who becomes ill understands that poorly stored or prepared barbecue food was the cause, only 10% of cases are seen by a Doctor or emergency room.
It is conceivable therefore, that food poisoning cases increase as much as twenty-fold because of barbecues.
We don’t want to spoil the fun. Everyone wants to enjoy their Summer BBQ, so let’s look at the simple steps to take and importantly, how to use a BBQ thermometer to check your food is cooked properly.
Storing BBQ Food Before the Event
Frozen food should be defrosted over a long period. Preferably overnight. Or, if you are in a hurry, using a microwave. It might seem counter intuitive to defrost in the refrigerator, but this is the safest place to do it. Never defrost meats at room temperature.
Storing and Serving
If you are preparing food well in advance, put it in the refrigerator within one hour of cooking.
Barbecues are often a mix of raw and cooked foods – remember they must be stored and handled separately. Also use separate, clean utensils to prepare and serve raw and cooked food. This would include a clean barbecue thermometer. You’ll be needing it!
Some foods need to be kept in the refrigerator to help slow down the growth of bacteria and keep food fresh and safe for longer. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature is below 40°F. The dials in most refrigerators are there to give the user control over the temperature the refrigerator should attempt to reach. This, in many cases, is not the temperature that it is operating at.
Very hot weather can put a strain on old, or sub-standard, refrigeration compressors and it might be that your refrigerator never manages to reach the temperature you have set on the dial.
Use a thermometer to ensure your chilled food is stored safely.
How Long Should I Cook Various Meats?
Pork, either chops or steaks, are a meat that requires extra care when cooking. Always cook pork over direct heat (over the flame). Flip the meat half way through the cooking. Cooking time depends on the weight. Boned or boneless ¾ inch would take between 8 and 12 minutes. with 1½ inch cuts given between 12 and 20 minutes. As usual follow the instructions if you have shop packaged meat.
Shop bought hot dogs will be packaged after the meat is cooked so require around 7 minutes to grill and get a moderate amount of crisp. Regular turning will ensure an even cook throughout.
Hamburgers will require 3 to 4 minutes for medium /rare. Add 2 minutes for medium and another 2 minutes for well done. Turning once to ensure an even cook.
Poultry should always be cooked over direct flame. Chicken breast will take approximately 10 minutes at a temperature between 365°F and 383°F and will need to be turned half way through.
This assumes each breast is between just over ¼ of a pound of meat. Cook for longer if you have larger portions.
Always follow the cooking instructions on your meat. Times will depend on the weight and shape of the meat. Use a BBQ thermometer to ensure it is cooked thoroughly before eating.
Which brings us to the next question…
How Do I Test if the Meat is Cooked?
The answer is to use a BBQ thermometer or meat thermometer. The thermometer will likely have a probe spike that should be pushed into the thickest part of the meat, away from the fat if possible. You are looking for a temperature in the center of the meat of around 165°F. A BBQ thermometer is a meat thermometer that is suitable for outdoor use.
What are the Risks with Rare, Medium or Well-Done Meats?
It is perhaps obvious that poultry and pork should always be thoroughly cooked. With beef the secret to safe rare or medium preparation is in the quality of the meat and the safe pre-cook storage. Beef can be cooked to rare or medium safely as long as the meat was handled properly prior to cooking.
Ground (minced) meat is never safe to eat rare or medium rare as the process of mincing the meat can add bacteria no matter how sterile the environment.
Ground (minced) meat, such as that used to make burger patties, should reach an internal temperature equivalent to 160°F according to USDA Guidelines for cooked ground beef.
Rare meat preparations such as steak tartare and beef carpaccio can never be considered completely safe and are always consumed at some risk.
In all cases, checking the temperature with a well calibrated bbq thermometer and following the temperatures guides here, will give you the best chance of enjoying your summer barbecue.
More about food safety in summer.