Safe Grilling and Smoking Meat Temperatures

Eating undercooked meat can be an unpleasant experience and it can also be unhealthy. Consuming undercooked beef or poultry can increase risk of E. coli bacteria or salmonella infection. Undercooked pork can increase the chance of a tapeworm or trichinellosis infection. A meat thermometer is an inexpensive tool used to determine whether meat has reached the proper temperature.

Different types of meat should be grilled or smoked to specific temperatures. Grilling involves cooking food over direct heat, while smoking cooks food indirectly via a slower process. Meat and poultry should be completely thawed in the refrigerator before grilling or smoking so they will cook more evenly. Defrosting should only be done in the microwave if the food will be immediately cooked. If the meat features airtight packaging, it can be defrosted in cold water changed every half-hour.

Cooking time depends on meat type, shape, and size, charcoal temperature, distance of the food from heat, and even the weather. The safe internal temperature for a poultry breast is 170 degrees, 180 degrees for whole poultry. Veal, beef, and lamp chops, steaks, and roasts should be cooked to between 145 and 170 degrees. Pork should be cooked to between 160 and 170 degrees, except for pork butts, which pull better when cooked at approximately 225 degrees with an internal temperature of 190-200 degrees.

When poultry and meat are grilled, their surfaces tend to brown very quickly. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest portion of the food to determine whether the internal temperature has reached the recommended level. During smoking, maintain a 225 to 300-degree Fahrenheit smoker temperature. The maximum smoke effect is reached after approximately two hours. The food should then be wrapped in foil and occasionally turned for the duration of the smoking process (most recipe recommendations are 8-10 hours of cooking overall).

Meat and poultry should never be partially grilled and cooked completely at a later time. Cooking food completely in a single session is necessary to destroy all harmful bacteria. If fully cooked meats must be reheated, grill them until they are steaming hot or have reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Cooked meat and poultry should be kept hot until they are served. This can be done by placing the food on the side of the grill rack, where it will not overcook. When cooked food is removed from the grill, it should not be placed on the same plate used to hold the raw meat. Cooked food should never remain out in 90-degree or higher temperatures for longer than one hour.

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