Food Safety for Smoking Meats

Smoking meat requires a much longer cooking time with lower temperatures – so extra care must be taken – to avoid food illness.

Because smoking involves low temperatures to cook food, meat may take too long to thaw in the smoker, keeping it in the temperature “Danger Zone” too long and allowing harmful bacteria to multiply.

Likewise, always follow the proper food safety principles and procedures to prevent foodborne illness throughout the entire preparation and smoking process.

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Food Safety for Smoking Meats

Along with the following tips, always follow the four basic steps of food safety to prevent foodborne illness throughout the smoking process:

  • Clean — Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate — Don’t cross-contaminate.
  • Cook — Cook to proper temperatures.
  • Chill — Refrigerate promptly.

Thawing Safely

Completely thaw meat or poultry before smoking. Because smoking uses low temperatures to cook food, the meat will take too long to thaw in the smoker, allowing it to linger in the “Danger Zone” (temperatures between 40 and 140 °F) where harmful bacteria can multiply. Defrosted meat also cooks more evenly. There are three safe ways to thaw meat and poultry:

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  • In the refrigerator: This is the safest way to thaw meat and poultry. Take the food out of the freezer and thaw in the fridge on a plate or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.
  • In cold water: For faster thawing, put the frozen package in a watertight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water; change the water every 30 minutes. Once thawed, cook it immediately.
  • In the microwave: Follow instructions on the microwave oven or in the manual. Cook immediately after thawing in the microwave.

Marinating Safely

  • Meats should be marinated in the refrigerator at 40° F (4.4°C) or below.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate marinades. Sauce used to marinate raw meat, poultry or seafood should never be used on cooked foods unless it is boiled just before serving with food.
  • Don’t reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry on cooked food unless it’s boiled first to destroy any harmful bacteria.

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Dry Spice Rubs
Marinading a brisket overnight with a dry spice mixture is a common technique for briskets that will be slow-smoked in a smoker or charcoal barbecue

You can immediately start to smoke the brisket if you use a dry rub. But, If you want to use the dry rub as a marinade, wrap the brisket up tight and place it in the refrigerator overnight.

Safe Smoking of Meats

Only cook food in smokers made of materials approved for contact with meat and poultry. Don’t smoke foods in makeshift containers such as galvanized steel cans or other materials not intended for cooking. Chemical residue contamination can result.

To ensure meat and poultry are smoked safely, you’ll need two types of thermometers: one for the food and one for the smoker. Many smokers have built-in thermometers.

  • Smoker thermometer: These are often built in. Be sure that the temperature in the smoker stays between 225°F and 300°F (107°C and 149°C).
  • Food thermometer: Use a food thermometer to determine the temperature of the meat or poultry. Oven-safe thermometers can be inserted in the meat and remain there during smoking. Use an instant-read thermometer after the meat is taken out of the smoker.

Smoke food to a safe minimum internal temperature:

  • Cook all raw beef, pork, veal, and lamb steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
  • Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160°F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.

Cooking time depends on many factors: the type of meat, its size and shape, the distance of food from the heat, the temperature of the coals, and the weather. It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to smoke meat or poultry, so it’s imperative to use thermometers to monitor temperatures.

Safely Chill Food

Chill promptly
If you aren’t taking your smoked food straight to the dinner table, refrigerate within two hours of cooking (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90° F (32.2°C)). If the meat is a larger cut of meat, remember to cut the product into smaller portions, place it in shallow containers, cover and refrigerate. For best storage, use within four days, or freeze for later use.

Summary

Extra food safety care must be taken when smoking meats, because smoking involves low temperatures to cook food, meat may take too long to thaw in the smoker, keeping it in the temperature “Danger Zone” too long and allowing harmful bacteria to multiply.

Likewise, always follow the proper food safety principles and procedures to prevent foodborne illness throughout the entire preparation and smoking process.