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Well-done meat is nasty. Oh, and it might kill you.


Steak on the grill

Let me preface the following with the disclaimer that I am not a doctor, I don’t play a doctor on TV and have zero authority in telling you or anyone else what’s going to make you sick or well. The following and preceding is for informational purposes only. But it’s good information, because it’s from me.

I once wrote about how much I hate when restaurants don’t believe me when I say I want my meat cooked medium-rare or my fish cooked rare. I grew up always ordering my meat cooked medium, but now that just seems too much to me. Nevermind medium-well or (gasp) well-done!

I get that undercooking meat can be risky due to foodborne nasties and such. It’s the overcooking of meat that I’m here to clack about, because I’ve seen way too many people do this, and it’s not only gross (to me) but unhealthy (for you)!

The results of studies have been released, many of them recently, informing that overcooked meat — more specifically, meat that’s been blackened on the outside — contains cancer-causing carcinogens that you really don’t want to be ingesting. As far as I’m getting from the results of these studies, you do not have to worry if you’re blackening sauces or herbs on the meat, just the meat itself. The art of “blackening” meat does not mean blackening the meat itself — you’re charring the herbs that coat it.

With the nice, warm weather comes more grilling, which means there are more chances people will be overcooking and charring those poor, defenseless pieces of chicken and beef. There are two key rules you should first follow when you’re grilling meat and want to avoid charring it:

1. Stop eating well-done meat.

2. Turn the freakin’ grill temperature down!

Number one might be tough for some people, and if you can’t go there then you may as well just stop reading now. For some, step two is easier said than done, but I’m here to tell you it is easy.

I’ve witnessed way too many grillers throw a piece of meat on a grill and kick the temperature up to its highest setting. Of course, this only relates to people using gas grills, but you can just as easily regulate temperature on a charcoal grill by not overstoking it nor emptying a can of starter fluid on the coals. The problem with keeping your temperature up so high is that you’re very much at risk of overcooking the outside of the meat, leaving the inside undercooked. Then you get into doing the unforgivable — cutting into the meat to make sure it’s done. Or, at risk of firing squad, you do it more than once.

A few of key things to add to steps one and two above:

3. Make sure your meat is completely thawed first.

4. Stop cutting into the meat to check it — you’re letting the juices out!

5. Meat will keep cooking after you take it off the grill.

Yes, you read number five right. You want to take the meat off the grill once you figure it has a couple of minutes more to cook. The heat is retained in the meat, so it’s going to keep cooking a bit once you take it off. So, if you keep the meat on the grill for that couple of minutes more that you figure it needs, it’s too late — you dried it out or charred the hell out of it.

Keeping the heat down to medium will help lower the risk of charring the outside of the meat and will make sure you get the heat to the inside before charring occurs. Gas grills have several temperature settings for a reason, otherwise there’d just be an “off” and “high” switch.

So, there you have it. Stop overcooking that steak and chicken this summer and start enjoying life a little more. Finally guests will come over to truly enjoy a “juicy” steak and not that hockey puck you keep plunking onto their plates.

An final note regarding barbeque sauce. Please don’t put the sauce on before you grill. You’ll enjoy it much more if you put the sauce on the meat when there’s only five minutes more grill time left.

Photo Credit: Stefano A / Flickr

Categories: Clack, Features, Food Rants, General

3 Responses to “Well-done meat is nasty. Oh, and it might kill you.”

May 21, 2009 at 4:38 PM

Aggh. Reminds me of a time when my brother in law was visiting. He wanted to grill some split chickens, but they were still partially frozen, so he goes, “No problem, I’ll just turn up the heat!”
Another upside to eating rare steak is you’re not cooking away all the nutrients. It’s like veggies, the longer you cook, the less nutritional value it has left. I can’t eat it like that though, so one more reason for me to give it up.

May 23, 2009 at 12:02 AM

I still don’t see how well-done can be bad for you. Not that I eat my steaks well-done, but I know a lot of people who do, but it just seems like common sense that the longer you cook something the less of a risk of salmonella or whatever is in the meat. Of course that means tougher meat, but it’s for sure cooked. I like mine where there’s just a little pink in the middle, but I will eat it cooked even less if someone else likes theirs that way. It’s like baking cookies or a cake halfway…. that’s how it is for those who like theirs cooked all the way.

May 23, 2009 at 10:11 AM

I have a wife that was a well done meat eater. Slowly but surely, I coaxed her over to the wonder of rare cooked meats.

“You mean … there’s actually flavor in the meat when it’s cooked thusly?” she queried.

Salmonella my tuckus. Cook it right and there’s little fear of illness. Illness happens sometimes, as do car accidents. Fact of life. But you’re not going to stop driving or be driven, right? So don’t go abusing your meat.

Searing is one thing … cooking and serving it “char style” is something all together different …..

Nice post.

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