Culinary no-no #611

Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinion, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.

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It sounds like one of those quick five second teases for the evening TV news.


That exact warning made its way into the news media the past week in advance of the unofficial start of the grilling season, the Memorial Day weekend. To listen to the so-called “experts” you’d think you’re taking your life in your hands every time you fire up the Weber.

No one wants to mess with E-coli. But I refuse to be scared to death about something as simple as a grilled burger.

The consensus among the experts is that a big no-no is wanting a medium or medium-rare burger with that delectable pink inside. What are you thinking? You wanna kick the bucket?

“Cooking food thoroughly and handling it correctly is critically important,” said Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for the USDA’s Office for Food Safety. “The food produced is not sterile … People want to cook raw food and prepare it at home. If you prepare it at home, you have to know there are some risks associated with it.”

The very make-up beef is dangerous according to Northeastern University food safety expert Darin Detwiler.

“When you buy a chicken breast, how many animals is that? One. Ground beef? As many as 400 animals in commercially processed beef,” said Detwiler. “Unless you buy steak from the grocer and grind it up yourself, you’re talking about Russian roulette.”

Any of those 400 animals could be contaminated, caused by cows roaming in tight spaces or in fecal matter, a sure-fire way to spread pathogens.

“The slaughtering of animals is a very dirty process in ways tomatoes are not,” said Brian Kellerman, a Columbus, Ohio-based food-safety consultant. “It’s dirty in the field, but once you dig it out, you wash and that’s it. With animals, all the blood and innards required to be to removed has the potential to contaminate.”

Under-cooked steak is less dangerous than under-cooked hamburger meat. So…

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“Any person who likes their hamburgers medium rare is taking an enormous risk. If it’s contaminated beef, they will not reach a temperature that will get rid of the pathogen,” Kellerman said.

Like thousands and thousands of other backyard chefs,  I don’t use a meat thermometer. I’m not a hamburger-grilling imbecile.

Kellerman adds, “People’s cooking skills may be deficient. They may not understand how to handle meats, even though it’s common knowledge.”

Please do not include me in that assessment, Mr. Kellerman, thank you.

You’re also advised to reconsider using a wire-bristle brush to clean your grill grates because, horror of horrors, the bristles can get stuck to the grill, get in your food, in your mouth, or in your stomach.

That’ll never happen, right?

Research published in the April 2016 edition of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery estimated emergency department visits for wire bristle injuries between 2002 and 2014. The study’s authors found an estimated 1698 cases presented to emergency departments in that time. They also say the estimate doesn’t include cases at urgent care facilities or other outpatient settings.

The most common location of injury was the oral cavity and the oropharynx which includes the throat and tonsils. Injuries involving the esophagus and head and neck were more frequent than abdominal injuries.

I’m no food safety expert on the faculty of a major university. But I can speak through many years of experience.

You don’t need a meat thermometer. Go to a sportings good store and buy a cheap stopwatch. Depending on the thickness of your burger place on one side for 5-6 minutes, then flip and repeat. Do no keep turning and keep the grill top closed.

Do not, as recommended, cut your meat through the center to check that it’s cooked all the way through. You will only lose valuable juices.

Instead of using a wire-bristle brush you can always resort to wiping the grate with a rolled-up piece of aluminum foil. I prefer spraying the grate with PAM and placing it on top of the coals before you light them. That will help burn off what might be lurking.

And I wouldn’t be too afraid of a medium or medium- rare burger if that’s what you like. I’ve been eating those for, well, let’s just say a very long time,  not to mention raw beef at parties and around holidays. I’ve never had issues.

So I’ll take the risks. Just pass me the A-1.


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