Safe Handling and Preparation
If you consider yourself to be an experienced cook or just a beginner, cooking meat properly while retaining its flavor and tenderness can be challenging for anyone. No matter what type of meat, you must take special care in handling and preparation.
Knowing exactly how long to cook meat is one area that’s confusing for many cooks. Following a recipe can be helpful, but there are a number of factors that can affect the timing when cooking meat, such as oven variations (some cook faster than others), how the meat is prepared, the thickness of the meat, etc. For instance, the recipe might call for one hour to cook a roast, but your roast might be bigger than the one used to create the recipe. So, your roast might need to stay in the oven 15 to 20 minutes longer! The size and shape of meat can make all the difference. The way meat is cooked can change the required cooking time as well. Roasts can slow-cook in a crock pot for eight to nine hours. A steak can be grilled in ten to fifteen minutes.
Some meat recipes are more specific and will give you a cooking time based on weight of the meat. For example, a beef or lamb roast weighing two pounds should be cooked for approximately 50 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes depending on its shape and the oven being used. A whole chicken (not stuffed) weighing two pounds should be cooked for approximately 40 minutes.
Using a Meat Thermometer
A meat thermometer can help ensure that the meat reaches the appropriate temperature while cooking. The thermometer should be inserted into the thickest section of the meat. Be sure not to touch the bone with the thermometer as this can cause it to give an inaccurate reading. The temperatures for beef will vary according to how the meat is cooked. Beef that is well done will need to reach a higher temperature than beef that is medium or rare.
Caution from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
It’s extremely important to cook meat to the recommended temperature. The FDA strongly warns against consuming any type of meat that has been cooked below the temperature at which harmful bacteria are destroyed. This is especially true for poultry and ground meats. This can help protect you and your family from harmful E. coli and salmonella poisoning – two of the most common dangerous bacteria found in raw meat.
Visual Signs for Cooking Meat
You can also use visual cues to identify whether meat has finished cooking or not. Beef and lamb will vary depending on whether you want the meat well, medium well, rare, etc. For well done steaks or burgers, the meat should be cooked until a grayish color throughout. It should also be hot to the touch throughout the meat. For medium well, the meat should be hot though the center, but with a pinkish colored line in the middle. Medium rare meat will have a red center that is warm to the touch. Rare meat will have a red center that is cool to the touch. When cooking turkey or chicken, be sure the meat is juicy and moist, with no pink showing. Pork should have a completely white color, although a very faint pinkish hue may show on some cuts. Many cooks use a fork to test for tenderness and to see what color the juices are that flow from the center.
Meat Safety around the Kitchen
There are a number of ways bacteria from raw meat products can spread around the kitchen. It’s not just in preparation of the meat that you or a family member may come in contact with harmful bacteria from the meat. Bacteria can be spread by touching other items in the kitchen (after handling meat) without washing your hands, utensils, cutting boards, counter tops, drawer handles, etc. Any time you handle raw meat, wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap before touching other items. Many dish detergents have antibacterial properties. If you use a utensil (knife, fork or spoon) while preparing the meat or even a plate or bowl, be sure to wash it with hot water and antibacterial detergent before using again. Spray counters, drawer handles, and the sink area including hot/cold control knobs with antibacterial cleanser. If using all natural kitchen cleaners, be sure it has antibacterial properties. Wipe the areas with a clean rag and then avoid using the rag for other tasks before washing.
If you use a cutting board, opt for a plastic board instead of wood. Wood can absorb and hold bacteria-even if you spray and wipe. You should also designate a separate cutting board for cutting non-meat products such as vegetables, fruits, bread, etc.
If you plan to spread a marinade over your meat as sauce, be sure to boil it first to kill any bacteria that may be present. And finally, avoid cooking meat in stages. Meat should be cooked all at once to maintain the correct temperature and ensure that all bacteria is killed. If you need to cook for a large dinner party, cook it completely the night before and then re-heat on low temperatures in the oven before the dinner. Or, use a slow cooker so the meat can cook while you’re doing other tasks.
Cooking meat can be both challenging and rewarding. Don’t give up if you don’t succeed with your first few dishes.
Experiment and follow various recipes until you find what works for you. Get advice from friends who have been cooking for a while. With just a little practice, you’ll soon amaze your family with delectable meat entrees!