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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

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GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

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Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $289 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.


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rare burgers

How To Make Safe Burgers

"E. coli O157:H7 is the most well-known Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), though other STEC strains have also been identified. STECs produce large quantities of a potent toxin that forms in the intestine and causes severe damage to the lining of the intestine. This causes a disease called hemorrhagic colitis, and may also cause Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, particularly in young children... The bacteria are killed by thorough cooking, which for ground beef is an internal temperature of 160°F as measured by a food thermometer." USDA

By Meathead Goldwyn

Undercooked ground meat and sausage can kill. It can happen to you or someone you love. It usually happens at home, but it can happen at restaurants. In 1993 four children died from hamburgers contaminated by the virulent bacteria pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 purchased at Jack in the Box restaurants. According to health officials as many as 70,000 Americans fall ill from E-coli O157:H7 each year, most of them as a result of tainted hamburger meat. According to USDA, "the very young, the very old, and those with immune systems that have been weakened by cancer, kidney disease, and other illnesses are most at risk and vulnerable to illnesses associated with contaminated food." If someone shows symptoms of illness, do not hesitate, get to the emergency room in a hurry.

We'll call this common bug E-coli for short from now on, although there are many other strains of E-coli that are harmless. In addition to E-coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus, can be found in ground beef and can cause illness. They cannot be seen or smelled. There are also spoilage bacteria that are harmless to humans, but deteriorate the meat's quality.

In meat, E-coli comes from fecal matter in the intestines of the cow. It gets on the surface of the meat during butchering from (1) fecal matter that is on the hide because feed lots are crowded with cattle and their waste, (2) fecal matter in the intestines if they are accidentally sliced open during butchering, a common occurrence (3) fecal matter that spilled from intestines onto the floor of the slaughterhouse or packing shop, or (4) from knives, grinders, tables other equipment, from other meat, or hands that have come in contact with fecal matter.

Contaminated meat then is transported across several state lines in refrigerated trucks that are not always at the proper temp, unloaded into butcher shops and can often sit on the dock or the warehouse for too long, and then moved to cool rooms that may not be cold enough because people don't like it too cold when they work.

E-coli O157:H7 is primarily a problem in ground meats, not steaks. It is found only on the surface of the steaks. They do not work their way into the muscle or fat far beyond the surface. They die rapidly when you cook a steak's surface past 160°F, even if the interior is bloody rare. If your grill is even at a low 225°F, the exterior of a steak will hit 160°F fairly quickly and be safe. The problem arises when meat is ground. Then the outside gets inside and rare burgers or medium rare burgers carry risk with them because they are not cooked to 160°F. Because grinding is how the bug gets into the meat, E-coli is a problem for all ground meats and sausages unless they have been pre-cooked like hot dogs or treated with preservatives.

If the butcher's grinder is not in a cool room, contamination on it can grow rapidly (e-coli doubles in 20 minutes). Then we have to hope that the butcher's grinder is kept clean. They are usually old and the older models are hard to clean properly, with lots of nooks and crannies for contamination to hide in. Then it goes into an open top display case and can sit there for hours, and the trays on the bottom may be there for days. They then sit in uncalibrated home refrigerators for days sometimes.

Industry and government inspection for E-coli is not very thorough. The detection process is expensive, there are not enough inspectors, and USDA inspects only meat headed for interstate commerce. Some meat is inspected by state inspectors, and most is not inspected at all. If your trusted grocer is sold contaminated meat and grinds it, it can contaminate the grinder and all the meat ground that day. Knowing your butcher is not a guarantee of safety.

It is important to remember that "sell by" dates are no guarantee of safety. USDA recommends that you store ground meat at 40°F or lower and that you cook or freeze it within two days after purchase. E-coli does not reproduce at cold temps.

Now here's an interesting question: Some fast food joints promote the fact that their burgers are never frozen. So which would you rather eat, a burger that is frozen right after grinding and shipped to a franchise three states away, or a burger that is not frozen and shipped three states away?

You can read more about E-coli, how it gets into hamburgers, and the nature of the problem in an excellent article in the New York Times. Click here to read the USDA article on ground beef safety.

If you must have rare burgers, there are four ways

If you want rare burgers, there are some options:

(1) Buy irradiated beef. My research tells me irradiated beef is perfectly safe and healthy. But it is hard to find because a lot of people are scared of radiation in all forms (except when they get their teeth and bones X-rayed, and that's a LOT higher dosage). Click this link for more information on irradiation from Omaha Steaks.

(2) Sterilize the meat. Food scientists say that if you dip a piece steak in boiling water (212°F) for 10 seconds before grinding it yourself, it is made safe. I have tried it, and although the exterior turns gray, it grinds well and makes fine flavorful rare patties.

(3) Sous vide. You can also have rare burgers by using the sous vide method of slow cooking the patties in a vacuum bag in an immersion bath of 131°F water for two hours.

(4) Perfect control. If you had a really accurate thermometer and perfect control over your grill temp, you might be able to grill a big fat burger at, say 225°F, when it hits say, 125°F, crank the heat back to 135°F, hold it there for 38.3 minutes, and then sear the exterior on high heat for flavor.

Also, you need two spatulas, one to smash the raw meat, and a clean one to flip and serve.

Ask yourself this first

If you use a high fat blend and patty and season it properly, if you add condiments, onion, lettuce, tomato, and a buttered bun, most people cannot tell the diff between a 135°F burger and a 160°F burger if they are blindfolded.

If you do not have sterile meat, and you are healthy and not too young or old or immune compromised, you can take the risk of eating a rare burger. Go ahead and roll the dice. Probably safer than riding in a NY cab. But if your kids or granny can't tell the diff, why risk it?

This page was revised 9/1/2013


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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

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