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Fire kills everything, right?
July 25, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Grilling meat with only 1 pair of tongs- my method would make Alton Brown gasp in horror, but is it safe?

Stainless steel tongs. They flip the chicken when it's still raw on one side. If I stick the ends of said tongs in the flame of my gas grill for 15 seconds or so, are they then "clean" enough to handle cooked food or am I cruising for a bout of salmonella?
posted by bluejayway to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You can eat meat raw. The only health reason to cook it might be to destroy parasites in pork and game. It's highly unlikely that the meat you buy has salmonella, and cooking's not guaranteed to destroy harmful bacteria.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:05 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I leave our tongs and spatula hanging off the grill all the time. Meaning, they don't take trips to the kitchen. I justify this by focusing on the high heat of the grill burning off microbes.

So, consider the source, but I don't know how you'd not have tongs touch one raw side of the chicken piece each time you cook.

I think that you don't have to have standards quite so low as mine to shrug and be fundamentally okay with this, but if you live in that degree of fear regarding salmonella you could either use two pairs of tongs or use a spatula, which would only touch the cooked side, instead.

Also, I think what you're describing is the status quo for almost all cooks, all the time, in restaurants and homes. I think it's a pretty remote danger.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:07 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


seems fine to me, bobby flay only uses tongs on the bbq... he prefers the small ones too,
posted by fozzie33 at 9:09 AM on July 25, 2011


I am pretty sure "sterilizing" metal takes much longer than 15 seconds—the metal should actually glow red before you can feel confident that it is hot enough to destroy nasties.

Just wash your tongs between. Or buy better chicken (but still wash the tongs).
posted by peachfuzz at 9:10 AM on July 25, 2011


I too would consider this status quo. The only time I would go back for a second pair of tongs would be if I was feeding someone that I knew to be at-risk for whatever reason.
posted by ftm at 9:11 AM on July 25, 2011


AB is overly paranoid for legal liability reasons. While you definitely want to keep raw and cooked meat away from each other in prep, once on the heat, I wouldn't worry about it too much, especially as it will likely be slathered in sauce or covered in rub.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:11 AM on July 25, 2011


When I used to flame-sterilize laboratory tools for bacteriology work, it only took a few seconds in the fire. 15 seconds should be plenty, especially since your food doesn't need to be lab-grade sterile - normal humans have a ruthless digestive system (acid! killer enzymes!) and a vigilant immune system backup for conquering the stuff we eat.
posted by Quietgal at 9:29 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


You're more likely to get salmonella from allowing cross contamination while the chicken is still in the house, or from undercooking the chicken.

Or, from the raw vegetables in your salad.
posted by bilabial at 9:33 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


peachfuzz, glowing red implies 750°F (dark surroundings) to 1100°F (bright sunlight). The USDA's "burn the living crap out of your meats 'cause they may have come from major factory farms" guidelines tend to peak out at about 165°F.

As bilabial points out, cross-contamination in other steps or from salad (and I say this as someone who eats several pounds of salad per week) is far more likely.
posted by straw at 9:43 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Get a vase, or plastic container and fill it with water with a little bit of bleach and keep the tongs in it when you aren't using them during your grilling session.
posted by TheBones at 9:43 AM on July 25, 2011


It's highly unlikely that the meat you buy has salmonella, and cooking's not guaranteed to destroy harmful bacteria.

You're kidding, right? Odds are you ate meat with salmonella in the last week, probably multiple times. You just didn't get sick from it.

Reports from 1998, 2006, 2009, 2010.

From the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in the 2010 report:

In calendar year 2010, FSIS analyzed 29,734 verification samples across eight meat and poultry product classes with the following percent positive rate of Salmonella per product class: broilers (6.7%), market hog (2.4%), cow/bull (0.5%), steer/heifer (0.1%), ground beef (2.2%), ground chicken (18.8%), ground turkey (10.2%) and turkey (4.6%).

Obviously you don't get sick from chicken 6.7% or 18.8% of the times you eat it. Here's the reality: clean the surfaces properly. Cook the chicken through. Avoid cross contamination as best as you can. Don't put cooked chicken on the plate where raw chicken has been, etc. One single bacterium won't make you sick, you have an immune system for a reason.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:53 AM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can vouch for Quietgal - if you're sticking the tongs in direct flames for 3-4 seconds, you should be fine. If you're just sticking them over high heat, there might be a bit more question of whether you were killing all the bugs dead. Certain laboratory sterilization practices also have you dip the contaminated ends of your instruments in ethanol and the stick that in the flame, but keeping a container of EtOH next to your grill just strikes me as a bad idea.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:03 AM on July 25, 2011


Get a vase, or plastic container and fill it with water with a little bit of bleach and keep the tongs in it when you aren't using them during your grilling session.

Sorry, but doesn't that sound like a good way to get bleach on your food, nevermind salmonella?

Anyway, I think you're overthinking it. Just don't put cooked chicken on a plate that had raw chicken and I think you'll be fine.
posted by like_neon at 10:04 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been grilling for 20 years and have never used a second pair of tongs while cooking the food, and have never had any cases of illness.

After the food is cooked, I put the cooked food onto a different platter than what I brought the raw meat out on, but still using the same pair of tongs. It's really never been an issue.
posted by xedrik at 10:31 AM on July 25, 2011


Our forefathers grilled this way for generations, and we're still here.
posted by mkultra at 10:37 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have grilled on and off since I was 14 years old, and never once gave much thought to this, and obviously 11 years later i'm still alive to tell this tale.

Use the tongs until you're done cooking.
posted by deezil at 10:47 AM on July 25, 2011


Everybody uses one pair of tongs.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on July 25, 2011


I use the two-tong approach... whenever I cook for Health Department, USDA officials or lawyers. Otherwise, it's one, and I heat it over the flame after touching anything raw.
posted by Hylas at 12:22 PM on July 25, 2011


I do that sort of thing all the time and I have never made anybody sick. TheBones is rather close to what people in the restaurant industry often do, though. I had a bleach bucket with a rag in it. You feel paranoid? I was taught to wipe it down with the rag. The only time I ever get that worried, however, is when I am brewing beer. Mister Fabulous is right, your immune system can handle small doses of bad shit, unless it's, like, botulism, in which case you are totally screwed no matter what so flip that raw chicken, dude.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:00 PM on July 25, 2011


peachfuzz writes "I am pretty sure 'sterilizing' metal takes much longer than 15 seconds—the metal should actually glow red before you can feel confident that it is hot enough to destroy nasties."

~170F or so is all it takes to kill bacteria which is well below the threshold for metal to glow.

deezil writes "I have grilled on and off since I was 14 years old, and never once gave much thought to this, and obviously 11 years later i'm still alive to tell this tale. "

Not to imply the proposed action is dangerous but this is the worst kind of anecdotal evidence. The people who die from contaminated food aren't around to post counter examples on the net.
posted by Mitheral at 1:50 PM on July 25, 2011


Here's the other thing, the surface of the meat is well above 165F at the end of its cooking time. Even if you transfer bacteria to it when you're taking it off the grill, it should carry enough heat to zap the small amounts of bacteria transferred by the tongs. Just don't use the same pair of tongs to serve the meat once it's cool unless you've washed them first.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:05 PM on July 25, 2011


~170F or so is all it takes to kill bacteria which is well below the threshold for metal to glow.

That's a good point too, sterilizing something is different from disinfecting it. Disinfecting is when you kill infectious bacteria, and that happens at 165F because they're pretty wimpy. Sterilizing on the other hand is killing all bacteria plus their spores, which is what you do with an autoclave (and canning for that matter). As long as you aren't planning on performing surgery with those tongs afterwards, disinfecting them is just fine for your purposes.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:11 PM on July 25, 2011


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