How to Cook and Store Meat Safely
By Patrick CarpenThere are several variations drifting around as to how different meats should be cooked and stored. While you may understand the rules about cooking and storing chicken, what do you know about cooking and storing, say, venison? In this article, we are going to discuss the proper ways to cook and store a variety of common (and maybe not so common) meats.
Beef, Venison, Lamb, and Veal
It's best to let the meat thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Leave the meat wrapped up and set it on a plate in the refrigerator. Another method of thawing is to place the meat in an air-tight bag (plastic wrap or Ziploc work well) and set it in a bowl in the sink. Fill the bowl with cold water. The water may need replacing every 30 minutes or so to avoid the meat reaching a temperature above 40 degrees F. If your microwave has a thaw or defrost setting, you can also use this.
When cooking your food, it's best to use an internal thermometer to test the core temperature of the meat. This is the safest and easiest way to tell if the meat has reached a safe temperature—one that will have killed any bacteria that may have been present. For beef, venison, lamb, and veal, the temperature throughout must reach a minimum of 160 degrees F. Once you've cooked the core to at least 160F, it is safe to eat, although some people may prefer to let it cook a little longer, depending upon personal preference.
Beef, venison, lamb, and veal that has been thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking as long as there are still ice crystals on the meat and there is no discoloration or funky smells emitting from the meat. If you are thawing meat via the cold water method, you must cook the meat before refreezing it. Meat that has been thawed using a microwave absolutely must be cooked directly after thawing, and it is not recommended that you refreeze it as the taste, texture, and overall quality will drastically decrease.
Chicken, Turkey, Duck, and Goose
Poultry meats can be thawed in the refrigerator or by using the cold water method. It is not recommended that you thaw these meats using a microwave, as parts of the meat may start to cook before other parts get a chance to thaw—and poultry is notorious for this! NEVER thaw chicken on the counter or using hot water; this creates a breeding ground for bacteria.
Chicken, turkey, duck, and goose should all be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Again, the safest way to check the core temperature of the meat is to insert a food thermometer into the meat. Once the temperature reads at least 165 degrees, it is ready to eat.
Chicken can only be refrozen if there are ice crystals on the meat. If it doesn't have any, you need to finish thawing it, cook it, and then freeze it. You may have to slice into the meat to determine if there are ice crystals in the center. If you are unsure, it's better to take the safe route and cook it.
As with the previously mentioned meats, pork can also be thawed using the refrigerator and cold water methods. Again, as pork is particularly easy to cook in a microwave, it is recommended that you do not attempt to thaw pork meat in the microwave.
Pork must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Pork, although considered a red meat, will actually turn a white color when fully cooked, but you should still verify the core temperature using a thermometer. If you want to re-heat fully-cooked ham, bring it to an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees F.
Ham may be re-frozen if there are still ice crystals in the meat. If the meat has already thawed, it may be cooked and re-frozen, but be very careful to check for any discoloration or foul odors.
No matter what type of meat you want to store in the freezer, it is best to
wrap it several times in a heavy duty freezing foil, and then place in a Ziploc
bag or wrap several times in plastic wrap. The better you seal your meat, the
longer it will hold a good flavor and texture. You should be aware that cooking
and re-freezing any type of meat will decrease the overall quality of the
flavor. It is recommended that you use any frozen cooked meats within one month
of the freeze date to avoid a severe decline in taste
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