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The Temperature Danger Zone and Smoking Turkeys over 14 Pounds

By chef jimmyj, Nov 27, 2012 | |
  1. The concept of the Food Temperature Danger Zone was introduced some 50 years ago. The Danger Zone is 40 to 140*F. The temp where Bacteria multiple unchecked and reach levels that can themselves cause illness if improperly cooked or produce huge quantities of Toxins that may not be destroyed by heat and can cause incurable paralysis or death. So keeping food below 40* or getting it above 140* and keeping it there becomes critical. As a general guideline we stress getting any meat we smoke above 140*F in 4 hours or less. This is not usually an issue with Intact Muscle unless something goes wrong with the smoker or you are smoking a meat that has been Injected, Punctured, Boned, Rolled and Tied, Ground or Stuffed. With any of these meats the chances that the interior of the meat has been contaminated with bacteria is extremely high, and getting it hot ASAP becomes critical.

    Now the issue with Turkey...It has been shown that most of the Poultry processed in the US is contaminated with Salmonella and/or other bacteria. Additionally the majority of Turkeys sold in Grocery store over the last several years is " Enhanced " aka Injected with a Salt, Phosphate and Broth solution to effectively Brine the bird to tenderize the meat and cause it to retain higher levels of moisture even after cooking. The typical conditions in a Smoker, low Oxygen and temps between 225 and 250*F can keep Turkeys over 12-14Lbs below the 140*F Internal Temp(IT) for longer than 4 hours increasing the risk of Food Poisoning. There are ways around this. Cut the bird in half, Spatchcock the bird, remove the backbone so it lays flat, or Smoke at temps above 300*F, 325*F being optimum. Now many of us are given free turkeys or already purchased the Giant Turkey then decided to smoke it. So just be aware of the following...  If your 22Lb Turkey is Enhanced, or you injected anything and you plan to Smoke it below 300*F, your risk of Illness goes way up and is just not a good idea. You need to split or spatchcock that big boy. I know what you may say," Grandpa Smoked 22Lb Whole Turkeys all the time and no one ever died! " The bottom line is...Can you or have you gotten away with it before? Sure, you can certainly keep doing what you have been doing but the Odds are Not in your favor and will catch up with you eventually. BTW if you are STUFFING that 22lb Bird and smoking it at 225*F, you may want to have the local Hospital on Stand-By...That is the worst thing you can do!

    The subject of Brining and Low Sodium Brines come up every year. Here some info on the subject...

    Brining the bird just lets us do at home what many processors do to make the meat retain moisture and become more tender. The difference is with Brining we Soak the bird in a mix of Salt, Herbs, Spices and sometimes Sugar and/or Fruit Juices. The brining process, to much science to get into after all this typing, pulls all the flavor and liquid of the brine into the meat. Unfortunately for you Sodium sesitive folks, the process depends on Salt to get it going and do the bulk of the tenderizing and moisture retention. So while you can go Low Sodium, 1/4 to1/3C Kosher Salt per Gallon of Water there is no such thing as a No Sodium Brine. You can still Marinate for some added flavor but you will not get all the benefits of the Brine and if the marinade is too Acidic the texture of the meat can have a dry texture after Smoking because with time the Acid chemically cooks the meat before it goes in the Smoker...JJ

    Here is detailed info on the Danger Zone...http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal...food-handling/danger-zone-40-f-140-f/ct_index

    Some info on Safely Smoking Meat and Poultry...http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal...od-handling/smoking-meat-and-poultry/ct_index

    Here is some more on the subject of Brining... http://www.finecooking.com/articles/why-brining-keeps-meat-moist.aspx

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  1. pop65
    Thanks ,I will be smoking my first turkey this year and this will help so much , thanks again .
  2. chef jimmyj
    Steve, Please note that the USDA/FSIS Fact Sheets are designed for the General Public and are somewhat different than the The Food Code that Professional Chefs and Food Service Workers are required to follow. Thanks for your input...JJ
  3. chef jimmyj
    Just to address some of the above. USDA/FDA Food Codes change every few years, so yes the Danger Zone temps change, recommended Internal Temps change and so on. The Numbers is the article have been adopted by SMF many years ago as they were the USDA Standard at the time, provide a Margin of Safety that EXCEEDS current Federal Guidelines and has been posted, reposted and quoted so many times that it would cause confusion and silly debate, if we changed easily remembered smoking and temp guidelines, a couple of degrees, evertime the Fed updates or modifies their numbers. 
    The recommended Guidline of limiting Turkey size to 14 Pounds is based on Smoking Low and Slow, 225-250*F, that is common to our art. It has been found across the Smoking Community, and THOUSANDS of Smoked Turkeys, that Low and Slow Smoking of WHOLE Turkeys over 14 pounds can take much longer to reach safe internal temps with factory injected birds. Does that mean if your bird is 14.5, 15, or 16 pounds you are going to kill your family...Of course not! The Staff of SMF have adopted well known safe Guidlines and publish them for you and your families Safety. It is up to the individual to use good judgement. There are hundreds of threads on Safely Smoking Turkeys of ALL sizes, including smoking at Higher Temps than 225, Spatchcocking or Halving large birds. If you bought or were given BIRDZILLA we got your back and are here to see you are fed well and kept Safe...JJ
  4. ssfantasea
    I dud make some great soup stock. It made 2 big pots of soup. It turned out wonderful. I make soup from just about anything but turkey is my fave. Thank you for the info!
  5. ski-freak
    Thanks for the great article! I normally piece out the turkey into parts and also strip the skin off the turkey parts before brushing them with melted Butter and Rosemary, as I put them into my 225 - 275 degree smoker. I would add that you should save the bones and carcass for making some of the best tasting soup stock ever - that has a smoky mouth feel...
  6. ssfantasea
    Great general article. Next time I will try a brine with the "no salt" potassium .As it works to retain hydration ans electrolytes in the human body,maybe it will help the bird retain moisture too. Worth a try. Ill let yuo know. I love science,
    Thanks again
    ssfantasea
  7. austinl
    Can you explain where you got the 14 pound weight limit from?
  8. sa-steve
    Jimmie I read your bio before posting this, so I do not want to make this seem contradictory.
    the current food cold danger zone is 41 to 135. (2009), The poultry products must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165. You have taken some of the temperatures and had skewed them. There is not food code requirement for reaching the internal temperature in 4 hours. Are you saying brisket should be coked in 4 hours as well. (which food code says for whole muscle meat 145.) I agree with you on the minimum oven temperature of 200 to 225. but your other comments are not correct.
    I also teach the serv safe, and the NRFSP, and have been an executive chef in my food career for Marriott and Hilton. At the age of 63, glad to see we are more in tune to food safety. Was not that way in the 70's and 80's.