Holy Grail cooking temp (New to smoking, please read)

Discussion in 'Pork' started by sqwib, Jul 26, 2016.

  1. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    For starters there is no Holy Grail cooking temp for Butts/Picnics, if you have been under the assumption that smoking/cooking a butt/picnic at 200° -225° is somehow better than a higher temp butt/picnic this is not true and you are more at risk for foodborne illness.

    I have seen this a lot on this forum and this is not a rant or complaint just my two cents that may help someone from getting sick.

    Folks are almost remorseful if they can't keep their cooking chamber at exactly 225° or 250° while their focus should be getting through the danger zone safely. As a matter of fact I don't recall the last time I read a post that someone even implies the danger zone during their cook.

    200° or 225° or even 250° is NOT the "Holy Grail" for smoking/Cooking pork Butts/Picnics. Too many times I have seen folks say it took them x amount of  hours at xxx° or xxx° to do a x pound butt/picnic.

    What is more important than maintaining 225? Getting out of the danger zone in under 4 hours. How do I do this? Bump your temps up until you are out of the danger zone!

    Folks chime in and say bump up the temp a bit, yes that's good advice but they are leaving out a very important fact that I have learned here years ago... no one seems to remember pointing out the obvious... How long was it in the danger Zone?

    Factor in all the above with inaccurate thermos and you are leaving yourself at risk.

    Please, Please, keep the cooking temps up to get out of the danger zone at the least, then if you feel a 225° butt/picnic is superior than a 275° then dial it back to 225°, but after you are above 140° Internal Temperature. This means investing in a decent thermometer and check it to see if it is accurate.

    Just one caveat, higher temps could burn sugary rubs so experiment with your temps and rubs.
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2016
    wpnsexpert78, dukeburger and hammer77 like this.
  2. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

      Great post.   There's exceptions to the burning of sugary rubs though...largely depends on the cooker, cooking method and type of heat.  Cooked many a racks of ribs 400*, 500* with sugary rubs and zero burning but with a rotisserie and open top cooker.

    It's a good idea to remind people of the danger zone etc...thanks for posting
  3. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Forgot to mention that meat thickness can affect cook times more than the weight, for example two pork buts at the same weight but one deboned and butterflied, so to speak, will cook quicker.
  4. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Thanks, and very true, I have experienced that also but had to toss out that caveat as a generic statement so folks don't hang me up by my eyelids when they take this advice and burn their rub to hell!
  5. appwsmsmkr1

    appwsmsmkr1 Meat Mopper

    This is a great post! I am also all about food safety. But I do have a question, so what would be a safer temp to start at? I ask because now I'm starting to second guess myself when I must put the meat on.
  6. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    There are some variables such as cooking method and meat thickness.

    If you current cooks get you through the danger zone in under 4 hours, don't worry about it, if you are border line and usually run at 250° bump up to 275° a few hours, if you are border line and usually run at 225° bump up to 250°, there's no cure all, I just wanted to point out that folks should be more concerned about getting through the danger zone safely than maintaining a rock hard 225° or 250°
  7. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Another thing that worries me is when folks say to leave the meat out to come up to temp...wrong!

    Right from the fridge to the hot cooking area, this isn't a steak!

    I have also read that meat above 40° the time is accumulative, another words if you leave the meat out for three hours and toss in the refrigerator to cook the next day, you just lost three hours. I don't have data to back this up and wont get into a scientific debate but it seems wise to heed this to a degree.

    I have broken all of these rules and have never gotten sick, is this info all wrong? or did I get lucky? I don't know and it didn't matter when I was a single man and if I did get sick, was it the bottle of Mad Dog or a foodborne illness,? we may never know, but feeding my family and older parents 80+ I don't take chances with them.
  8. dukeburger

    dukeburger Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Great post SQWIB.

    When I was starting out doing pork butts, I would always try at 225 chamber temp and I could never get the IT to reach 200. I'm still unsure how people do it. I've always had to bump up chamber temp to get there. Small 5lb cuts and the like taking 22 hours and never reaching 200 degrees until I've bumped up the chamber temp to at least 250.

    I always do pork butts between 275-325* now. Little to no stall, done in 8-12 hours, and tender and juicy!!
  9. jond36

    jond36 Meat Mopper

    Great post. Thumbs Up

    I know in my smoker my butt actually does get above 140 in less than 4 hours, but again I tested it to know for sure.

    Thanks for the insight.
  10. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    For those of you that are better versed in this than me, I know that whole muscle meat is more forgiving that hasn't been sliced, deboned, probed or injected and that a cook that takes a bit longer to get past 140 is still safe.

    Where does one draw the line for internal temp and time? I feel 40-140 in 4 that has been adopted by the folks here is a good rule of thumb because it significantly reduces the risk of foodborne illness.

    Sometimes folks don't realize that probing, injecting, deboning etc... definitely puts you in the MUST comply to the Danger Zone rule.

  11. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    These guidelines are just that, guidelines.

    For the complete answer to this question, we need to hear from JJ.

    I PM'd him & as soon as he gets on he will elaborate on the 40-140 rule.

    I would stop all the speculation until we hear from him.

  12. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi Squib. Whilst I totally agree with the message you are supporting in your post I am not sure that I have seen any credible evidence of the urgency that you imply to take food through the danger zone within 4 hours. I have seen this figure posted in many forums however I have not seen any official documentation that this is actually more than just a guideline - or even more than an urban myth. If you can point me to where you have seen this documented it would be very helpful so that I can update my references.

    As far as I can see, in the USDA Food Safety Education documents that specifically deal with Smoking Meat and Poultry (where you would expect this to be highlighted if it was that important), it only states that the meat should be thawed before smoking so that it is not allowed "to linger in the "Danger Zone" where harmful bacteria can multiply". It does not go as far as specifying a minimum time period by which the temperature of the food must have been raised beyond the danger zone.

    Here are two USDA Food Safety Education documents where I would have expected it to have been at least mentioned if it was so important

    Topics / Food Safety Education / Get Answers / Food Safety Fact Sheets / Safe Food Handling / Smoking Meat and Poultry

    Topics / Food Safety Education / Get Answers / Food Safety Fact Sheets / Safe Food Handling / Danger Zone / Danger Zone

    Another document, also released by the USDA regarding "Food pasteurization times for beef, corned beef, lamb, pork and cured pork" actually appears to go contrary to that statement. Bacterial growth inhibition is not purely dependent on the temperature but also for how long the meat has been at that temperature. As the internal temperature of the meat approaches 130 F the bacteria start to die. At 130 F they will pretty much all be dead after 121 minutes. At 135 F it will take 35 minutes. At 140 F it will take 12 minutes. Combine this with the fact that most of the bacteria will be on the surface of the meat that is exposed to the smoker cooking temperatures of 212 F + (where most bacteria are killed almost instantly), providing the meat has been subject to good food handling practices before it is smoked then the dangers may not be so great as this "rule" implies.

    Whilst I agree that it is good practice to get the temperature above the danger zone as soon as possible I have so far seen no evidence to support the 140 F in 4 hours rule that is often quoted. If you had a piece of pork in the smoker that had only reached 135 F but had stayed there for 5 hours should you throw it away? The pasteurization tables indicate that this is not necessary as the bacteria would have been killed at that temperature after less than 40 minutes. 

    I agree that the 140 F within 4 hours is a good rule of thumb to promote - especially for people new to smoking - but we also need to make sure that we quote it in context and not make people over paranoid.

    Last edited: Jul 26, 2016
  13. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I agree that everyone should understand the 40°-140°. This thread is a good starting point:


    I also think though that there are many variables that fall into what temp one should or shouldn't cook at. I very rarely cook anywhere near 225°-250°. Typically I am smoking at higher temps. My time is important to me and when I figured out that I was getting better results with less time I went that route for just about everything. The exceptions to that are for cuts that I know will finish too fast and lack the smoke that I want. These are usually roasts that are 2"-4" thick and will be done in less than 4 hours. For theses I run the pit in the range of 180°-200°.
  14. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Wade I totally agree and what has been stated to me in the past has been that although this is not a true FDA guideline it has been adopted here on SMF, but it really applies more to meat that has been punctured, probed are cut and trussed etc...

    I try to go by the 40-140 "Adopted" rule in my cooks regardless, I am glad you chimed in, thanks.

    Sorry for the sense of urgency and I should be more clear.
  15. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I guess I get a bit worried when I see a post like this,

    "Set the temp on my electric smoker @ 200 degrees. It sat in the smoker all day at least 12 hours and never reached 190"

    This is for a 4 pound butt (3 hours a pound), Am I worrying too much or does this sound scary?

    I don't want to alarm folks but there has got to be a cutoff to how long it can sit there at such low temps.

    Like I said, for those better versed than me, chime in, maybe I'm the one that needs a refresher lol!
  16. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Hello everyone...There are some valid points made. I do not wish to Contradict, Insult or start an Argument with anyone. I have been asked by Jeff and the Administration of SMF to monitor Food Safety Issues because my Training, Experience and Qualifications led to their choosing me as most qualified for the Job. I am Human. I have made and do occasionally make mistakes and based on further Research and continued Education have changed my point of view and recommendations from time to time. But, as of this date...Here is what I know to be Factual to the best of my knowledge. You are welcome to your Opinion and may or may not agree will all or part of this information and that is your choice. Anyone who wishes to discuss this further in a CIVIL MANNER, can do so here or in a PM.

    Please note...My use of CAPITALIZATION and BOLD Print is not intended nor should it be perceived as Anger or Yelling, that is KID stuff used when Texting other kids. It is only used to highlight important points as is common in Business documents and Labels...JJ

    First...Yes the 40-140 in 4 has been adopted by SMF...BUT...It only, I repeat ONLY applies to Injected, including factory Enhanced Meat, Ground and Boned-Rolled and Tied Meat, Inclusively and Exclusively! If this rule applied universally to all meat...Sous Vide cooking, cooking in a 130° to 160°F Water Bath, and the HUNDREDS of Restaurants that practice it would have been killing people for more than 3 decades! Additionally, If this included a Leave in the Meat from Raw Thermometer Probe, the 50+ Year Old Thermometers would have been BANNED years ago or, in our Litigious Society, a Blaze Orange tag of Cautionary Instructions, to wait X Hours before insertion, would be included with every Meat Thermometer sold...

    Wade's Info is Textbook and accurate. Wade asks for documentation? My answer after years of training, teaching, and extensive research on the subject...

    A Guideline like 40-140 in 4...aka the Rule (less letters than Guideline) is, Easy to remember, Provides a margin of Error, Has been gleaned from information provided by Multiple sources, including but not limited to, Professional Food service organizations, The American Culinary Federation, The ServSafe program, the USDA, FDA and Food Service Professionals with Years of Experience... Is, " 40 to 140*F in 4 " written down in any Government Food Service Law Manual, or Word for Word on any fore mentioned Website or Charter?...NO...But it Has been adopted by This Site and others to protect our members...

    There is NO specific wording but the RULE encompasses Common Sense and Documented Food Safety Regulations, like not leaving raw meat at room temp longer than 2 hours and any Potentially Hazardous Food not kept Hot or Cold for more than 4 hours should be discarded. The RULE was conceived to cover, casual readers of SMF posts and all that LIFE throws at you and stuff that PEOPLE being HUMAN do by choice or circumstance....Example...You get everything ready for a meal. Pull the meat out of the refer, add the Rub...and your Kid falls of his Bike and you need to go get him, calm him, wash and bandage his skinned Knee and this takes 3 Hours. OR...You get the meat in the smoker, everything is running fine and 6 Beers later, you are Asleep in the Recliner and the Fire goes out! You wake 4 hours later and the Smoker IT is 90° and the Meat IT is 130°...Neither of these Examples and a host of others, are cause to TOSS the meat BUT...Understanding a guideline like 4-140 in 4, helps you make decisions and let's you know How to Proceed to keep from making your family Sick...Bacteria is not out to get anyone! But like with any Potentially Dangerous thing we do, Drive, Cross a Busy Street, Own and Shoot Weapons, the more you Know the Safer you are... 

    The problem we run into is... SMF has thousands of members that have Correctly and MORE OFTEN, INCORRECTLY  applied the " Rule " to EVERY situation , every piece of meat and every thing that goes wrong...People are Notorious for reading or hearing some Quote and applying it without a full understanding of the Facts.You have all heard of the TELEPHONE GAME??? In the 70's some Clown writes an unproven supposition in an obscure journal that there is a link between MSG and dizziness, headaches and general illness...Does this happen to Some People? YES..But, people are also Allergic to Cats and Dogs, Peanuts, Pollen and a host of other natural,and man made things. However, as a result of wide spread media dissemination and people blindly repeating an UNDOCUMENTED and UNPROVEN statement, apply the MSG Scare Tactics to every form of Glutamate and Glutamic Acid, in its Natural and manufactured form. Is Soy Sauce MSG? Does Aged Parm Reggiano Cheese contain MSG? Does Mushrooms, Seaweed and MOTHERS MILK contain MSG? NO!!!!  But there are Thousands of people that believe this because...THEY READ IT OR THAT IS WHAT THEY HEARD! Same situation here with our 40 to 140 in 4 Rule. It is Valid, it is Helpful, will it Cover your A$$ when something goes awry? SURE...BUT...It ONLY applies to Injected, Ground and BRT Meat. Any Meat SURFACE that has been kept below 40°F and spends more than 113 minutes in a Pan, Oven, Hot Water Bath or SMOKER over 130°F  and 160°F for 2 Minutes, has had any Bacteria, known to Man, reduced to a Safe Level for Healthy Human Consumption. That's the Facts...Considering WE recommend and smoke Uncured Meat, at anywhere from 200°F to 350°F+, What can Survive those temps more than a few minutes? Add Salt and/or Sugar, both Scientifically Proven to be Hygroscopic and either Steal Water from Bacteria killing them or Bind the water from being used by Bacteria for reproduction and there is Very Little to worry about when you use some Common Sense passed down from Generations of Cooking and to a great extend follow a simple guideline like 40-140 in 4 hours...

    Warming Meat to Room Temp...With the exception of intact Beef that you want an even, edge to edge, Medium or less Doneness...What do you GAIN from warming Pork or Chicken on the Counter? Is it really worth having that Pork or Chicken in the Danger Zone to SAVE 1-2 hours of Electricity in the Smoker at $.15 a KW Hour? Is it worth 2 Pounds of Charcoal Briquettes at $10 per 20 pound Bag? Is it worth a Arm Full of Splits that you got Free from your neighbors fallen Tree? So WHY do people let meat come to room temp??? Because they Read it somewhere or that's the way Mom/Dad or Uncle Bob did it! It is completely POINTLESS with meat that will be cooked to an IT over 140°F because the meat will be well done or falling apart and will be even edge to edge anyway. Now in reference to the 40-140 in 4 Rule and Counter Warming...Sure folks have gotten away with warming meat for the reasons stated above, Cooking Intact Meat Kills surface Bacteria and at temps of 225 or higher destroys the most Deadly Toxins. But, is Warming Meat a good Idea? Not really as you gain nothing and only add Risk, to the very old, the very young and those with compromised immune Systems getting some degree of sick. Keep the meat in the Refer until it goes in the Smoker.

    This is the 21st Century, we have the Technology to get Answers to every question except the Meaning of Life and God's Plan for us....When in Doubt, Throw it Out???  Sure with a Puffy Can of Vegetables or when you Drop a Glass Baking Dish and have shards of Glass everywhere, or the Smell of whatever is off or bad and stays that way more than a Minute or Two after breaking the seal. But with Meat that you handled properly from Store to Smoker, is intact and you got the meat in a 200°F Smoker and the IT is taking longer than expected or the Power or Fire went out for a few hours?...When in Doubt....Pick up your Phone, Your Kids Phone or Computer and do some RESEARCH! There are Hundreds of Members on SMF that are well versed in Food Safety, beyond just the " RULE " and if THEY have Doubts Should point you to whom you should Contact for a definitive and fact based answer...I hope this can clear some myths and misinformation...JJ
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2016
  17. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Awesome Jimmy, this statement clears things up for me, thank you

    "First...Yes the 40-140 in 4 has been adopted by SMF...BUT...It only, I repeat ONLY applies to Injected, including factory Enhanced Meat, Ground and Boned-Rolled and Tied Meat, Inclusively"

    So I guess the first question we should ask someone on absurdly long cooks is was the meat "Injected, including factory Enhanced Meat, Ground and Boned-Rolled and Tied Meat", then the "Adopted" rule applies.

    Jimmy is it stated somewhere here "as a guideline" that the minimal recommended temp for cooking Pork is 225°?
  18. Well said chef! Everyone here raises great points, I think it's important as members come and go from the forum that this conversation is had from time-to-time.
  19. lovethemeats

    lovethemeats Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    This was a awesome thread. I understand the importance of this message. The people here want us to smoke wisely. I am sure people get frustrated when they see someone else doing something wrong with smoking food. They want us to stay healthy so that we may smoke again and not get any sickness from it while doing it. This is and always will be a good subject. Thank you all for caring. And like so many of us has said to the new people joining. This is what makes this site so damn good. Thank you all.
    Rob Z
  20. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Thanks JJ!


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