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Medium rare hamburgers - a safe way

JavaBenJavaBen Posts: 35
edited 3:07PM in EggHead Forum
I love medium rare hamburgers, but the USDA says no, cook until done, which the USDA says is 160 dF.

Well, not only is all the flavor gone at 160 dF, but I'm afraid I'll break a tooth!

The USDA recommends this since most people cook their hamburger at a high temperature, which means it's on the grill for just a short amount of time before we eat them.

Therein lies the problem - high cooking temperature means a short amount of time to pasteurize the meat so it is safe.

So we can cook at a high temperature until the meat has reached a high temperature, and the meat will be pasteurized.

Or we could change the cooking formula, and cook at a lower temperature for for an increased length of time, and still pasteurize the meat. It's our choice.

We don't have to blindly cook our meats to high temperatures because we've got a Big Green Egg that allows us to precisely control the temperature that we use to cook the meat at, and that means we can cook it at a lower temperature, but for a longer period of time, in order to pasteurize the meat.

That means I can cook my hamburgers for a longer time, but at a lower temperature, while still pasteurizing the meat.

It means I can have a medium rare hamburger and be safe.

I do a lot of Sous Vide cooking, so I am familiar with this approach. I don't know what temperatures to recommend to you to cook your meat in an oven, which is what the Big Green Egg is when the lid is closed, in order for you to have safe meat.

I do know that I can cook it in a pouch, in a waterbath with a precisely controlled temperature of 131 dF, cook it for 4 hours, and have pasteurized medium-rare meat. I can then finish it on the Big Green Egg to toast the exterior (Maillard Browning), and I've got a wonderful, safe, tasty hamburger.
More Hamburger Insight Here

Now, if you want to do the whole thing on the Big Green Egg, then you need to insert a temperature sensor (I would recommend a thermocouple device because it can take the surrounding cooking chamber temperatures OK too) into the ground beef. Start your clock at the time it reaches 135 dF, then cook for four (4) more hours at this temperature and you should be good to go. Time charts vs temperature for pasteurization are available at USDA web site.


  • JavaBenJavaBen Posts: 35
    I fixed the broken link above.
  • Little StevenLittle Steven Posts: 28,817
    Great, Thanks it was bothering me


    Caledon, ON


  • fiercetimbo17fiercetimbo17 Posts: 141
    4 hours for a burger is a lot of work, why not just grind your own meat and then you will be fine
  • The Naked WhizThe Naked Whiz Posts: 7,780
    I think it would be a lot easier to just grind your own in a food processor like Alton Brown did and then cook them the normal way.
    The Naked Whiz
  • ShwiezzeeShwiezzee Posts: 304
    +1 ;)
    I'm ashamed of what I did for a Klondike Bar.
  • WoodbutcherWoodbutcher Posts: 1,004
    You would have been up all night thinking about that one.
  • Little StevenLittle Steven Posts: 28,817
    Yes. I would have my friend :huh:


    Caledon, ON


  • HossHoss Posts: 14,600
  • JavaBenJavaBen Posts: 35
    Total LOL!
  • JavaBenJavaBen Posts: 35
    Actually, it's a long time, but not a lot of work. I'm doing something else the four hours that it's cooking.

    But your bigger point is right, and I have done that as well, and I particularly like the ability to balance the fat just the way I like it.

    This is just a different way. I can't say that it's a superior way to the method you are recommending.
  • JavaBenJavaBen Posts: 35
    One difference is I know my meat has been pasteurized. I agree that grinding my own should be safe, if we assume that the exterior of the meat has been handled and stored correctly...but that's an assumption. With the waterbath and pasteurization, there is no assumption - it has been pasteurized. That is important to me because of loss of a spleen in a motorcycle accident.

    Well, having done both, I think both are very easy. I think this way can be a little easier, because I'm just putting it into the pouches, into the waterbath, and then going and doing something else, but I don't think its superior over your suggestion, since in both cases the meat is already tender via the grind.

    One point in favor of the waterbath, is the precise temperature control. Mine will be within 1 dF uniformly, so I feel it will retain more moisture and fat, but in this case, I don't think it's a big deal.

    Just a different approach and fun to try, which is what I like to do.
  • Little ChefLittle Chef Posts: 4,725
    Java Ben: At what temp, and for how long, does it prove your ground beef is "pasteurized" please? And for how long must it be held at what temp for ground beef 'pasteurization'? I checked the USDA Site, and find absolutely nothing about pasteurizing anything other than dairy products. Could you please provide more info, and especially the link to the USDA to support this? Thanks!
  • BobSBobS Posts: 2,485
    I really don't know why we put up with the worry with contaminated food -- especially the ever popular categories of burger, eggs and veggies.

    Back in the early 80's, I lived in Mexico and the only good milk available, where we lived was irradiated and I grew to love the process. The had a 60 Minutes special (??? might have been one of the other programs) not long after the last spinach outbreak and they showed how the process worked for spinach and they showed the process and the impact on the spinach (none).
  • 407BGE407BGE Posts: 187
    I'm not sure that focusing on the Sous Vide as a "safer" way to cook is the best angle. Is is safe, sure it is. But the food safety issue in the US is not a problem for most people (if you have other health issues it may be front and center).

    I bought a circulating water bath on ebay and the only word for it is "WOW". With the exception of the Egg, it has made the biggest difference in my cooking. It, like the egg, makes things better by science.

    The egg makes things better that a cheap kettle grill through temperature control. Simply stated, the lump charcoal does not burn differently in an Egg. We however can control the temperature alot more accurately and hence cook at the temperature that we want rather than a random low / medium / high that alot of grillers try on other charcoal grills.

    Sous vide hamburgers are simply out of this world. By putting the meat in for 4 hours (it is done in an hour 1 1/2 but the extra time makes the meat even more tender) you can cook thick burgers that are medium rare from edge to edge.

    Even better is that the idea of medium rare is thrown out the window. Like the comparison of the egg to the cheapie grills about, you can cook your hamburger to a specific temperature. My circulating water bath is accurate to 1/10 of a degree and hence I've tried burgers at 125,126,127,128,129,130,131,132. Yes 1 degree in meat temperature can change the taste / consistency of a hamburger.

    For me 127 and 128 were the best, so I've settled my hamburgers at 127.5 degrees. This is a bit higher than the 125 degrees that I like for my New York Strip (again this is personal and will vary from person to person).

    Once the meat has been cooked in a plastic vacuum bag for 4 hours (can go up to 6 on the New York Strips), I put them on a cast iron grid close to the coals for 30 seconds a side for grill marks / mallard reaction on the surface of the meat.

    Does 30 seconds on the egg make a difference. Well I tried one steak on the egg and one on a cast iron pan and I could taste the difference.

    I know its easy to dismiss another kitchen cooking equipment as unnecessary, but I would take a circulating water bath 2nd after the egg.
  • snake701uksnake701uk Posts: 187
    My daughters “wrote” me a list of things to cook over the summer, based on the last few years’ experiences. Considering it is now summer and getting well hot, the first thing on the list was carne cruda, raw beef, steak tatare. I.e. Raw minced or chopped beef, RAW egg, all the spices brandy etc. I do not buy meat or eggs from supper markets etc. Only local 200% trusted suppliers. Never a problem.
    I would never cook a piece of meat until I thought it was safe. I cook it to be the best taste and texture possible. Depending on type of meat, supplier, storage, guest and any medical problem I would take safety into consideration, but it means I am not starting with quality products or guests (joke).
    There are too many variables in all of this to worry about certain things. We should worry about not what beast we eat, but what it has eaten. Or we should all cook in a temperature controlled lab!
    Interesting ideas in the link and I will try to improve my cooking (it sure needs improving).
    Of course we all have to be careful, but lets enjoy our food.
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    'pasteurize' is a term the USDA uses to refer to foods treated to kill bacteria

    You have to dig, but rather than drawing a line in the sand at 140 degrees, USDA gives alternative times at different temps. For example, 140 for x amount of time, 120 for longer.

    The trichinosis diacussion with bobbyq is a good example. Trich dies instantly at 138. But you can kill trich at 120 if you want. Just takes longer

    This is why i get hung up on the 'why and how' way more than the 'what'.

    FWIW, 'pasteurize' is used by the USDA and the industry to refer to the process of killing (or rather, trying to kill) bacteria in any foodstuff. We just see it on dairy products

    Milk is held at something like 200+ degrees for a split second and rapidly cooled. The higher temp for shorter time logic is what sous vide folks use to their advantage, only in reverse. It's perfectly safe to hold meet at 130 for hours and hours, as long as it's long enough to kill the bacteria.

    To simplify things, the USDA defaults to rules like those we hear repeated often.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • BobSBobS Posts: 2,485

    I agree with your comments, except I am not sure if you are saying that all ways used to kill bacteria are called paseturize....

    Pasteurization is a process for destroying potentially harmful microorganisms in food by applying a precise amount of controlled heat for a specified period of time. It is commonly used for milk but is also used for more than a dozen other types of foods.

    Irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food.

    Irradiated milk will last for months at room temp.

    I can assure you that irradiated spinach is like regular fresh spinach, but pasteurized spinach would be mush.
  • TheophanTheophan Posts: 2,131
    It sounds like those of you who use this sous vide technique have done your homework, but I haven't been able to find scientific data on some things, and if you could point me to some links, I'd be grateful. Here are my questions:

    1) The graphs I've seen appear asymptotic, and make it look like as the temperature drops below 130 the time it takes to kill bacteria rises astronomically. Have you found some well-established facts on, say, how long it takes to kill Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus, etc., at 125, or even 120?

    2) Some bacteria, like Clostridia and B. cereus make toxins that can poison you even if later cooking kills the bacteria. Are there solid data on whether any of these bacteria might be generating toxins during the very long time under sous vide when they haven't been killed, yet? Later high-heat grilling will NOT destroy any toxins that were generated before the bacteria were finally killed!

    The reason I'm interested, BTW, isn't to be a killjoy, but the opposite! I love medium-rare burgers, but I'm scared to make them anymore because of the dangers. Grinding one's own meat immediately before cooking can lower the risk, but nothing eliminates it. I'd love to believe there's a way make burgers that are rarer than I'm willing to cook these days.


  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    BobS wrote:
    Pasteurization is a process for destroying potentially harmful microorganisms in food by applying a precise amount of controlled heat for a specified period of time. It is commonly used for milk but is also used for more than a dozen other types of foods.

    that was my point, but you said it better.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • Jersey DougJersey Doug Posts: 460
    Alternatively, if you live anywhere near a Wegmans you can just buy their irradiated ground beef. I regularly cook it as medium rare burgers. They sell both 80/20 and 90/10. (I've never tried the 90/10.)
  • Little ChefLittle Chef Posts: 4,725
    Stike: I take issue when one refers to references with no back-up. In this case, the 'back up' is his own blog. I want to see a link where the USDA refers to 'pasteurization' of beef...that's all. And thanks for telling me what pasteurization means. I really didn't know that before. :ermm:
  • bubba timbubba tim Posts: 3,216
    Really? :woohoo: :woohoo: Bubba Tim's 1st rule of sales is: "If you are dumb enough to buy it, someone is smart enough to sell it."
    If you are that paranoid about your med rare burgers and want to go through all of that BS just to eat a burger, go fot it... :woohoo: :woohoo: :woohoo: It's just BBQ dude! I am not buying into your medthod and I suspect you are just trying to start "livley" BS on this forum.
    SEE YOU IN FLORIDA, March 14th and 15th 2014 You must master temp, smoke, and time to achive moisture, taste, and texture! Visit for BRISKET HELP
  • BacchusBacchus Posts: 6,019
    yea, like when someone says something to the affect of "my way of doing things is the best, and if you do it differently it won't be as good". The level or arrogance around here amazes me sometimes. Thankfully most members are fairly humble.
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    not sure who you are talking about.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    the word 'pasteurize' is common in the food industry, referring to (as someone posted) holding foods (not necessarily dairy) at temps of varying levels for different lengths of time to render them safe.

    i'm not weighing in on his rationale or method, just saying that 'pasteurize' has been used with regard to other foods, not just dairy.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • BacchusBacchus Posts: 6,019
    Not you. Don't think I have ever you say anything like that. Confidence is a good thing, going onto a forum with many talented cooks and spouting how you are better than them is another.
  • 407BGE407BGE Posts: 187
    Here is a link to a paper titled


    In this paper they define pasteurization is "Any process, treatment, or combination thereof, that is applied to food to reduce the most resistant microorganism(s) of public health significance to a level that is not likely to present a public health risk under normal conditions of distribution and storage."

    and goes on to state that

    "NACMCF recognizes that pasteurization does not necessarily achieve commercial sterility and many pasteurized foods must be frozen or refrigerated to preserve product quality. While some pasteurization processes are based on traditional thermal pasteurization, alternative non-thermal processes and combinations of processes and treatments for pathogen reduction can be equally effective."

    I does not have the time / temperature tables that I think would be of great help, but it does define what we are at least talking about.
  • beesbees Posts: 335
  • Little ChefLittle Chef Posts: 4,725
    I completely agree and am aware of that terminolgy and methodology. My point is, where are the facts behind his claim? I also find it ironic that he says the "new" USDA IT rec for pork is 160 dF. Kinda takes away any credibility IMO.
  • JavaBenJavaBen Posts: 35
    I'm sorry for the late response; very busy today.

    I'll check on the USDA link for you. In the meantime, here's a link with some info.

    Thanks for the interest!
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