By Gene Hall
Based on some of the questions I received and the comments made on my blog earlier in the week—Rachael Ray’s assumptions on burgers are trendy and wrong—it’s evident that I need to clarify.
Ray, a popular TV food star, said hamburger that is organic or grass-fed could be cooked less and, therefore, served safely “pink in the middle.” This is not true. So much of this debate is pure political correctness, but I’m talking biology.
At the time of processing, bacteria begin to come in contact with the surface of the meat. Most of it is harmless, but some, like E. coli, could be dangerous.
For steaks, this is less of a problem. Almost any contact with the grill or cooking surface will kill the surface bacteria, including E. coli, because the grill temperature is greater than 160 degrees. So, I can safely have my ribeye just the way I like it—pink in the middle.
It’s different for hamburgers. I like them pink, but there’s a risk I’m not willing to assume. When muscle cuts of beef are ground into hamburger, the surface, which has some bacteria, is ground up throughout what is now hamburger. This is true for grassfed or feedlot beef—organic or conventional.
Even if there is some bacteria in there that could be unsafe, cooking that burger well done—that is, 160 degrees in the middle—will kill most pathogens that might do you harm. The juices will run clear or check using a meat thermometer. You can find one cheap at any grocery store.
According to Rachael Ray’s promotion of her new book, she’s “been obsessed with burgers for a long time.” So have I. But she should withdraw her endorsement of underdone grassfed/organic burgers. That misguided advice, if left on the record, is potentially dangerous.