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Jun 29, 2010 07:30 PM

Recipe for BBQ disaster, from Harold McGee of NY Times

Bad recommendations here. Cooking pork ribs between 135F and 160F oven temperature for hours, eaters will gnaw on tough ribs at best, or heave and poop into a toilet for days at worst (presuming survival). What kind of cook would write this????? Extended exposure to a temperature of at least 200F is necessary for tender meat. Any restaurant which subjects meat to just 135F would face health-code violations and food-poisoning liability.

".......The lower the meat’s temperature, the less moisture it loses, but the longer its connective tissue takes to dissolve, too. You can get very juicy ribs by cooking them at 135 degrees, but making them tender takes two or three days. At 160 degrees, you get tender ribs in 10 to 12 hours. At 170 to 180 degrees, the meat is noticeably dryer, but the cooking time is a more manageable 6 to 8 hours...."

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  1. Harold McGee has probably *forgotten* more about food science than any of us will ever know. and if you had posted the continuation of that excerpt, he also stated that his actual experiment involved cooking them at higher temperatures.

    "I start cooking ribs in the oven at around 200 degrees if they’re wrapped in foil, and unwrapped ribs at 225 degrees to compensate for the cooling effect of evaporation from the exposed meat surface. These temperatures bring the inner meat temperature up to around 170 degrees in 3 to 4 hours. Then I turn the oven down to 170-180 degrees to hold that temperature for another 2 to 3 hours, or until the connective tissue has softened. "

    even at the lower temperatures, at the extended times he mentioned the meat WILL reach at least 145 degrees. as long as the meat is clean and from a trusted source, no one's getting sick.

    2 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      +1. McGee doesn't recommend cooking the ribs at 135-160 degrees, he just presents the cooking time necessary at such low temperatures to get tender meat. If anything, he is discouraging cooking at such a low temperature by emphasizing the time requirements.

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        First-time poster by the way. An unusual foot to get off on ;-)

      2. Stick to wine.

        If a pathogen can survive temperatures of 170 degrees f for five hours then it deserves to live but I doubt anything you find on a rib will able to achieve this feat.

        5 Replies
        1. re: bookhound

          I believe the OP said 135, not 170; 135F is indeed too low for current recommendations (~160 degrees for internal temperature of meat)

          1. re: orthorunner

            Thank you for reading what the writer wrote. {8-)

            1. re: WineHunter

              It is you that really needs to read more carefully. McGee never recommends cooking ribs at 135°. He provides that as an absurd extreme. Do you really think he is seriously telling you to cook ribs at 135° for two to three days?

            2. re: orthorunner

              I believe McGee is referencing cook times based on sous vide cooking when he mentions temps as low as 135. Various tough cuts of meat have been cooked effectively and safely at such low temperatures - at such low temperature collagen does in fact break down into gelatin, but it takes longer and this is all that McGee was referring to. I've cooked beef short ribs at this temperature for two days - works great. I've also cooked pork shoulder at ~144 for 24 hours, finishing on a hot smoky grill. Came out amazing.

              It is safe to cook at these temperatures in a water bath for most meats - beef, seafood and some types of poultry can be safely cooked at 131 F, but for pork 137 is usually the cited lowest temp that effectively kills trichinosis, which is exceptionally rare in commercial American pork anyway. Outside of a water bath - in an oven - 135 f would be dangerously low cooking temperature because heat transfer in air is much less efficient than it is in water.

              At any rate, mentioning a cooking temp of 135 f was clearly meant to be an acedemic point of interest rather than a real suggestion in the context of the rest of the article.

              ~160 degrees internal temperature for meat is unnecessary for most meats in most situations (do you really eat all your steaks well done?) It is an okay-ish guideline for whole baked chicken.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                +1. Precisely. The "danger zone" doesn't work the same way when "clean" meat is vacuum sealed before being subject to the low end temp.

          2. The article is about using the grill to cook ribs wisely - and using the oven to augment or even to use it on its own, because you can't cook enough ribs properly on a standard grill.

            "It’s much easier to barbecue well in a smoker, a kind of cooker that’s specifically designed to provide low indirect heat, or on a large grill that can keep all the meat a good eight inches or more from the heat. But because I barbecue only occasionally and don’t plan to upgrade my basic grills anytime soon, I’ve settled on a hybrid approach to ribs. I cook them low and slow in the oven and then give them a brief finishing hit of high heat or smoke on the grill."

            He discusses several possibilities throughout the article. He's making a point in that paragraph you select - one that you obviously missed. Super low and slow means more moist, but impractically longer cooking times. You CAN cook them at 135, to get them even juicier but that's not at all what he actually does or recommends anywhere in this article. What he does recommend is in the paragraph that GHG already quoted.

            I see nothing here that contradicts the well accepted tenets behind the science of cooking ribs. Low and slow, indirect - works well in the oven alone with a couple of smoke replacement solutions, or finish on the grill. He's not telling anybody to cook ribs at 135.

            1. Okay, editing here...

              Harold McGee has been fairly described as "the preeminent authority on science in the kitchen." Before you start claiming that he doesn't know what he's talking about, perhaps you'd be well-served to inform yourself a little better.

              You are simply mistaken when you state that "[e]xtended exposure to a temperature of at least 200F" is necessary for tender meat. Look at all the chefs serving medium-rare and meltingly tender sous vide short ribs these days. They've been cooked at 135-145F for a day or two (or more). The connective tissue in the meat breaks down slowly at these temperatures, but it does break down.

              The notion that 135F temperatures are unsafe is similarly mistaken. In fact, according to the US government pasteurization tables, red meat undergoes a 6-log reduction in common pathogens, and is therefore considered pasteurized, when it is held at an internal temperature of 130F for 112 minutes. Again, this is a lengthier process than higher-heat applications (you get a 6-log reduction in less than a second at 160F), but at the end of the process, the bugs are just as dead.

              It's not clear why you felt compelled to post such a strongly-worded critique of McGee's article. What is clear is that you should get solid information before the next time you start posting criticisms that have no basis in scientific fact.

              1. I know this is an old thread, but I have smoked four whole racks of spareribs, 5 lbs. each, 20 lbs. total on a standard 22" Weber kettle grill. Rib racks make it easy to use a Weber as a smoker. I've also smoked two 12 lb. pork shoulders on a Weber.

                If I wanted one just one device for both grilling and smoking, it would be a 22" Weber.

                5 Replies
                1. re: John E.

                  I'll take an Imodium and be right over !


                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    Ok, I understand your post is humor, but I don't get it. Does your digestive system have trouble with BBQ pork ribs and pulled pork?

                    1. re: John E.

                      No . My humor bad .

                      Thread devolved into danger zone discussion.

                      Your recent and luckily somewhat disconnected post about ribs.

                      I weirdly and immediately connected the two in a dumb joke . Take immodium before rating ribs .

                      Normally pulled pork and ribs give me no trouble . The only food I know that debilitates me are Fenway Franks sold in the park .

                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        "Your recent and luckily somewhat disconnected post about ribs."

                        I don't remember such a post, could you remind me? (I'm not attempting to be difficult, I really am baffled as to the reference.)

                        1. re: John E.

                          Because the thread is (erroneously) about how dangerous low and slow cooking of pork is, and your post had nothing to do with that. It was just sort of a non-sequitur.