Food Safety and honest answers

Joined Dec 20, 2008
I would like the Chef Professionals to answer the below scenario .

A guy is going to smoke a couple of pork butts, using an electric smoker with temp and time controllers.

He inserts a meat probe in the smaller butt at the start of the smoke, the other has no probe,

The cooker is cooking at 225º +/- 5 deg.

At 4 hours the smaller butt is finally at 130º, but due to some cold winds the outside ambient drops and he isn't sure what his cook temps are.  At 5 hours the smaller butt achieves 140º, he removes the probe cleans it and inserts in the larger butt, it is only at 130º.  Now he is really worried, the 4 hour danger zone is being violated twice.  An hour later or 6 hours into the smoke the larger butt achieves 140º.

Now our cooker wants to know if he continues to take his two butts up to 200º and hold their for at least 5-15 minutes, is his food safe to eat?

Now lets talk honesty.  In commercial kitchens where meat has to be thawed the same day, and big orders are coming in, yet staff is maxed out, is meat routinely left either in ovens or counter in the danger zone for 2 hours and if in the oven for 4 hours, are restaurants tossing that meat or cooking that meat in a dish where they know the temp will get over 160º, thus not wasting the meat or they just throwing out that meat that sat in the danger zone too long?
Joined Apr 3, 2008
proteins can be smoked for hours to days depending. I would think the meat described here would be okay especially if it broke the 200 mark.. 140 is a little low for my tastes ...i like the 150 to 160 mark cause I get scared.. search the smoking articles around here for more details.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Hey deltadude,

The "4 hour" rule applies to holding and not cooking; and, in the case of "low and slow" smoking, it applies more to surface than internal temps.  When you're cooking at a temp above 210F the surface temp moves above 140F quickly enough so that you should have no worries.  Indeed it's more common than not that barbecue restaurants doing large pieces like whole pork shoulders and big briskets to have internal temps between "the forties" for eight hours or more.  

I can't speak to the "restaurant practices" you cited since none of the places I worked in did anything like what you described; nor, when I catered, did I.  

Finally, I think Gunnar misunderstood what you were getting at and believed your target temperature was 140F.

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Joined Dec 20, 2008
Target temp = 200º

Thanks BDL, I know there are pathogens that can survive above 200º, but if you are unlucky enough to have a piece of meat with that pathogen, even if your meat temp was in the danger zone 40-140º only one hour, that will not kill that pathogen.  However at what temp that pathogen will not reproduce and thus truly make the meat unsafe I'm not sure.

Thanks for straightening out the issue by differentiating surface temp vs internal.  As the bad stuff will most likely be on the exterior surface and multiplying so as long as the surface achieves 140º in the prescribed time no worries.
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