Should you rinse chicken, steak, pork, or other meat before you cook it? No! The question stems from sanitary concerns, but there are also quality implications.
It can be so tempting when you yank your glistening, bloody T-bone from its sealed plastic package with a snap, or unwrap that crimson lamb chop from the butcher paper like it’s a gift. The urge overtakes many of you, especially when you wrest a shiny bird from its shrink-wrap. That chicken is so slick, it must be absolutely necessary to rinse it off (you might think).
But no. Just no. Do not rinse your raw beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, or veal before cooking it, says the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. But there’s icky stuff on there, you cry! Again, just no. If we could reach through the Internet to slap your hand away from the kitchen sink faucet, we would. You want motivation? The very reason you’re rinsing meat—to clean it—is actually making the problem worse. Cooks who rinse their raw animal proteins are increasing the risk of cross-contamination.
Just imagine all those little buggies flying off your meat as you rinse, latching onto the water molecules of the microscopic mist, and landing in your open mouth or nostrils, on the counters beside the sink, and on your clothes. Ewww. Any bacteria lurking on meat when it comes out of the package will die during cooking. Sadly, you can’t say the same for your sink, counters, utensils, or cutting board, all of which should be washed with hot, soapy water, rinsed, and then air- or paper-towel-dried after being in contact with meat. Julia Child, countless other chefs, and respected recipes that tell you otherwise are wrong. They just are.
Another reason not to rinse: Excess moisture on meat’s surface thwarts the Maillard reaction, the intricate chemical process that occurs when carbohydrate molecules react with amino acids, yielding the coveted sear on that steak. The interchange between the two produces hundreds of different chemicals, explains Harold McGee in his book “On Food and Cooking:” “pyrroles, pyridines, pyrazines, thiophenes, thiazoles, and oxazoles,” which give a brown color to the meat along with rich, complex flavors. The Maillard reaction begins at approximately 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Water, which turns to vapor at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, simply won’t get hot enough to allow the Maillard reaction to occur. That means a watery piece of meat won’t start browning until all the water is cooked off, but by that time your T-bone might already be well done.
Soaking meat in a highly seasoned brine is one thing, and is mostly all about flavor, but there are some who like soaking poultry, pork, and beef in salt water or plain water for various other reasons. “This is a personal preference and serves no purpose for food safety,” the USDA says. Keep the meat or poultry in the refrigerator if you choose to do this, and be careful to prevent cross-contamination when soaking and removing the meat from the water. For people on a sodium-restricted diet, there isn’t any benefit to washing or soaking country ham, bacon, or salt pork either. Very little salt is removed by washing, rinsing, or soaking a meat product. The USDA does not recommend it.
To be on the safe side, the USDA’s food safety service recommends using a food thermometer. “It’s the only sure way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria,” USDA food safety experts say. Cook all raw beef and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For safety and quality (if you cut the meat too soon, you lose all those delectable juices!), allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
So in summation, no, don’t rinse meat. In fact, once you lift it out of the butcher paper or wrench it from the shrink-wrap, you should dry off any existing moisture carefully with paper towels before putting it in the pan to brown. Then throw the towels away. And wash your hands really, really well, for a full 10 seconds.
Now that you know what not to do, get your meat on with some of these recipes:
Diversify your steak handling techniques. This tender meat gets a shake-up with just a few ingredients that aren’t hard to find. Get our Vietnamese Shaking Beef with Filet Mignon recipe.
With chicken, it’s often all about the marinade. For these tacos, chicken thighs sit in a smoky, flavor-packed sauce made in a blender before being grilled and stuffed into corn tortillas. Get our Adobo-Marinated Chicken Taco recipe.
Related Reading: Everything You Need to Know About Grilling Meat
Remember, don’t rinse the 12 ounces of flank steak you’re going to use for this gingery, deliciously crunchy meal that’s quick enough for a weeknight dinner. Get Grace Young’s Stir-Fried Ginger Beef with Sugar Snaps and Carrots recipe.
Children love them, and admit it, so do you. This is healthier, and much more delicious nugget than those freezer and fast-food versions. You gotta make the ranch dressing too. Get our Baked Chicken Breast Nuggets recipe.
If there’s still a nip in the air, heck, even if it’s sweltering outdoors, you still should make this ramen. Not being able to find good ramen noodles is no excuse. Get our Slow Cooker Pork Ramen recipe.