Should You Rinse Meat Before Cooking?

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, he's just crying for it, you claim.

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! 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 — 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.

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.

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.

Then there are those of you who like soaking poultry, pork, and beef in salt water or plain water. "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.

So 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, get your meat on with some of these recipes:

1. Vietnamese Shaking Beef with Filet Mignon

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.

2. Adobo-Marinated Chicken Tacos

With chicken, it's often all about the marinade. Chicken thighs sit in a smoky, flavor-packed sauce made in a blender in this tantalizing take on tacos. Get our adobo-marinated chicken tacos recipe.

3. Grace Young's Stir-Fried Ginger Beef with Sugar Snaps and Carrots

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 our Grace Young's stir-fried ginger beef recipe.

4. Baked Chicken Breast Nuggets

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.

5. Slow Cooker Pork Ramen

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.

— Original article by Joyce Slaton in 2012; updated by Amy Sowder.

— Header Image: TheWoksofLife.com

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