How to destroy perfectly smoked pork butt

At least a couple of things at play here.

The first is even with low-and-slow, you normally get to above ~130F within a couple of hours. Then it spends many hours in the 150-190 range (the famous brisket stall). That is the area where tenderization happens anyway so there isn’t much point to spending lots of hours at 90F. When the meat surface temperature is colder is when you get the most smoke adsorption, but that only takes a couple of hours, no need to spend 6 or 8 hours at low temperature.

On the way up, even if there is bacterial growth, it will get killed once the higher temperatures are reached. Higher temperatures also denature many of the more serious chemical toxins produced by bacteria. So it is generally a much bigger problem to spend too much time in the danger zone after cooking.

Lastly, the biggest risk is surface contamination, the interior is not generally contaminated. Even if it takes hours for the interior of the meat to reach above 130 F, the outer surfaces reach that temperature quickly and prevent bacteria growth and kill it at higher temperatures. A notable caveat to this is that a lot of the cuts that are frequently cooked low-and-slow are also tenderized with a jaccard tenderizer which can push surface contamination deep into the meat. If you do this, you should be careful about it. This is especially an issue for more naturally tender meats that don’t have enough fat to withstand cooking to 195F. Meat that you are going to cook medium rare should not be jaccard tenderized – and also shouldn’t need it.

I wouldn’t let a piece of raw meat sit out on the counter for 24 hours and then cook it, but I wouldn’t worry about the 4 hour rule while it is actually in the smoker.

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Paging Chuck Tingle to the white courtesy phone!


Consolidated quote

Agreed and this is what I was getting at. (Assume a monolithic cut of meat - not ground, no interior cavity.**) That the outside of a food item is rendered safe very soon after the application of heat. That the inside was safe all along. With no outside interference, this would be safe to eat after cooking much much later at any temperature. Chinese BBQ pork, yum. It is the re-introduction of the original contaminated surfaces that are the problem. Cutting boards, knives and tongs used for raw prep, unwashed hands, splatter.

** Fish and poultry, eh, gross. Fish is cooked minimally at its best, and poultry has all those nooks inside to hide bacteria. Rolled and trussed cuts could be an issue too.


I think we are in agreement with everything except this. If the bacterial load once cooked is minimal, the food should be counter stable for a long time. Results vary, hence the conservative and easily understood rules.


They absolutely are, and are called out as such in most health codes and food handling certifications. Anything that may move contamination from the surface to the interior of a piece of food impacts safe handling and cooking temps.

If it is stored in a suitably sanitized or sterilized package.

Like you said surface contamination is the problem. But that contamination doesn’t just exist there.

The contamination that’s already on meat is transferred from the gut or skin, the field etc during processing.

Or from hands, tools, containers, work surfaces.

It’s all transferred. Mostly from your butt or their butt. Sometimes from soil. The same is true of veg.

So unless everything you handle it with, or store it in is just as sanitary as the food itself it’ll reintroduce bacteria. Which will proliferate if the temp is in the danger zone.

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Um y’all he has the power to reheat it and repasteurize it. I’m not saying that you’re not textbook about food handling procedures (you are) or that a restaurant should serve up some brisket after it sat out all night (they shouldn’t). But for a delicious shoulder you spent fourteen hours smoking… come on. IMO it’s a (tiiiiny) risk worth taking.


BBQ season for me ends at 11:59 pm on Dec 31 and picks right back up at 12:01 am on Jan 1.


Not everything that bacteria produce can be destroyed by heat, or the amount of heat you’ll be using to reheat leftovers. Particularly botulism toxin. Listeria is also pretty tenacious.

Probably more pertinent though is that even if you can render it safe (or safe enough). Doesn’t mean it’ll be palatable.

Having done pretty much the same thing. And smelled wut I done.

7 hours is a bit too long on a piece of BBQ.

Yeah, that’s a more succinct version of what I was trying to communicate.

That doesn’t work. If it did, you would never have to worry about leaving leftovers out (you could do it for days!) as long as you reheat it to pasteurization temps again.

Quick primer here:

“rule of fours” that @AnthonyI posted above, as a measure of total time in that range over the lifetime of the food, is the way to go.

Lots of people don’t do this, and lots of people get mild cases of food poisoning from it, spend time in the restroom, and eventually recover. Some don’t, some get really sick. Some die. It’s all about how much risk you want to take for yourself and your loved ones. This pandemic has shown that that amount varies by the individual (and by beliefs). The effect on you and your loved ones may vary, but the science is pretty sound here.


It is the temperature of the environment, as well, not the temperature of the food itself, as the food temps drop. 4 hrs in a 250F smoker, even if the meat is 38F-120F for all 4 hours itself will not allow surface bacteria to reproduce or transfer very well. Anything internal will die as the meat comes up to temp and is held there over time by the stall. That same 205F meat can come down to 140F sitting covered in a bowl very quickly if sitting in a 70F room. After 7 hours it was outside my risk/reward zone.

I had another oddly shapen 3.5lb boneless pork butt to thaw, so pulled pork is in my future.


If you (like me) are confused about the temperatures, here’s the ranges in Celsius:

40°F-140°F means 4°C-60°C, and the smoker temperature of 250°F mentioned above is about 120°C


To tackle this from the other direction: for bbq I’ve learned after many failures that involved ordering pizza, I’ve given up trying to time it for the meal. I plan to have it finish long before and hold it at temp. If you’re smoking a brisket to 200°F it will stay a long time above 140°F wrapped in foil, a towel, and in a cooler. I see people claiming 8-10 hours online but I’ve never gone anywhere near that long. You’ll be resting it anyway so it comes down to a reasonable temp to eat.


I would save and eat it. Since you cooked it so long and well all the bacteria in will be deceased. Especially if you did not contaminate it with anything dirty. It would be a waste to trash it.

Genuine question here – other than botulinum, can you tell me more about what side-effects of spoilage would be toxic after re-heating to safe internal temps?

And, followup, my understanding is that botulinum is a product of anaerobic spoilage and basically only happens in sealed jars or cans. Are there cases of botulism poison that aren’t related to failed preservation?

You don’t need to even get into “side effects”. And much of what we’re talking about isn’t spoilage per se, but contamination. Listeria can survive temps up to 150F (65c), and Campylobacter (one of the more common causes of food borne illness) up to 160f (70c).

Entirely fresh food can be contaminated with these.

Spoilage is a slightly different concern. And can include rancidity of fats. Molds, many of which leave behind some nasty, and decay bacteria which are actually “rotting” the food.

Not “anaerobic spoilage”. Anaerobic, low acid environments. This might include below the surface of a pot of soup or stock. Especially since boiling/simmering tends to drive out oxygen, or where a solidified cap of render fat effectively seals the top. Or inside cooked ground meat. Botulism is a massive risk with sausages of various types. With storage for any length of time, processing/smoking at low temp, or dry curing time requiring the use of nitrates to tamp it down.

Botulism is also not a spoilage product, it is a soil bacteria that enters the food through cross contamination. Yes there are cases unrelated to cans, or “failed preservation”, as you can encounter the toxin where it lives, in dirt. Albeit rarely.

No amount of heating is bringing back or “cleaning” full on spoiled food. In that case you are talking about decay, breakdown of components. Putrefaction. With all it’s attendant leavings and byproducts. Many of which can make you ill.

Proper reheating can technically destroy those contaminating bacteria we worry about. But not neccisarily their spores (which is why botulism can come back without cross contamination). And routine reheating often doesn’t hit the marks to destroy the more tenacious bacteria, like like listeria and campylobacter.

How many people are being super careful to make sure the food they accidentally left out too long gets heated passed 160f for the required amount of time? How many are popping it in the microwave for just long enough to make it nicely warmed for eating?

It isn’t going to destroy many of the nasty things that can be left behind. Botulinum for example requires boiling at 100c for a full 15 minutes to destroy the toxin. Some for some of shit molds can produce.

Both things progress rapidly in that 40-140f range. It’s the temp range where all of these things reproduce and spread the quickest.


What a terrible waste.

Thanks for the details! I have experienced Campylobacter once and hope not to repeat the experience – your explanation helps explain how I got it (I’m pretty sure it was from a rotisserie that produced a chicken that was visibly ‘cooked’ but may well have never made it over 70F).

Cooking food safely is a different subject than holding or storing food safely.

A lot of the numbers were talking about are “instant” temps. Campylobacter is dead within a minute at 170. But…

The interior of a chicken does not neccisarily need to be cooked to 170 (or 180 the usual USDA safe mark). You can safely cook chicken as low as 145f so long as the interior, especially the cavity is held at that temp for at least 30 minutes.

Additionally with a whole chicken (or chicken piece) we’re still talking surface contamination. With most cooking, it’s pretty unlikely the surface doesn’t hit 170. It wouldn’t get browned otherwise. And with rotisserie there’s a hot metal rod running through it, or the cavity open and unstuffed. So it’s pretty likely the cavity hit the mark too.

The thing is though with rotisserie it’s pretty much default to hold food at temp for service. It’s not a quick cooking method, so it can’t be done ala minute.

Usually what’s done is either the oven is switched to a holding temperature or the chickens are pulled and held in a hot box.

And we’re back to safe holding rules. You can’t hold food at cooking temp indefinitely, or at 170 and above. It’ll overcook and dry out. Usually such food is held at around140 and it’s tossed/replaced or repurposed before it hits the 4 hour mark.

What probably happened is the chicken that made you sick was held too cool, or too long.

A lot of what I’m trying to get at is these contamination bacteria are everywhere. And nothing is made in a clean room. It doesn’t have to be,on the food before we cook it. Safely cooked food can become unsafe based on how it’s handled after.


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