“When I’m cooking a protein and turning it with tongs, do I need to be concerned with contamination? Should I change them out at some point?”
It’s a good question that Milk Street Radio listener Stephanie from New Jersey asked hosts Christopher Kimball and Sara Moulton recently.
“Or should I just assume that since I’ve lived 50 years, I’m okay?” she added.
In response, Kimball offered a personal take: “My mother had that same food philosophy about her terrible food safety habits. She said, ‘I haven’t killed you yet,’ and that was proof positive that she was right. I don’t think that really works.”
Kimball and Moulton both agree that you should change your tongs when handling raw protein and cooked. Pathogens from raw meat could contaminate cooked meat, leaving you and your cookout guests sick. Poultry poses the highest risk here, and on that point, the hosts were unequivocal.
“If you’re going to cook chicken, I would not use the same tongs,” Kimball said.
Just as you would use a different plate for raw chicken and cooked chicken, you should use different tongs—one pair when handling raw chicken and one pair for cooked.
Though steak is less risky, it's a good idea to get in the habit of switching tongs no matter what you're cooking.
Barbecue expert Elizabeth Karmel has a clever set of tools to help here, Moulton noted: green-tipped tongs and red-tipped tongs to help keep things straight. You don’t have to buy a new set of tongs, of course, but the point stands: Use two pairs, one for raw and one for cooked.
For more, read up on the BBQ myths you should avoid (for one, stop oiling your grill grates!), and listen to Milk Street Radio to hear Kimball and Moulton answer listener cooking questions every week.
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