4 Hour Rule


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Farmington, Missouri
Grill(s) owned
  1. Bull
Read an interesting article about smoking below 225 degrees in cold weather. The author suggested that in colder weather it takes longer than 4 hours for meats internal temperature to get above 140 degrees, the danger zone upper limit. And this could allow bacteria growth.

I have smoked at 200 degrees overnight in colder weather without any issues. What temperatures are you running at for overnight cooks?

All due respect to people much smarter than I but one X factor for bacterial growth is the conditions that surround the items being cooked. We used to slaughter cows and pigs and leave them hanging all day as the blood drained. Then (still outside when evenings were around 70F we would prep and package them. The kiss of death for us was flies. They are just pure nasty but we didn’t have any problems as long as the fans were blowing hard enough to keep them away. I don’t anyone to risk their lives with my foolish confidence but I have eaten food all over the world that was not prepped in the most sanitary of conditions (some was actually disgusting) and if it were properly cooked, it seemed safe to eat. When I go to Europe and Asia, they hang chickens in the window of stores on a hook and take it down when you purchase it. They also do that will hams and beef. They also don’t refrigerate eggs and sell them fresh, and don’t pasteurize dairy or add chlorine and fluorine to their water. One thing that is often overlooked is the water that the food is washed in. If dirty, too warm, or not changed often, you are asking for Montezuma’s Revenge every time. YMMV.
I once read a scientific study regarding water quality (sorry, but unable to find a current link) that talked about human tolerance to pathogens. As water quality “improved,” human tolerance toward water-borne pathogens decreased. Thus, what humans easily tolerated 100 years ago with no ill effects would likely make us quite sick today. I think a previous comment about “Montezuma’s Revenge” illustrated that point.

I’ve never been too concerned about low-temp cooks because the final internal temperature usually reaches a level where it kills the harmful pathogens. I’m more concerned about letting protein rest to low temperatures after the cook. That can largely be avoided by using insulated coolers and adding insulating materials (towels, blankets, etc.) or resting in a low-temp oven.

I'm sorry, but if the temp of the cooking chamber is 200 steady how on earth does external temp around the cooker impact time for meat to reach any given temp. That's a therrmal mass, surface area and fuel issue.. A 1/2" thick round steak will reach temp faster than a 1" round steak. A rack of ribs will reach temp faster than a pork butt but weather has nothing to do with it. Weather, cooker insulation and BTU of fuel source will impact volume of fuel it takes to maintain cooker temp at 200 as the meat cools the chamber. IMHO
Since eggs were also mentioned, eggs will last for weeks without refrigeration IF they have not been washed, which all store-bought eggs are. We have lots of barnyard egg producers around here that do it for a hobby and none of them wash the eggs for that reason.
Our son has chickens. During the winter they don’t lay as much so we don’t get a steady supply. I scrambled three eggs the other day, 2 store bought and one from our son’s chickens. Can you tell which one came from the farm?
That’s one thing I miss; really fresh eggs. Yes, they will keep for a long time, even without refrigeration, but IME they do lose flavor over time. My grandparents were in “the egg business,” as Grampa used to say. They had about 6K laying hens at their peak (all in open pens/free range) and always had FRESH eggs and chicken. I spent my summers at “the ranch” with them and still remember those wonderful scrambled eggs Gramma made. And, the fried chicken.
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I've smoked items overnight plenty of times at low (180). I do always end up turning up to 250 to finish for hours but I haven't had any issues. I would do it again. If you think about a pellet grill compared to an offset, the fans for the pellet grill are contantly pushing out the air(with smoke). All that said, my go to temp for like brisket, ribs, etc is 250. I just usually start off on low for more smoke in the beginning. And typically, I won't smoke on low (180) overnight but I have before.
I tend to pay attention to the 4 hour rule if I am using ground meat (especially poultry).

I tend to ignore the 4 hour rule if I am cooking "solid" meat. My understanding is that unless a cut is from a diseased animal, really badly processed, or badly stored, only the surface areas have been contaminated with bacteria. The magic number for holding food is 145 degrees. Even at 165 degrees smoking temperatures, the contaminated surface meat will be constantly exposed to above the 145 degree SAFES holding temperature. Notice how many jerky dehydrators have a 155 degree mark for doing the jerky. Same thing... +145 degrees.

Another exception to ignoring the 4 Hour rule is when I have pulled out the Jaccard. It will take any surface contamination and "inject" it deep into the "clean meat". Okay, I might watch the 4 hour rule if I have tenderized the meat with a Jaccard.

Switching gears from the 4 hour rule to the "Eggs" discussion. I have a bottle of Sodium Silicate solution (Water Glass). If you dip a fresh farm egg in Water Glass and let it dry, you can keep it for months (literally) unrefrigerated and it will still be as fresh as the day you dipped it when you crack it for cooking. Google "water glassing eggs" for the instructions. A lot of the instructions will suggest "pickling lime", but Sodium Silicate is the original "water glass". Neat stuff.

Okay, all for now.
v/r r
@rhouser , I agree with your 4-hour rule approach. Ground meat is a different animal (😉 pun intended) and greater care needs to be taken when cooking it. Any time solid meat has been puncture-tenderized, I treat it pretty much like ground meat.
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@Jim6820 Brings up an interesting point (pun intended). Most people use thermometers in our solid meat cooks. Do you treat your solid meat with a thermometer probe in it as ground meat?** For pork butt and brisket it doesn't matter, but what about that Prime Standing Roast. I know I don't and never thought about it until now -- I'm not going to change.

**Rhetorical question. I doubt there are many on this board (or anywhere) that cook a standing roast, beef tenderloin, etc. to 160 because of a temperature probe piercing the meat.
By “punctured,” I meant tenderized aka Jaccard. Bad choice of words on my part and I have edited my original post to be more clear. A single puncture or two from a clean thermometer probe doesn’t concern me.
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There is a guy on social media who is eating raw chicken every day until he gets a “tummy ache”. 28 days, still rolling strong.

My small personal point is, not everything will kill you in this world, even if science has found a data point stating so.
There is a guy on social media who is eating raw chicken every day until he gets a “tummy ache”. 28 days, still rolling strong.

My small personal point is, not everything will kill you in this world, even if science has found a data point stating so.
OTOH, day 29 might be his last! Salmonella is nothing to mess with. YMMV

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