The Heated Issue Of Meat

Tim Tibbits (photo Mark Da Cunha)

Before I moved back to the Bahamas I had been working as a chef for nearly 15 years in Canada. In that time, I could count the amount of times someone ordered their meat cooked well done on two hands.

Since moving back to the Bahamas I cook about that many well done orders every week. Why is that? I feel like I’m missing something. As with everything we do at Flying Fish, we take this matter to science to explain why you can get more out of your dining experience if you don’t order well done meat.

The most common reason given for ordering well done food is “I don’t want to see any blood.” The reality is that you can’t see any blood, regardless of how you cook meat.

Meat, by its very definition, doesn’t have any blood in it. Draining of the blood is the first process in converting muscle to meat. If blood remained in the food we eat it could become highly toxic as blood is very volatile.

The liquid you see on your plate when you cut into that beautiful medium rare steak is actually water. The color comes from a protein called Myoglobin. Myoglobin is an iron and oxygen binding protein found in the muscle tissue of vertebrates in general and in almost all mammals. It is related to hemoglobin, which is the iron and oxygen binding protein in blood, specifically in the red blood cells. Myoglobin forms pigments responsible for making meat red.

The color that meat has is partly determined by the oxidation states of the iron atom in Myoglobin and the oxygen species attached to it. When meat is in its raw state, the iron atom is in the +2 oxidation state, and is bound to a dioxygen molecule (O2). Meat cooked well done is brown because the iron atom is now in the +3 oxidation state, having lost an electron, and is now coordinated by a water molecule.

Another reason I am given would be to lower the risk of illness caused by under-cooked meat.

The health risks associated with eating well done meat are much higher along with the nutritional benefit being reduced to nearly zero.

Researchers have found that eating well-done or very well done meat has increased the rate of cancers, specifically colorectal, bladder and prostate cancers by more than 80 percent over non-well done meat.

The type of heat used also plays a part in the health risk. Slow steady cooking by roasting, braising, or cooking “sous vide” produce the lowest health risk in well done meats while high heat pan frying and grilling produce the highest.

For many years, the USDA has been giving guidelines to consumers as to how you should cook for safety reasons. Now that logic is changing. Well done meat does not protect you against foodborne illness any more than medium cooked meat. And that means ALL MEAT! Not just beef but pork, chicken, turkey, fish and anything else that at one point was alive.

The science is simple. Temperature alone is a bad method of determining a food’s safety. There must always be a combination of time and temperature to determine the actual safety of any food.

For example, a piece of pork loin under previous USDA regulations should have been cooked to 165 degrees F. Now, the reality is if you were to cook this same piece of pork to an internal temperature of 120 degrees F for 21 hours sous vide, it would be completely safe to eat as the pathogens it could be harboring would not survive that combination of time and temperature. You could also cook it to 130 degrees F for 30 minutes to achieve the same result. Or finally, cook to 142 degrees F for one minute to achieve the same result. No pathogen can survive longer than one minute at temperatures above 144 degrees F, meaning that every degree above that you take your meat you are essentially wasting time, energy, flavor and nutritional value.

Currently, to reinforce this point, USDA regulations for all meat have changed to 144 degrees F. The USDA has in fact come out in its latest report stating that its temperature suggestion for chicken was not based on the safety concern but on how it perceived the public to like their chicken cooked.

Imagine a government agency telling you how you like your meat! I, for one, do not like my food dry, tough and flavorless. The only exception I have to this rule is store purchased ground beef. The difference is that ground beef presents a lot more surface area for pathogens to adhere to making it more dangerous to eat raw.

Now, if you grind your own meat to order there should be no issue with cooking it under the well done stage. It will possess a lot more juiciness and flavor and since you ground it yourself it likely will be of higher quality than store bought.

So why do people insist on cooking their meat to oblivion? I don’t know the answer to that question but here is my two cents.

Well done meat is pointless. It has no flavor, a shoe leather type texture, and no remaining succulence. It also, as I stated before, has no nutritional value and is basically dangerous for your health.

Most of this is cultural. I know that. The Japanese eat chicken raw, dipped at the table in a hot broth called Shabu-Shabu. The French, Spanish, Turkish, Greeks, Italians and even African nations, along with many others, all have their versions of raw meat preparations. All of these cultures are old, food-based cultures with deep historical roots in food history.

Perhaps the Bahamas could learn a thing or two from them. We do, in fact here, eat our conch raw! Why not meat? At Flying Fish we cook all our meats Sous Vide. It is the best way to achieve the perfect color, texture, flavor combination we want to achieve.

Each specific meat has its own optimum cooking time and temperature combination for perfection. We have tested and retested these combinations to come up with these numbers. Anything other than the suggested preparation is really detrimental to the finished product.

Because of amount of time and effort we put into the research to produce the quality we seek, it’s also kind of frustrating to the kitchen staff. That being said, it is still after all your dinner and we will prepare it how you wish. But, the next time you order meat at Flying Fish, think to yourself “If I’m going to try it somewhere, what better place than here!”

Here are some of our time and temperature combinations for meats.

Chicken Breast: 142F for 75 minutes

Chicken Thighs:: 147F for 4 hours

Beef Striploin: 128F for 75 minutes

Beef Tenderloin: 128F for 75 minutes

Beef Ribeye: 128F for 4 hours

Lamb Rack/Loin: 136F for 1 hour

Duck Breast: 133F for 50 minutes

Lobster: 127F for 45 minutes

There are many sources on the internet that can give you even more options for time and temperature combinations for various types of meats, fish, poultry and even eggs. Use them to help guide you to a healthier and tastier way to cook and eat. And as always, if you’d like to continue this conversation you can contact me at chef at and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

On a side note, I was in the airport in Fort Lauderdale the other day and a lovely woman came up to me and expressed how much she was enjoying my articles. I was very happy to hear that and it made me think I would like to reward my readers for their loyalty.

So, if you bring in one of my articles with you to Flying Fish any weeknight you will receive a free drink with your meal. That’s my way of saying thank you for reading. Hope to see you soon.

By Tim Tibbitts / Chef and Restaurant Owner
Source: Freeport News