Keep these food-safety tips in mind when preparing for a summer barbecue

“The nose is a powerful thing when it comes to keeping away food poisoning,” says Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn.

By Casey CheekJuly 9, 2024 4:32 pm, , ,

Rule No. 1 from the bestselling book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” goes without saying: Don’t poison them by accident.

Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor at Texas Monthly, has been writing about how to win friends and not poison them with barbecue. He joined the Standard with some food safety tips to keep in mind as you prepare for a summer cookout.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: I did not realize this was actually an issue, but apparently it is – you’re writing about it. How are we poisoning our friends with our barbecue? 

Daniel Vaughn: Well, you know, in many ways, possibly – hopefully not in any ways in your own backyard barbecue. But the thing is nobody wants to talk about food poisoning, but it happens, and there are some easy ways to prevent it. And just writing an article about food poisoning, as I did, and ways to avoid it is a whole lot easier than going through it. 

Where are the risks? Do they come from bringing in barbecue from some other location? Or is this something that we should just be careful about our friends falling into the pit? What exactly are the dangers as you see them? 

Well, I mean, one of the things is if you’re cooking barbecue for a crowd at home, for your friends or your family or yourself, you want to inspect the meat first and make sure that meat’s not spoiled. And the simplest way to do that is to smell it. Your nose tells you so much about the quality of the meat.

The other thing is, you know, if you’ve got a brisket, it’s probably going to be wrapped in cryovac. If that cryovac is starting to blow up like a bubble, you’ve got some serious bacteria growth in there. Throw that sucker away and get yourself a new one.

But beyond the spoiled meat, the thing is, all meat, whether it’s spoiled or not, carries some risk of contamination. So you just want to make sure that you don’t cross-contaminate – that is, you take your cooked meat that is perfectly safe and cross-contaminate it with the bacteria from that raw meat. 

» GET MORE NEWS FROM AROUND THE STATE: Sign up for Texas Standard’s weekly newsletters

You know, I got a friend – we’ll call him Bubba – and he sometimes might smell a cut of meat and think, “well, you know, not so sure.” But once you put it on the heat, it’s supposed to cook off most of the bad stuff, is it not? I mean, that’s what Bubba would say. What would you tell Bubba? 

I mean, it’s going to cook off some of the bad stuff that’s certainly on the surface there. But that’s the bad stuff that you can’t smell or, you know, see. If you can smell it, that kind of bad stuff, that flavor is not going away. That’s going to stick with you. So you want to get get rid of that. You want to toss that. 

Get rid of it. Sorry, Bubba. So what are the other dangers? One of the things that I’ve thought about was, you know, how long barbecue can hold up in the fridge. I mean, you know, you bring something home at lunchtime and maybe wait around for a while. Sometimes some of that stuff sits out. Some of that stuff goes in the fridge. What about safety on that front? 

Well, I mean, if you’re attending a backyard barbecue, you certainly are going to see a lot of meat and sides and things just hanging out on the tables, probably out in the hot sun. And that’s when you got to just keep in mind the danger zone. And that danger zone is anywhere between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. So you want to keep cold things cold and hot things hot.

So serving hot barbecue, you want to try and keep it above 140 degrees as long as you can. Now, certainly, if you’ve just got it sitting out on a cutting block and you’re serving friends, it’s probably going to get below that, and that’s okay. But you don’t want to get below that for any more than four hours. You don’t want anything sitting in that danger zone of 40 degrees to 140 degrees for more than four hours.

Also, when you’re reheating meat, or reheating things with meat in them – like the beans that once made me sick at a barbecue joint that shall remain unnamed – you want to reheat things up to that 140 degree mark. So you don’t just want to pop something in the microwave until it gets lukewarm. You want to actually heat it up to that 140-degree mark. 

Let me ask you for a rule of thumb or two here. If you are cooking your own barbecue, how long can you keep it in the fridge before you need to be concerned? I mean, if you try to smell it, you’re going to smell smoke. 

I mean, if you keep it in the fridge, you keep it properly cooled, it’s going to last for three or four days.

But again, it needs to pass that smell test for sure. You never want to eat anything, whether it’s been properly stored or not, that’s not going to pass that smell test. But then again, when you’re going to eat it, you want to properly reheat it back to that 140-degree mark at least. 

And when you say that, you’re smelling for some rancidness? 

Yeah. That’s right. And I try to teach my kids this as well. Anytime if I open a pack of, let’s say, chicken breasts that have gone bad, I want to bring them over, like, “this is the smell you’re looking for.”

Like, it is unmistakable. Like, it smells nasty and like something you do not want to eat. So, the nose is a powerful thing when it comes to keeping away food poisoning. 

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and Thanks for donating today.