To Rinse or Not? The Great Meat Washing Debate

For those of you from other parts of the world who may not know me personally, I teach cooking classes - private lessons, groups, cooking dinner parties, healthy eating through Operation Frontline, and classes for school kids. (Pssst: If you are in the Denver area and need help preparing your Thanksgiving side dishes, my next class is Tuesday 11/24 from 1-3 and you'll take home all your sides ready to go - Roasted Cranberry Relish, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potato Casserole with Chives, Savory Sweet Potato Gratin, Sage and Apple Dressing with Mushrooms, Apple Cider Turkey Brine. Call me to sign up!)Sorry for the diversion and back to the topic at hand. In all of those cooking classes, one of the things I'm most regularly asked is whether it's necessary to rinse off meat and poultry before cooking it. I've always quickly answered no, but then today for some reason just though I'd see what the ultra conservative USDA says, and wouldn't you know for once they agree with me?
They say "There is no need to wash or rinse meat or poultry," and you can download their brochure with more information. (Note: they are still adamant that it's necessary to rinse all vegetables well.)
What is important about preparing meat to cook is to pat it dry first. In order to get a good sear on meats and caramelize them, they need to be dry. If they are wet they will sort of simmer or poach in their own liquid and it's tougher to get them to brown. I always use paper towels to pat dry as I can throw them out (compost pile) and not risk cross contamination with other things in the kitchen. If you want to save trees, you can also pat dry with a clean kitchen towel, but then you'll need to stick that immediately into the wash. I used to rinse my turkey because I was adding stuffing to the cavity, but that's all changed. Now my technique is to brine the bird for a couple of days, rinse off the salty brine water (rinsing here is to remove extra salt water, not to sanitize the meat), roast it unstuffed, and cook dressing in a side dish which I drizzle with turkey drippings. You'll get a better result this way, I promise. Not sure about all that? Come to the cooking class on the 24th!

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