12 Must-Have Kitchen Tools for Safely Cooking, Preparing, and Storing Raw Meat

Cook steak, chicken, and more with confidence.

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I'm reasonably laid-back with two big exceptions: I leave for the airport way too early, and I am really strict about how I handle raw meat. The former is because I learned my lesson the hard way by missing a plane (or two). The latter is because I don't want to expose my family to a foodborne illness.

I wouldn't begin to give you advice on travel, but after more than a decade working as a food writer, I can help you build a system for buying, prepping, and cooking raw meat safely. With a little bit of preparation before the grocery store, the right kitchen tools, and an organized fridge, you can safely enjoy a steak dinner without the risk of getting sick.

Everything you need to handle raw meat safely

How to shop for and store raw meat safely

Your primary goal while grocery shopping is to get meat safely into your fridge or freezer without the possibility of cross contamination with any of your other foods. Before you head to the store, grab a reusable shopping bag, like these extra-large options from BeeGreen. Pick a color that you associate with meat because this is now the bag you'll use every time you buy ground beef, chicken breasts, or pork chops. Place an ice pack that stacks easily in the bottom of a bag to help keep meat cold (bacteria can begin to grow as soon as meat temperature rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit) until you're home. You should also bring wipes, like this travel set of Purell antibacterial hand wipes, to clean your hands after touching raw meat.

If you're planning on a leisurely shopping trip, buy everything else on your list before you grab a package of chicken thighs to serve with wild rice and grapes. That keeps meat from getting warm while you roll a cart through the aisles.

When you get home, unpack raw meat first. Instead of placing steaks or ground turkey directly on your refrigerator shelves, store on a rimmed tray to prevent juices from leaking onto produce or containers. Cuisinart's Grilling Prep and Serve Tray is made of silicone, which makes it easy to clean in the sink or dishwasher when you're done. If you're using the freezer, a vacuum sealer like the Mueller Vacuum Sealer, on sale for $60, might come in handy as you can portion out larger packages of fresh meat and freeze steaks individually. After you put away the meat, wash your hands in warm, soapy water before touching the rest of your groceries.

How to prep and cook raw meat safely

It's worth investing in a dedicated set of kitchen tools for preparing meat. Like the shopping bags, color coding can be helpful here. You can buy antibacterial plastic cutting board mats, like this Nicole Home Collection set for under $7, to use exclusively for meat. Or if you opt for a plastic or composite cutting board—both are typically dishwasher safe—look for one with a juice well, a border with a groove, that can catch runoff before it lands on your counter.

The safest way to defrost meat is overnight in your refrigerator. But if you're pressed for time, you can opt to speed up the process by immersing a frozen steak in a sealed bag in cool water.

Once you start cooking, a meat thermometer is key for knowing when your proteins are done. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cooking whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb, and pork until 145 degrees Fahrenheit, ground meats to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and poultry , leftovers, and casseroles until 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to avoid constantly looking up those temperatures, consider this handy Momo & Nashi Meat Temperature Guide Magnet for under $7, for a quick and inexpensive reminder on your fridge.

Ideally, you'll be able to carve a roast on a separate cutting board, but if you have to reuse your prep board, make sure you wash it thoroughly in warm, soapy water. Likewise, use new or clean utensils for serving.

How to properly store your meat leftovers

If you have leftovers from your steak dinner, get them into an airtight container like the Prepworks Deli ProKeeper Food Storage Container (currently 36 percent off) and inside the fridge within two hours. If you're outside or in warm weather, pack everything up within an hour. Bacteria can develop quickly when meat reaches a temperature between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. So you want to avoid letting cooked food dip into that range.

As you're packing up your leftovers, put a label on the top of your storage container with what's inside and when you cooked it. I use ScotchBlue Painter's Tape and a Sharpie Permanent Marker because I tend to have both on hand.

I try to eat leftovers during the next day, but reheating a dish within a few days is typically safe as long as you've stored it properly. Still unsure about that chicken parmesan? The CDC has a set of recommendations on how quickly you should eat raw and cooked foods that you're storing in the fridge or freezer.

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