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Roasting Special Holiday Meats Safely

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While most families celebrate the holidays with a turkey, there are others who prefer a nice rib roast or ham and then there are those who prefer to hunt and serve wild game. Whether it is a store bought piece of meat or poultry, or wild game that a hunter caught, there are certain food safety tips that must be followed in order for your holiday meal to be safe from foodborne illness.

Safety of Special Holiday Meats

One thing to remember when deciding what to serve for your holiday meal is that all beef, lamb, pork, veal and poultry sold at your local supermarket is inspected either by the USDA or a state inspection service. If you are serving wild game, it obviously is not inspected. Wild game must be properly handled in order to prevent bacterial contamination. It must be dressed in the field right after shooting. Once dressed, it must be chilled to 40°F or below as soon as possible and it must be kept that way until it is cooked or frozen.


People tend to spend more money on meats at the holidays so that the meat or poultry may be exceptionally tender. Roasting is the recommended method for cooking tender meats. To roast, place the meat on a rack in a shallow, uncovered pan. It is cooked by the indirect dry heat of an oven. To keep the meat tender and minimize shrinkage, a moderately low temperature of 325°F should be used.

The USDA does not recommended cooking meat and poultry at oven temperatures lower than 325°F because these foods could remain in the Danger Zone (40-140°F) too long. Bacteria which may be present on these foods multiply rapidly at these temperatures.

Boned and rolled meats require more cooking time per pound than bone-in cuts because it takes longer for the heat to penetrate through the solid meat.

Beef: Beef is leaner these days, so roasting cuts from the rib, tenderloin and eye round to medium rare keeps these roast tender and juicy.

Lamb: Some people may view lamb as a fatty meat. However, leg and loin lamb meat has a similar fat content to lean beef and pork loin when trimmed of visible fat. The “fell” is a paper-like covering on lamb and is usually removed from steaks and chops at the retail market. Leave the fell on leg roasts to help maintain shape. Cook lamb to 145°F (medium rare), 160°F (medium) or to 170°F(well done), as measured with a food thermometer.

Pork: Because hogs are leaner than they use to be, today’s pork cooks faster and can dry out when overcooked. Cook fresh pork to 160°F. Fresh pork cooked to medium doneness as measured with a food thermometer may still be pale pink inside but will be safe.

Wild Game: To remove the “gamey” flavor, soak wild meat or poultry in a solution of either 1 tablespoon salt or 1 cup vinegar per quart of cold water. Use enough solution to cover the game completely and soak it overnight in the refrigerator. Discard the soaking solution before cooking.

Wild game is leaner than its domestically raised counterpart. Trim any visible fat – that’s where the gamey flavor resides. Then roast tender cuts of venison and game birds (if skinned) covered with oil-soaked cheesecloth or strips of bacon to prevent the meat from drying out. Set them on a rack in a shallow pan and roast in the oven at 325°F.

For tenderness and doneness, whole game birds should be cooked to safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer.

Duck and Goose: Domestic ducklings have a great deal of fat. While it helps them float when swimming, fat is undesirable in a cooked duck. Therefore, it’s recommended to prick or score the skin of a whole duck before cooking so much of the fat will render out.

Although domestic geese are larger than ducks, they are cooked in the same manner. Oven cooking bags are helpful for cooking these birds because they hold the far for easy disposal and keep the oven spatter-free.

Capons and Cornish Hens: These specialty birds are chickens. Cornish hens are small broiler-fryers weighing 1 to 2 pounds. Capons are male chickens which are surgically unsexed; weighing about 4 to 7 pounds, they have generous quantities of tender, light meat. Roast them as you would any chicken.