Nothing ruins a Memorial Day barbecue faster than someone getting violently ill on your brand new patio furniture.  Avoid that mess by refusing to let people eat this one thing.

Have you ever wondered why it's okay to eat rare steak, but it's not okay to eat a raw hamburger?  It's all beef, right?  Well, the experts say it all boils down to the preparation process.

It turns out that steak isn't compromised all that much on the trip between the butcher shop and the grill.  The meat is sliced in thick chunks and the middle of the steak doesn't see the light of day until we cut into it at home.  Hamburger, on the other hand, goes through a grinding process that can be pretty extensive, and there's a risk that bacteria can find its way into the meat from all of the different surfaces along the way.

One chef told Reader's Digest that, “Usually pathogens are found on the surface of the muscle tissue, so once you start grinding up the meat, you’re dispersing the pathogens throughout more of the meat beyond the surface.”    Ew!

Once pathogens get into the meat, it becomes extra important that the meat is fully cooked, and that we use a meat thermometer to make sure.  The burger should reach 160 degrees internally before we take it off the grill.  The cooking process can kill the bacteria, and eating hamburger raw, on the other hand, ups the risk for a bad stomach ache and, well, ruining the patio furniture with what comes next.

My grandma used to pinch off a little raw hamburger and put some salt and pepper on it and pop it into her mouth like it was popcorn.  It always grossed me out, but she loved it and apparently had a stomach of steel.  She's 98 now and survived that and many other questionable food choices like liver and onions and chicken gizzards, and although I want to follow in her footsteps in many ways, food selection is not one of them.  She is also grossed out by my kale and quinoa salads, I'm certain of it.

This will be one of the biggest grilling weekends of the year, and it will be a blast as long as no has to make a quick exit after eating one of our award-winning burgers.  Strong onions and beer won't help, but fully cooking that burger might.  And with steak, those nasty pathogens are apparently just on the surface, and as long as the outside is seared, the steak can be safely eaten while the inside is still pink and in some cases, barely warm.

If all else fails, chips and salsa and some good ole Texas guacamole will save the day.  We'll have plenty of that handy too.  Have a great, food-poisoning-free Memorial Day!