Meat temperature, not the color or texture of the cooked meat, is the proper way to determine whether your food is thoroughly cooked. For example, we’re all taught that chicken must be white to indicate it’s done (as opposed to raw pink), but meat temperature is the true guide of safety.
“Meat and poultry may carry E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Toxoplasmosis, Trichinella spiralis, and Listeria. Fish and seafood may carry Vibrio cholerae and hepatitis A,” advises the University of Illinois Extension Office. “Thorough cooking is required to kill these disease-causing agents. The only way to know if meat is thoroughly cooked is to take the temperature of the meat.”
Most symptoms of illness from undercooked food include diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Depending upon the bacteria you ingest, you may develop swelling, chills, fever, or even die. If you eat undercooked meat with trichinosis, you will be ingesting worm larvae. So, get out and cook that meat—and keep keep that thermometer close by!
It’s Not Just the Meat Temperature
Because raw meat can harbor bacteria, it’s a matter of safety to not only wash your hands before you handle the food, but afterward too. Warm, soapy water and a thorough hand-cleaning is an absolute necessity. The same goes for any surface or utensil the meat may have touched.
“Because bacteria can spread easily, prepare the meat on a surface that’s separate from all other cooking materials,” the University of Illinois Extension Office adds. “Keep vegetables and other ingredients away from meat, especially if you aren’t cooking them together in the same dish. Try to use separate cutting boards, clean all cooking utensils after they touch raw meat, and use different utensils to serve food after you’ve prepared it.”
Meat Temperature Devices
Meat thermometers aren’t just steel sticks with an analog thermometer on top anymore. The digital meat thermometer is believed to be more accurate and easier to use. We went to several ratings websites (yourbestdigs.com, businessinsider.com, toptenreviews.com) to determine which thermometer is best to gauge our meat temperature. The digital products CDN ProAccurate Thermometer DTQ450X ($18.99), Lavatools Javelin PRO ($49.99), Lavatools PT12 Javelin Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer ($24.99) topped these sites’ reviews. Why? Speed, accuracy, and ease of use.
And, no, your candy thermometer isn’t a meat thermometer because it won’t pierce through the meet deeply enough to get an accurate internal meat temperature. And, vice versa, your meat thermometer can’t measure high enough (usually it only goes to about 200°F) to be used when making candy. A candy thermometer measures up to 400°F. Your kitchen needs both tools.
How to Determine Meat Temperature
To get an accurate reading of your meat temperature, a meat thermometer must be placed in the thickest part of the meat (not the fat or bone). Use the thermometer at the end of the recommended cooking time to get the meat temperature. Be sure you leave the thermometer in the meat for the thermometer’s recommended time.
Many recipes advise a “rest time” for your meat before serving. This is important for taste and texture (and far better than undercooking it). “If given the time to rest, the meat will lose less juice when you cut it and when you eat it the meat will be juicier and tastier,” says beefandlamb.au.com. “The time taken to rest will depend on its size, a roast is best rested for 10 to 20 minutes before carving. Steaks or chops should stand for five minutes (but no less than three) before serving. A rule of thumb used by some chefs is one minute resting time for every 100 g (about a quarter pound) of meat.”
So, How Hot Should It Be?
The USDA’s recommended internal meat temperature chart is the gold standard for ensuring that meat is safe to eat (see chart below). However, some cooking experts will “cheat” a little on the meat temperature in favor of the best flavor and texture. That’s your decision. Meat temperature—and meat wellness—is surely a personal thing.
However, “we should emphasize that extra caution must be exercised when cooking for at-risk groups, particularly the elderly, children under 7 and the immuno-compromised. In such cases, we suggest the USDA guidelines be strictly followed,” advises the FoodNetwork.com.
“From a safety perspective, hotter temperatures at the center of the meat are safer. However, safe cooking temperatures vary for different types of meat,” according to Healthline.com.
That said, you may not want to overdo your meat temperature either. Preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2018 showed a relationship between cooking temperature, method, doneness, and high blood pressure.
“The chemicals produced by cooking meats at high temperatures induce oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin resistance in animal studies, and these pathways may also lead to an elevated risk of developing high blood pressure,” said Gang Liu, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
The study identified a trend, but that does not prove cause and effect. The findings are limited because data came from questionnaires that did not include certain types of meats (such as pork and lamb), certain cooking methods (such as stewing and stir-frying), and the participants were all health professionals and mostly Caucasian.
“Our findings suggest that it may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure if you don’t eat these foods cooked well done and avoid the use of open-flame and/or high-temperature cooking methods, including grilling/barbecuing and broiling,” Liu said. That may not be fact yet, but it’s surely food for thought.
Minimum Safe Cooking Temperatures
|Category||Food||Temperature (°F)||Rest Time|
|Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures||Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb||160||None|
|Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb||Steaks, roasts, chops||145||3 minutes|
|Poultry||Chicken & Turkey, whole||165||None|
|Poultry breasts, roasts||165||None|
|Poultry thighs, legs, wings||165||None|
|Duck & Goose||165||None|
|Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird)||165||None|
|Pork and Ham||Fresh pork||145||3 minutes|
|Fresh ham (raw)||145||3 minutes|
|Precooked ham (to reheat)||140||None|
|Eggs & Egg Dishes||Eggs||Cook until yolk and white are firm||None|
|Leftovers & Casseroles||Leftovers||165||None|
|Seafood||Fin Fish||145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.||None|
|Shrimp, lobster, and crabs||Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque.||None|
|Clams, oysters, and mussels||Cook until shells open during cooking.||None|
|Scallops||Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm.||None|
Courtesy of from Foodsafety.gov