Meat Temperature Guide: Is It Safety vs. Taste?

Salmon Temperature at 121 degrees Fahrenheit
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Most decent restaurants today will ask you how you like your burger cooked. I usually order mine medium-rare to medium or between 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA’s recommendation for the safe serving temperature for ground beef is 160 degrees Fahrenheit/ 71 Celsius.

How have I not gotten sick? Good question, and the reason for this article.

There have been changes to the government’s guidelines for proper internal meat temperatures over the last decade.

One such change was their lowering of the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 degrees Fahrenheit/ 71 Celsius to 145 degrees Fahrenheit /63 Celsius in 2011. The lower temperature also includes a three minute rest time.

Why the change in temperature?

Their research found that a majority of consumers were overcooking their pork, leaving them with a drier and less flavorful result. They also discovered that pork cooked to the lower 145-degree temperature with a three minute rest time was just as safe as cooking it to 160 degrees.

Pork Chops cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit

Pork Chops cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit

So, where does that leave us in the discussion of what is the proper internal temperatures for different meats? Sometimes the recommended safe temperatures aren’t in alignment with what is practiced in the food industry.

If I were to point out all the differences between the government’s recommended meat temperatures and the actual ones that different meats are at their tastiest this would be a 30,000-word article.

I am not going to do that. I will show the government’s current recommended temperatures for different meats and then include the best temperature for taste next to it. Of course, the taste is subjective so if you like your meat cooked more then feel free to follow the USDA guidelines.

For more in-depth information about specific cuts of meat please click on the Meat Thermometer Temperature Guidance section in the menu at the top of the page.

Let’s get started.

The Importance of an Accurate Meat Thermometer

Meat temperatures wouldn’t exist without meat thermometers.  You can throw out all of the information in this article if you aren’t using an accurate meat thermometer. I’ve had a front-row seat to a disastrous holiday meal stemming from a  $120 prime rib roast and a faulty meat thermometer in the hands of a stubborn uncle.

Let’s just say we ate some expensive shoe leather that year and the aforementioned uncle isn’t allowed anywhere near the kitchen on holidays. (Side note, his oven probes were off by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit, no wonder.)

Knowing the best temperature to serve your food is meaningless if you are using an inaccurate meat thermometer. It’s always good to check its accuracy by testing it in a glass of ice water, it should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit/ 0 degrees Celsius.

I’ve shown that you don’t need to spend a ton to get a decent thermometer, here are my most recent recommendations on good meat thermometers.

Monitoring the temperature of chicken breasts and chicken thighs simultaneously

Monitoring the temperature of chicken breasts and chicken thighs simultaneously

Internal Meat Temperatures: What You Need to Know

There are a few things all meats have in common that you need to know before we branch out into each category. The parts that an animal uses most for everyday functions will have more connective tissue than other parts of its body. Legs on animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, lambs, etc. will have tougher connective tissue and collagen that needs a longer cook time than the highly-prized tender parts of their body.

You wouldn’t want to cook a beef chuck roast the same way you cook steak because the roast is full of connective tissue that needs long, low heat cooked to a higher finishing temperature. The long cooking time allows for the collagen to transform into silky gelatin.

A classic example of this is chicken thighs. Yes, they are considered done when cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit/74 degrees Celsius. However, the meat itself is rubbery with tough collagen. When you cook chicken thighs a little longer and slower to 180 or 185 degrees Fahrenheit the meat has a tender consistency.

Another thing to be aware of is ground meat. Ground beef, pork, chicken, lamb, etc. is susceptible to more bacteria from the outside surface of the pre-ground meat being interspersed throughout during the grinding process. It is recommended that you cook ground meats to a minimum of 16o degrees Fahrenheit and ground poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

A Word About Food Safety

You never want to serve undercooked food to people with compromised immune systems such as young children or the elderly. Keep this in mind when following some of the temperature advice that is lower than the USDA recommendations.

Checking Flank Steak Temperature on the grill

Checking Flank Steak Temperature on the grill

Beef Temperatures: From Hamburgers to Roasts

  • Hamburgers – USDA recommended minimum temperature- 160 degrees Fahrenheit/71 Celsius. Best temperatures for taste- 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, medium-rare to medium.
  • Meatloaf- All-Beef Mixture- USDA recommended minimum temperature-160 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperatures for taste – 150 degrees Fahrenheit with a 15-minute rest
  • Steaks – USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit/ 63 Celsius. Best temperatures for taste- Rare- 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, medium-rare 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, medium 135 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rib Roasts, and Lean Roasts such as Top or Bottom Round Roast – USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperatures for taste- medium-rare- 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, medium 135 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Roasts with lots of connective tissue like Chuck Roast- USDA recommended minimum temperature -145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature for taste- 203 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Brisket, Beef Ribs – USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature for taste- 203 degrees Fahrenheit/95 degrees Celsius.

Poultry Temperatures: From Chicken to Turkey

Chicken and Turkey Breasts- USDA recommended minimum temperature- 165 degrees Fahrenheit/ 74 degrees Celsius. Best temperature for taste-150 degrees Fahrenheit if held at that temperature for 5 minutes

Chicken and Turkey thighs, legs and wings- USDA recommended minimum temperature- 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature- 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit/ 82 to 87 degrees Celsius.

Bratwursts cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit in a skillet

Bratwursts cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit in a skillet

Pork Temperatures: From Sausages to Shoulders

Pork Sausages and Ground Pork Mixtures – USDA  recommended minimum temperatures- 160 degrees Fahrenheit/71 degrees Celsius. Best temperature- same as USDA.

Pork Steaks, Chops, and Roasts- USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature for taste- 135 degrees to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pork Ribs and Pork Shoulders- USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature for taste- 203 degrees Fahrenheit/ 95 degrees Celsius.

Checking the temperature of Steelhead Trout

Checking the temperature of Steelhead Trout

Fish and Shellfish Temperatures

Tuna and Marlin- USDA recommended minimum temperatures- 145 degrees Fahrenheit/ 63 degrees Celsius. Best temperature- 120 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit/ 49 to 52 degrees Celsius.

Salmon- USDA recommended minimum temperature – 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature- 120 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit/ 49 to 52 degrees Celsius.

Cod – USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature-125 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit/ 52 to 54 degrees Celsius.

Lobster, Crabs and Scallops – USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature- 135 degrees Fahrenheit/ 57 degrees Celsius.

Oysters, Mussels and Clams- USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature- When shells open.

Lamb Temperatures

Lamb Steaks, Chops and Roasts- USDA recommended minimum temperature- 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperatures- rare, 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, medium-rare 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, medium 135 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit/ 57 to 63 degrees Celsius.

Ground Lamb and Lamb Sausage- USDA recommended minimum temperature- 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Best temperature- same.

Meat Temperatures: Final Thoughts

As you can see there are a lot of discrepancies between the USDA’s minimum recommended temperatures and the temperatures at which some meats are at their best.

If you are cooking a piece of meat and are unsure about what temperature to cook it to, always follow the USDA’s recommendations on minimum safe temperatures. As stated before, you never want to serve undercooked food to people with compromised immune systems.

For more information on best cooking and serving temperatures for food,  just click on the Meat Thermometer Temperature Guidance section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

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