Well, cooking meat to that perfect state of “just perfect” is not as elusive as it sounds. Remember, you cannot just rely on sight, smell or taste alone to know if your meat is safe to consume. Any cooked, uncured red meats – including pork – can be pink, even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature. While judging “doneness” by look and feel seems uncertain at its best, it is actually pretty easy to get results all the time when you use an instant-read thermometer. For your information, doneness is a word used in kitchens all over the world. The level of doneness determines the flavor, texture, temperature and color of your food. In simple terms, it’s a gauge of how thoroughly cooked a cut of meat is based on the color, juiciness and internal temperature when cooked.
A thermometer is the only reliable way to measure the internal temperature. Cooking thermometers take the guesswork out of cooking, as they measure the internal temperatures of your cooked meat, poultry, seafood, baked goods, or casseroles, to assure that a safe temperature has been reached and your food is cooked to perfection. Remember, cooking times and temperatures may vary with the method of preparation, the size, and shape of the meat cut and the desired degree of doneness. Foods are properly cooked only when they are heated at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause food-borne illness. Use it every time you prepare foods like beef, pork, poultry, roasts, hams, meat loaves, and even your baked goods.
“Rest time” is the amount of time the food remains at the final temperature after it has been removed from a grill, oven or other heat source. During the rest time, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful bacteria.
Place the food thermometer is the thickest part of the food. Remember, it should not touch bone, fat or gristle. Start checking the temperature toward the end of cooking, but before you expect it to be done. Be sure to clean your food thermometer with hot soapy water before and after each use. Rely on the thermometer for doneness, and save your creativity for seasoning and presentation.
Take a few minutes to commit this internal temperature chart to memory, or jot them down in a place near where you keep your thermometer. Also, factor in carryover cooking, which normally happens when meat keeps cooking for a few minutes after you remove it from the heat source. Carryover cooking is caused by residual heat transferring from the hotter exterior of the meat to the cooler center. As a general rule, the larger and thicker the cut of meat, and the higher the cooking temperature, the more residual heat will be in the meat, and the more the internal temperature will rise during resting due to carryover cooking.
This means the meat must be removed from the heat at an internal temperature lower than your desired final internal temperature, allowing the residual heat to finish the cooking process.
The following table shows preferred internal temperatures for meat and poultry based on taste and texture. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends higher temperatures for whole cuts of beef and lamb, out of a concern for safety.
|Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures||Beef, Pork, Veal and Lamb||160°F||None|
|Fresh Beef, Veal & Lamb||Steaks, Roasts, and Chops||145°F||3 minutes|
|Poultry||Chicken and Turkey, whole||165°F||None|
|Poultry Breasts, Roasts||165°F||None|
|Poultry Thighs, Legs, Wings||165°F||None|
|Duck and Goose||165°F||None|
|Stuffing (cooked in bird or alone)||165°F||None|
|Pork & Ham||Fresh Pork||145°F||3 minutes|
|Fresh Ham (Raw)||145°F||3 minutes|
|Precooked Ham (to reheat)||140°F||None|
|Eggs & Egg Dishes
|Eggs||Cook until yolk and white are firm||None|
|Leftovers & Casseroles||Leftovers||165°F||None|
|Seafood||Fin Fish||145°F 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|
According to the USDA, the internal temperature is the only way to gauge whether food is sufficiently cooked. You should pay special attention to the meat if it has been frozen. USDA research reveals that the “color test” can give consumers misleading information about the safety of the foods they are preparing since cooked color varies considerably. For example, freezing and thawing may influence a meat’s tendency to be tenderized and brown prematurely.
There is quite a science behind the degrees of doneness of meat and it all comes down to internal temperature. That is the beauty of the meat thermometer as it is an accurate way of measuring that internal temperature of the meat during cooking.