Cooking Temperatures, Simplified

When it comes to internal cooking temperatures, there seems to be a bit of disagreement between chefs and the USDA — until recently that is. While many people still fear slightly pink pork because of past threats of trichinosis, chefs and home cooks in the know have been serving their pork a little rosy in the middle for awhile now. The USDA finally consented and lowered the internal temperature to 145 degrees (except for ground pork and poultry that is). Like one home cook at the Smallholding Festival in Pennsylvania recently remarked, "It's about time they caught up, we've been doing this for years."

What's the point of measuring the internal temperature? It's one of the most foolproof ways to cook meat. Instead of guessing when your meat is done, a thermometer tells you when it's ready so you don't over- or undercook your dish. It is especially helpful in monitoring the progress of larger cuts of meat like pork shoulder or brisket. The USDA assigns these guidelines based on the temperature levels that will kill off any harmful bacteria in the meat (think salmonella and e. coli).

Using a thermometer isn't a must for cooking, but it is an effective way of cooking a dish properly and safely, so it can be an incredibly inexpensive and useful tool to have in the kitchen (just think, you'll never have the fear of serving raw meat or tough, chewy roasts to guests). Check out these basic tips and guidelines for cooking your favorite foods below. 


Where to Place the Thermometer: In general, the thermometer should be inserted in the thickest part of the meat, away from fat or bone. When irregularly shaped, make sure to check in several different places. If using an instant-read thermometer, place it sideways in thinner cuts so that the entire sensing area is near the center of the food.

For roasts, insert the probe midway, avoiding the bone. For poultry, insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, also avoiding the bone. For turkeys, make sure to check the internal temperature of the stuffing as well (it should also reach the recommended 165 degrees).

Letting it Rest: There is a difference between internal cooking temperature and final temperature because as the meat rests, the internal temperature will continue to rise from anywhere between five to twenty degrees (resting also allows the juices to redistribute and be absorbed so that the end result is flavorful and delicious). The time of resting depends on the cut of meat, so smaller chicken breasts and filets need only about five minutes whereas larger roasts will need around 30 minutes.


USDA-Recommended Minimum Internal Cooking Temperatures


Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal, and Bison

Ground: 160 degrees and it should not be pink but brown throughout. (This includes raw sausage.)

Other Cuts: 145 degrees is what is recommended but with the caveat that the cooking time can be extended due to personal preferences. This internal temperature would get you a piece of meat cooked to close to medium. Here are other cooking times that are not USDA recommended but are  general guidelines for cooking cuts of beef or lamb:

Rare: 120 to 125 degrees

Medium Rare: 130 to 135 degrees

Medium: 140 to 145 degrees (USDA recommended)

Medium Well: 150 to 155 degrees

Well Done: 160 Degrees and above


Poultry (Chicken, Turkey, and Other Game Birds)

Stuffed or Unstuffed: 165 degrees internally


Fish (Steaks, Fillets and Whole Fish)

140-145 degrees is USDA recommended, but for tuna and swordfish, if you're looking to eat them medium-rare, which is usually the chef-recommended style, then you want an internal temperature of around 125 degrees.