Cook deliciously, feast safely. Food safety experts recommend these temperatures for any type of meat.
Many of us don’t know how to tell if red meat, poultry, and seafood are cooked, so we rely on the cooking time listed in the recipe or the color on the surface of the meat. If you want your food to not only taste delicious but be safe for you and your family to eat, the only reliable indicator for doneness is its internal temperature.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raw and undercooked meat contains harmful bacteria that can make you sick. The CDC estimates that about one in six Americans contracts food poisoning each year (that’s 48 million), of whom 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
The bacteria in raw and undercooked meat may include, but are not strictly limited to, Salmonella, E. coli, and Yersinia. In addition, poultry may contain Campylobacter and Clostridium perfringens, and pork may harbor parasites such as Trichinella spiralis, Taenia solium, and Toxoplasma gondii.
The internal temperature of a piece of meat, as measured by a meat thermometer, is the most accurate indicator of its doneness. That’s because exposure to heat for a sufficiently long time kills all pathogens.
Beef, veal, pork, venison, fish, and shellfish should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C), and 160°F (71.1°C) when ground. Poultry should be cooked to 165°F (73.9°C), whether whole, cut up, or ground.
Cooking times are only approximate and cannot be relied upon. They depend on too many factors, from your cooking vessel and the amount of heat used to the thickness of the cut and the temperature of the meat before cooking begins.
The appearance of the meat can also be deceptive, especially in the case of beef, veal, pork, and venison. The exterior may turn brown long before the interior is cooked, and the interior may remain pink due to additives and preservatives, even when it is already cooked to “well-done.”
The Safe Internal Temperature for All Types of Meat
According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the following safe internal temperatures apply to the preparation of the most common types of meat.
You will notice that ground meat requires a higher internal temperature than whole birds, large slabs, and cuts of any type of meat. This is because, when the meat is ground or minced, the bacteria spread from the surface to the entire batch—and thus warrants more thorough cooking.
Minimum Internal Temp for Beef
The minimum internal temperature for beef is 145°F (62.8°C). Once you’ve cooked the beef, allow it to rest for at least 3 minutes before serving and cutting.
Ground beef, including beef burgers and sausages, should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F (71.1°C), with no resting time required.
An internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C) equates to a “medium” level of doneness. For reasons of personal preference, some choose to cook their steak less, to “rare” or “medium-rare,” while others do so more, to “medium-well” or “well-done.”
The jury is out as to whether beef cooked to “rare” or “medium-rare” is safe. The USDA states unequivocally that rare steak isn’t safe to eat, whereas the Meat and Livestock Commission claims that harmful bacteria live mainly on the surface—and there’s nothing to worry about as long as you don’t tenderize your steak with a meat mallet or poke holes in it.
Minimum Internal Temp for Veal
The minimum internal temperature for veal is 145°F (62.8°C). Once you’ve cooked the veal, allow it to rest for at least 3 minutes before serving and cutting.
Ground veal, including veal burgers and sausages, should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F (71.1°C) with no resting time required.
Minimum Internal Temp for Pork
The minimum internal temperature for pork is 145°F (62.8°C). Once you’ve cooked the pork, allow it to rest for at least 3 minutes before serving and cutting.
Ground pork, including pork burgers and sausages, should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F (71.1°C) with no resting time required.
Fresh ham, also called raw, uncooked, or cook-before-eating ham, must reach a minimum temperature of 145°F (62.8°C) and rest for at least 3 minutes to be safe to eat.
Pork and ham should never be eaten raw or undercooked, as getting infected with the parasites in it can lead to serious health issues and fatal complications, especially for those with a compromised immune system.
Minimum Internal Temp for Venison
The minimum internal temperature for venison, such as deer, moose, elk, and caribou, is 145°F (62.8°C). Once you’ve cooked the venison, allow it to rest for at least 3 minutes before serving and cutting.
Ground venison, including sausages, should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F (71.1°C) with no resting time required.
Minimum Internal Temp for Poultry
The minimum internal temperature for chicken, turkey, duck, and game birds is 165°F (73.9°C), with no resting time required. This includes whole birds, breasts, wings, drumsticks, thighs, legs, gizzards, and ground poultry.
Poultry should never be eaten raw or undercooked, as getting infected with the pathogenic bacteria in it can cause serious health issues and sometimes fatal complications, especially for those with a weakened immune system.
Minimum Internal Temp for Seafood
The minimum internal temperature for fish and shellfish is 145 °F (62.8 °C), with no resting time required before serving.
Sushi, a popular food in the United States, contains raw pieces of fish in rice and dried seaweed. Contrary to popular belief, sushi isn’t necessarily safe to eat, as raw fish may contain Listeria, Salmonella, and Cestoda (tapeworm).
While trained sushi chefs at reputable restaurants know how to select, handle, and prepare raw fish for sushi, buying cheap sushi and eating at shady joints can pose a significant risk of food poisoning or parasite infection.
This is the main reason why the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that pregnant women, children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems avoid eating sushi (and raw or undercooked fish) altogether.
General Tips for Safe Cooking
Wash your hands and sanitize utensils and surfaces after handling raw meat.
Bacteria spread more easily than most of us think, cross-contaminating everything that they come in contact with. All it takes is touching your face, using a dirty utensil, or cutting on an unwashed board.
It is important to wash your hands before and after handling raw meat. Wet your hands with warm water, apply a squirt of hand or dish soap, then lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying them.
Sanitize all utensils, cutting boards, and countertops that came into contact with the raw meat with a disinfecting solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of water. Make sure you’re using unscented bleach for anything that comes into contact with your food.
Always thaw meat before cooking it, regardless of the cooking method.
Thawed meat not only cooks faster but does so more evenly. In contrast, by the time frozen meat is cooked through on the inside, it is already burnt on the outside.
The safest way to thaw meat is to take it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator—in a bowl or tray to catch the drippings, and on the lowest shelf where it is coldest—and leave it there for 24-48 hours, depending on the size of the cut.
Alternative ways to thaw meat include sealing it in a bag and thawing it in cold water (never warm or hot water) or using the defrost setting on the microwave in 2-3 minute intervals. Both of these thawing methods require you to cook the meat immediately after defrosting, as they encourage bacterial growth.
Thawing meat by resting it on the counter is not safe and can give you food poisoning. Meat, raw or cooked, should never be left out at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours. In the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F (4.4°C and 60°C), which the USDA calls “the danger zone,” the bacteria on your food doubles in count roughly every 20 minutes.
Don’t crank up the heat all the way up to high; use medium to medium-high heat instead.
You rarely need to use high heat in everyday cooking. In fact, you only need high heat to boil down sauces, soups, and stews when you want to get rid of the excess water or cooking liquid they contain.
The rest of the time, medium-high heat is more than enough for searing thick-cut steak and sautéing thin-cut chicken or mushrooms in your skillet, and medium heat is all you need to shallow-fry chops or latkes in the pan.
Browning of proteins and caramelization of sugars, the two chemical reactions that impart aroma, flavor, and texture to your food, occur at 285°F (140°C) and, respectively, 338°F (170°C).
Cooking over medium to medium-high heat gives you more control over the cooking process. It allows your food to brown and caramelize without burning on the outside, while giving it the time it needs to cook through on the inside.