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Beginners Guide to Internal Temperatures and Food Safety

Internal Temperature for Cooking. It matters. 

From achieving the perfect tenderness and juiciness in your meat to ensuring food safety, the role of internal temperature in cooking cannot be overstated. It's not about luck; it's about knowledge and technique. This guide will provide you with the know-how to consistently cook meats that are not only tender but, most importantly, safe. Covering a range from meats to seafood, we ensure your dishes are always perfectly cooked.

Why Does Internal Temperature Matter For Food Safety?

The internal temperature of the meat matters because foodborne illness-causing bacteria die at certain temperatures. Food safety means ensuring that the food we eat is free from harmful contaminants and is safe to consume. It also includes practices like proper food handling, cooking, storage, and hygiene to prevent foodborne illnesses. Food thermometers are a good way to keep track of these temperatures.

Safe Temperatures for Meats 

The minimum internal temperatures for meats vary from meat to meat. Below we answer the most common internal temperatures for different meats. 

What is the safe internal temperature for red meat?

  • The safe internal for red meats like Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb Steaks, chops, and roasts are 145 °F (62.8 °C)

What is the minimum internal temperature for ground beef?

  • The minimum internal temperature for ground meat is 160 °F (71.1 °C)

What is the safe temperature for poultry?

  • The internal temperature for all poultry including the breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing is 165 °F (73.9 °C)


How do I know my seafood is cooked? 

  • For seafood, the safe internal temperature is 145 °F (62.7°C) Shellfish like shrimp and lobster turn red with opaque flesh when done.

Sourced from the USDA.


If you want to know what temperatures to aim for to make your meats rare or medium rare check out other blog post covering this topic more in detail.

Vegetable Cooking Temperatures

Cooking vegetables at the right temperature is key to preserving their nutrients and enhancing their natural flavors. Vegetables don't have the same risks as meats or seafood, but proper cooking temperatures still matter:

  • Leafy Greens: Such as spinach and kale, are best quickly sautéed or steamed to retain their color and nutrients, typically over medium heat.
  • Root Vegetables: Like potatoes and carrots, require higher temperatures for roasting or boiling, usually around 375°F (190°C) in the oven.
  • Cruciferous Vegetables: Including broccoli and cauliflower, are ideal when steamed or stir-fried, keeping the heat moderate to preserve texture and nutrients.

Understanding these temperature nuances ensures your vegetables are not just safe but also delicious and nutritious. 

How to Get Food Temps Right Everytime 

  1. Invest in a Good Thermometer: A reliable meat thermometer is essential. There is only so much you can achieve with cook times and guesswork. 
  2. Know the Right Temperatures: Familiarize yourself with the USDA-recommended internal temperatures for different types of meats and seafood.
  3. Check Temperature Correctly: Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, away from bone, fat, or gristle, for an accurate reading.
  4. Rest Your Meat: After cooking, let your meat rest before cutting into it. This allows the juices to be redistributed, ensuring a moist and flavorful dish.
  5. Pay Attention to Visual Cues: For vegetables and other items, learn the visual cues of doneness, like color changes or tenderness.
  6. Use Low-Temperature Cooking for Precision: Methods like sous vide can provide more control over the cooking process, helping to achieve the perfect temperature.

Low-Temperature Cooking Methods

Low-temperature or low and slow cooking is a fantastic way to achieve incredible flavors and textures while reaching your desired temperature, particularly in meats but also in other food. For low and slow you usually cook the meat at 140 to 194 °F (60 to 90 °C) for a prolonged period of time. 

Sous Vide: This method involves cooking food in a precisely controlled water bath at low temperatures. It's perfect for meats, ensuring even cooking and retaining moisture.

Slow Cooking: Utilizing a slow cooker allows for a gradual cooking process at low temperatures. It's ideal for tough cuts of meat, as the extended cooking time tenderizes the meat and enriches flavors.

Braising: Combines slow cooking and moist heat to gently break down tough fibers in food. It’s particularly good for tougher cuts of meat and dense vegetables. The food is typically first seared at a high temperature, then finished in a covered pot at a lower temperature with a small amount of liquid.

Common Cooking Mistakes 

  • Not Using a Meat Thermometer: One of the most common mistakes is not using a thermometer to check the internal temperature of meats. Guesswork can lead to undercooked or overcooked food.
  • Cooking on Incorrect Heat: Using too high heat can cause the outside of the food to burn while the inside remains undercooked. Conversely, too low heat can result in undercooked food and a lack of flavor development.
  • Not Resting Meat: Skipping the rest period after cooking meat can lead to a loss of juices when cutting, resulting in dryer meat.
  • Ignoring Carryover Cooking: Failing to consider that food, especially large cuts of meat, continues to cook even after being removed from the heat source, often leading to overcooking.
  • Inconsistent Preheating: Not properly preheating the oven or pan can cause uneven cooking and affect texture and flavor.

Meat Safety Q&A: 

Why Is Rare Steak Safe and Rare Chicken Not?

Rare steak is safe because harmful bacteria are usually only on the surface, which is cooked at high temperatures. However, in chicken, bacteria like Salmonella can be inside the meat too, so it needs to be cooked thoroughly to a safe internal temperature.

Is Sushi Safe to Eat?

Sushi is usually safe because the fish, often caught in colder waters, is frozen before use, killing parasites and worms. Although freezing doesn't eradicate bacteria, the risk of illness from raw fish is low. "Fresh" fish in sushi often means freshly thawed. For safety, it's important to eat sushi from reputable places with proper handling and preparation standards.

Is Steak Tartare Safe?

Steak tartare can be safe to eat when prepared with high-quality, fresh beef that is handled correctly. The key to its safety is using meat that's specifically sourced and processed to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination, such as E. coli or Salmonella. It's crucial to consume steak tartare soon after it's prepared, as the risk of bacterial growth increases over time.


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