A very common question is “how do I know when my beef is done?” Looking at the color and guessing is all well and good, but do you know what temperature your beef should be cooked to? The USDA recommends cooking all meat to a minimum of 145 degrees F, and ground beef to a minimum of 160 degrees F.
The About.com Grilling guide has some quick-and-dirty information on how to grill the perfect steak, right down to the internal temperatures you’re looking for.
A rare steak should be cooked to an internal temperature of 120-130 degrees F. A medium-rare steak should have an internal temperature of 130-135 degrees F. (My husband likes his steak rare, I prefer mine medium-rare.) These temperatures are below the USDA recommended minimum of 145. This is why all menus have a disclaimer about consuming raw or “under-cooked” meat and poultry.
To cook beef to medium-doneness, you’re looking for an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Medium-well should be between 155-165 degrees, and well done beef, should be at least 170 degrees F.
The nice thing about rare or medium-rare beef is that it will still be nice and juicy. The trouble with cooking a steak to medium-well or well done is that it needs to be cooked so long that a lot of the natural juices and the fat (it’s all about the marbling) are cooked out and you end up with a dry, and not as flavorful piece of meat.
So how do you know when your steak is cooked to perfection? (Well, at least to what is perfection for you.) The best way is to use a meat thermometer. There are a bunch of options, and here are the three different types I have in my kitchen.
This one is by far my favorite. It’s an Oneida Digital Thermometer & Timer, and it’s awesome. The thermometer probe can stay in the meat while it is on the grill or in the oven. The long cable connects to the display which is magnetized and can stick just about anywhere. My favorite part is that you can set the alarm to go off either at a specific time, or when the meat reaches a certain temperature. The only better thing would be if it were wireless…
The Tru Temp Compact Instant Read Digital Thermometer is my second favorite in the kitchen. It’s an instant read thermometer, and the digital display is very easy to read.
This one is my least favorite, but it’s a good standby. The Good Cook Classic Instant Read Thermometer is an instant-read thermometer, and is not designed to hang out in your meat while it is on the grill or in the oven.
But is it safe? The USDA recommends a cooking temperature of 145 degrees F as the minimum because that is the temperature that will kill almost all microorganisms that may be present in meat. So why do people still eat rare or medium-rare steak? Well, because they (myself included) think it tastes better. And because it is safe.
The way farmers and ranchers take care of their cattle with regular vaccinations, regular deworming treatments to get rid of parasites, and antibiotics when they are needed to treat illness keeps our food safe and as free of microorganisms as it can be. (Of course, safe food handling at home is important, too.) That’s why I feel comfortable eating medium-rare beef – I think it tastes so much better than medium-well beef, and I’m not worried about the food safety side at all.
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Dan Afonso says
Let me throw in my two cents on this.
The best instant read thermometer you can get is the ThermaPen (http://www.thermoworks.com/products/thermapen/) with an average read time of about 3-5seconds. I haven’t found anything better for under $100.
For the leave-in type, you’re spot on with the Oneda/Pyrex (same unit) model. The combination counter top and magnetic body and integrated timer are great for a lot of things. I like it for brewing beer.
Finally, if you haven’t tried doing your steak souse vide at 125 degrees (with butter and salt) and finishing on a 550 degree cast iron pan for 20 seconds per side, you have missed out. You have missed out more if you didn’t finish with fleu de sel and a tiny bit of Irish butter.
My mouth is watering just thinking about the steak I am going to cook this weekend with your advice… Thanks, Dan!
Andrea T. says
When I’m cooking steaks, I check the doneness of my meat by feel. Something like the graphic in this blog post: http://amybayliss.com/2011/06/how-to-tell-when-steak-is-done-with-steak-doneness-chart/
I find it’s a lot easier on my meat than stabbing it.
Thanks, Andrea, that’s a good tip too. If you stab the meat too many times with an instant-read thermometer, you are going to lose a lot of the natural juices out of the meat. That’s why I prefer my thermometer that is oven- and grill-safe for checking temperatures.