Are the steaks done yet? Without a food thermometer, you won't know if Uncle Bob's steak is medium rare and Aunt Patty's is medium well without cutting into it. Using a food thermometer to check for a meat's doneness is not only convenient but also important, especially if you're concerned about bacteria. Every year, some estimated 76 million people get sick from food-borne bacteria, much of it due to improperly cooked meat. While fatalities are far fewer (about 5,000 a year), getting sick due to improper cooking can be serious.
Tools of the Trade
Purchase a good meat thermometer and know how to use it. Most thermometers have instructions on or in the package that describe how they should be used. Some require that they stay in the meat while it's cooking, while others are for checking the meat periodically. When you use the thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the meat, away from bone, fat and grizzle, which will skew the results.
To determine the meat's temperature, wait until the thermometer finishes taking the reading. Electronic thermometers may beep when done or may no longer increase or decrease. With metal meat thermometers, you may have to wait until the needle stops moving to determine how hot the meat's interior is.
All temperatures listed in this article are the meat's internal temperature and not the temperature of the oven. For example, you may be cooking at roast at 176 degrees Cor an hour, but the internal temperature of the roast needs to reach 62.8 degrees C.
The USDA recommends the internal temperature of 62.8 degrees Cor beef steaks and roasts as the safest minimum temperature. This is the temperature for medium-cooked meat. The USDA guidelines state that medium rare is 62.8 degrees C, medium 71.1 degrees C and well done above 76.7 degrees C.
For more traditional cooking, if you're a bit more daring or can't abide steak that isn't pink or red, the temperature for rare is 120–54.4 degrees C, medium rare is 130–60 degrees C, medium is 140–65.6 degrees C, medium well is 150–68.3 degrees C and well done is anywhere above 68.3 degrees C.
Be aware that consuming meats below the temperatures of the USDA guidelines listed may make you sick; however, many people still use the traditional temperatures to cook beef.
Chicken and Poultry
Chicken and other poultry (including turkey) need to be cooked to a temperature of 73.9 degrees C to kill off bacteria that can make you sick, including salmonella and camplyobacter. When cooking a turkey, check it at several places, including the meat closest to the leg joint, the breast meat and the stuffing itself, if you're cooking a stuffed bird. The stuffing needs to be at 73.9 degrees C as well.
Pork is especially dangerous uncooked or undercooked because it can harbour a dangerous parasite called Trichinella spiralis. This leads to trichinosis in people. Bring the pork meat to a temperature of 71.1 degrees C or higher.
To properly cook fish and still keep it moist, cook the fish to an internal temperature of 62.8 degrees C.