Meat Temperatures (aka “How Hot Should My Meat Be?”)
Disclaimer: Before we begin, we should make it very clear that we’re referring to beef. Not chicken or pork or seafood. This is about animals that go “Moo.”
Depending on your background and knowledge, meat doneness is a personal preference. On the one hand, some cultures are brought up to request “No pink”. In the eyes of that family, that means their food is fully (read: properly) cooked. In other cuisines, however, raw meat is perfectly acceptable. Beef tartar, sliced meat to put in Vietnamese pho and requesting your prime rib bloody all come to mind. Although it may be difficult for people to stomach the idea of undercooked meat, most serious carnivores will agree that a perfectly cooked steak is best served with some degree of pink to it. The combination of quality product and proper cooking technique yields the greatest results.
Now there are technical ways (and not-so-technical ways) to determine the doneness of one’s cut of beef. For the sake of accuracy, we’ve got straight temperatures to work with. Yet before we get into those—it’s important to know how to properly read the temperature of your cow.
Per Chefs’ Toys Sales Manager, Chef Doug Schonfeld, “There are many schools of thought on this. Most chefs will tell you that you should never pierce a piece of meat with a thermometer, as it will let the natural juices from the meat seep out, and the meat will not be as juicy.” The reasoning behind Doug’s statement is because traditionally, meat thermometers will pierce proteins with a large enough hole to start letting juices out. However, Chefs’ Toys does carry alternative versions allowing for the same reading with miminal loss. This way, while you’re steak is resting, the flavors you worked so hard for aren’t escaping.
Determining where to take the temperature is even more important, in our opinion. We agree with Doug’s recommendation to select a spot from the side. If we’re talking other types of meat, then aim for the thickest portion– that’ll take the longest to sufficiently cook through. An experienced restaurant chef or home cook will be able to determine doneness by touch, but we’ll leave that for the experts.
As for the numbers, we go back to preference. More often than not at a restaurant, we’ll ask our server what the kitchen recommends and go from there. So long as you realize that it makes more sense to request meat underdone, because you can’t reverse overcooked beef. A rare finish is between 105-110 degrees, the medium-rare range is 115-120, from 125-135 degrees constitutes medium, and medium-well stops between 140-145. Well done is past 150 degrees, but why go that far?
Keep in mind that during the resting period, your meat will cook just a little longer. This could make the difference between one level of doneness and the next. Understanding how to take the most accurate temperature of your beef is as important as the quality of your meat and its cooking method. It is also the thing you have the most control over.