Chef Tim Says...

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Dr. Tim Says....

Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures

slices of steak marinating in a glass dish

Unfortunately, in this day and age you do have to be very careful when handling eggs, meats, and poultry. The estimates by the CDC of contamination with bacteria are concerning. This is more of a problem with eggs, ground meats and poultry than with steaks, chops, and seafood, but taking care to make sure that you are both handling and cooking meats properly can help you avoid getting sick.

First and foremost, keep your ingredients ice cold until just before you are ready to cook them. Letting your chicken sit warming in the sun while you are getting the grill started is not a good idea. Keep those burgers and chicken pieces on ice or in the refrigerator until the very last minute.

It is also important to be very careful when choosing your ingredients. Use the freshest beef, chicken or turkey possible. If there is any odd odor, don't use it. Only cut meats on a plastic cutting board and wash the cutting board, your hands, and your knives in soapy water as soon as you are finished. This reduces the risk of spreading the bacteria to other foods.

Cooking thoroughly is the key to good handling of any meat. Use a small instant thermometer to check for the right temperatures. Whole chicken (or any poultry, including individual pieces) should reach 165°F. The CDC does not recommend that you let the chicken rest for any time. Free range chickens have not been proven to be safer. Many of the growers of free range chickens don't use antibiotics and feed their chickens carefully, but there is no proof that this results in a bacteria free bird. My experience is, however, that free range chickens taste better and their treatment is certainly more humane.

Burgers made from any ground meat should get to 160°F (165°F if there is poultry mixed in). Pork should be cooked to 145°F. Use the chart below along with your instant food thermometer and make sure that your foods reach a safe minimum internal temperature.

You can't really tell whether your chicken or beef is fully cooked by looking at it. Sometimes pork will be pink in the middle but have reached the minimum temperature of 145°F. Again, it is always best to use a thermometer. After you finish cooking your meat, let it rest. During the rest time, "carryover" cooking lets the meat relax, redistributing the juices, but also the temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which helps kill bacteria. (Remember, chicken or poultry should not rest.)

Lastly, don't put your barbecue or burgers back on the plate that you brought them out to the grill on. There may be bacteria on that dish and you risk cross-contaminating your freshly cooked burger with the very germs you were trying to kill by cooking it.

This realities of cooking do mean that you have to be careful. We cook food after all to both make it taste better and to make it safe for eating. Take a few careful steps and your summertime grilling will be a success.

Ingredient Type Temperature (°F) Rest Time
Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures
  Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160 None
  Turkey, Chicken 165 None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb
  Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
  Chicken & Turkey, whole 165 None
  Poultry breasts, roasts 165 None
  Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165 None
  Duck & Goose 165 None
  Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165 None
Pork and Ham
  Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
  Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
  Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None
Eggs & Egg Dishes
  Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm None
  Egg dishes 160 None
Leftovers & Casseroles
  Leftovers 165 None
  Casseroles 165 None
  Fin Fish 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. None
  Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque. None
  Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
  Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. None