One of the questions I get asked most often, is what is the correct degree of doneness for a given protein? Below are some thoughts and temperatures that I use for different proteins.
Beef is the one protein I usually pull out and let come to room temperature for 30 minutes prior to grilling. Why? If you have a cold steak from the refrigerator, the temperature through the whole protein is cold (about 36 – 40 degrees). If we were to throw the cold steak on the grill, the outside would be severely charred by the time the middle got to the desired degree of doneness.
Beef Internal Cooking Temperatures
- Rare = 125 degrees
- Medium Rare = 135 degrees
- Medium = 145 degrees
- Medium Well = 150 degrees
- Well Done = don’t do it, I will find you
- Brisket/Beef Ribs = 203 degrees
- Ground Beef = 160 degrees
I love pork.
Pork Internal Cooking Temperatures
- Pork Tenderloin, Chops, ham, smoked pork belly = 145 degrees
- Pulled Pork (Boston Butt) = 203 degrees
- Ribs = 198 – 203 degrees
- Ground Pork = 160 degrees
Chicken Internal Cooking Temperatures
All Poultry = 165 degrees
165 degrees is the temperature that all food borne pathogens are killed instantly in poultry. To be totally safe get your bird to 165 degrees. Technically, you can have some wiggle room with poultry per the USDA FSIS guidelines. I use this wiggle room in competitions and will discuss in another article.
Fish can be one of the trickiest/frustrating proteins to cook. Depending on the type of fish, you will usually be dealing with a relatively thin piece of meat. This makes fish so prone to being over cooked. Is it done? Maybe just a few more minutes just in case. Damn, it is stuck to the grate!!
The FDA recommends cooking all fish to 145 degrees. This is a blanket guideline to cover everything but doesn’t take into account different fish characteristics like muscle type or fat content. When in doubt you can go to this temperature but don’t leave it on past that. Below are the temperatures I have had great results for fish/seafood.
Fish Internal Cooking Temperatures
- Salmon = 125 degrees
- Halibut/Firm White Fish = 130 – 135 degrees
- Lobster = 140 degrees
Carryover Cooking Effect
Let’s talk about carryover cooking, because it is an important concept. When you pull a protein off the grill/smoker, it does not immediately stop cooking. There is a window where the protein will continue to cook and the internal temperature will continue to increase. This is called the carryover effect/resting. There are many variables that can influence the carryover effect including: grill temperature and thickness of the protein. The lower the grill/smoker temperature, the shorter the carryover effect. The thicker the piece of protein, the longer the carryover effect.
Why is this important? Say you want to nail a 1.5 inch steak at medium rare, which is 135 degrees internal temperature. You would cook the steak until the internal temperature was 130 degrees and then pull it off to rest. The carryover cooking process will continue and get the internal temperature to the 135 medium rare degree of doneness.
This is why having a digital instant read meat thermometer is so important. It allows you to see where the internal temperature is and plan for the carryover effect. I.e. when to pull and rest.