Meat Doneness and Meat Safety

When BBQing, cooking your meat done enough to kill all the harmful bacteria is very important. For this reason, we suggest never leaving this up to chance. Instead, buy a meat thermometer and be certain!

Safety is obviously important but this is not the only reason to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your food. Many people who are worried about bacteria end up overcooking their food simply because they do not wish to take any chances. But, with a good meat thermometer and the information on this page, your food can be juicy, tasty and free of harmful bacteria.

How To Use A Meat Thermometer

Meat thermometers come in a whole variety of shapes and sizes. There are ovenproof thermometers, digital instant-read thermometers, disposable thermometers and even BBQ fork thermometers, just to name a few. We will not be getting into the specifics of each type, except to say that some thermometers are designed for a particular type of meat. These should never be used for anything except the type of meat they are designed for. The most important thing is that you use the thermometer properly.

We highly recommend the use of digital instant-read thermometers when cooking on a BBQ grill. Ovenproof type thermometers are acceptable when cooking large pieces of meat but they must be placed in the meat before you begin cooking. Digital instant-read thermometers allow you check the meat in several places.

Be sure to read the instructions on your particular thermometer to determine the best way to use it. It is also very important to make sure your thermometer is calibrated properly. The instructions will show you how. If the instructions are unavailable, check the calibration by placing the stem in some boiling water. It should read close to 212 °F. If not, check for a calibration dial located somewhere on the thermometer. They are often found directly behind the thermometer's display.

Most thermometers should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat. If you are cooking a large piece of meat, like a roast of a whole chicken then you should insert the thermometer about 2 inches deep. Be sure not to let the thermometer touch any bones, as this can cause the results to be incorrect. For most other types of meat, aim to insert the thermometer about halfway through the thickest part of the meat. If you are cooking something especially thin, insert the thermometer in sideways. We recommend checking most foods in more than one place. This is especially true of irregularly shaped meats, such as roasts.

Meat Doneness Temperatures

The tables below reflect both safe temperatures for serving meat and meat doneness temperatures. Although you should keep in mind, meat doneness is highly subjective.

Meat Doneness Temperatures For Ground Meats
Beef, Pork & Lamb 160 °F
Turkey & Chicken 165 °F

Ground meats have a large surface area which makes them more likely to breed harmful bacteria. For this reason, ground beef, ground pork and ground lamb should always be cooked to at least 160 °F. Ground turkey and ground chicken should be cooked to 165 °F.

Meat Doneness Temperatures For Steaks and Lamb
Medium-Rare 145 °F
Medium 155 °F
Medium-Well 165 °F
Well Done 170 °F

Steaks and lamb are not as prone to harmful bacteria as ground meats. All harmful bacteria in steak and lamb will die at 145 °F. Again, meat doneness temperatures are subjective and this is especially true of steaks. Use the table above not as a rule for doneness but as a guideline.

Meat Doneness Temperatures For Poultry
Chicken & Turkey, Whole 180 °F
Breast Meat 170 °F
Thighs, Wings & Legs 180 °F
Duck & Goose 180 °F

The absolute lowest temperature you should ever serve chicken is 165 °F. At this temperature, salmonella is killed. You may notice, however, that lowest temperature shown in the table above is 170 °F. This is because chicken cooked until it is 165 °F can actually still be a little pink in the middle. Although it is safe to eat, most people do not enjoy chicken which is slightly pink in the middle.

Meat Doneness Temperatures For Pork
Medium-Rare 150 °F
Medium 160 °F
Well Done 170 °F

The vast majority of people prefer their pork to be well done but you can safely eat pork that is cooked until it is 150 °F. You have nothing to fear from trichinosis. It is killed at about 140 °F.

Meat Doneness Temperatures For Ham
Raw 160 °F
Pre-Cooked 140 °F

Raw ham will need to be cooked until it is 160 °F. The good news is that raw hams are usually large pieces of meat. This makes them much harder to overcook and less likely to dry out. Pre-cooked ham only needs to be heated to 140 °F.

BBQs and picnics are a great way to bring family, friends and loved ones together for an enjoyable time. By making sure your food is safely cooked to the proper meat doneness temperature, you can help ensure a good time will be had by everyone. And remember, even an "expert" can make a mistake so be safe and use a meat thermometer to check all of your foods.

You may also want to check out our BBQ Basics page for some great BBQ tips. If you are interested in using a smoker to cook with, you might be interested in our Smoker BBQ Basics article or check out our article on Gas Grills and Charcoal Grills

A Quick BBQ Fact:

Did you know there are six different ways to spell barbecue in the english language? BBQ, Bar-BQ, Bar-B-Cue, Bar-B-Que, Barbeque and Barbecue. That's a lot of BBQs!