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Safe, but Not Overcooked

Fine Cooking Issue 53

The proper handling and cooking of meats and poultry is crucial for preventing foodborne illness. The USDA has guidelines for the safe cooking of meats and poultry, but as a government agency, it’s more interested in being foolproof than in cooking flavorful foods, and its guidelines actually exceed safe cooking temperatures by several degrees, potentially resulting in dry, overcooked meat.

Although small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are naturally more at risk than others to foodborne illnesses and should follow USDA guidelines, most people can safely cook meat and poultry following the Fine Cooking guidelines below. Our guidelines adhere to the 2001 Food Code, a set of food safety statutes issued by the FDA for food-service establishments.

Use an instant-read thermometer to check temperatures in the center of the food. For maximum juiciness, allow cooked meats and poultry to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving so their internal juices have a chance to redistribute. The larger the cut of meat or poultry, the more the internal temperature will continue to rise during the resting period (a phenomenon known as carryover cooking), so to compensate, subtract about five degrees from the temperature for larger roasts.

Safe cooking guidelines for meat

recommended internal temperatures

Fine Cooking recommended internal temperatures
Chicken and turkey (whole and parts)*
180°F (170°F for breasts) breast: 160° to 165°F
  thigh: 170° to 175°F

Beef, veal, and lamb (steaks, roasts)*
rare: not recommended rare: 125° to 130ºF
medium rare: 145°F medium rare: 130° to 135°F
medium: 160°F medium: 140° to 150°F
well done: 170°F medium well: 155° to 165°F
  well done: not recommended

Fresh pork (chops and roasts)*
medium: 160°F medium: 145° to 150°F
well done: 170°F medium well: 155° to 165°
*Both the USDA and Fine Cooking recommend cooking all ground meats to a minimum of 160°F; ground turkey, 170°F  
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