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Meat Temperatures – Degrees of Doneness

A nicely cooked steak

A nicely cooked steak

Temperature is a description of how thoroughly cooked a cut of meat is based on the colour, juiciness and internal temperature when cooked. The gradations of cooking are most often used in reference to beef (especially steak and roasts) but are also applicable to lamb, pork, poultry, veal, and seafood (especially fish).

Gradations, their description, and the associated temperature ranges vary regionally from cuisine to cuisine and in local practice and terminology.

The table below pertains to beef and lamb. In lieu of gradations and ranges, some authorities recommend a temperature of at least 63°C for beef, veal, lamb steaks and roasts in order to prevent foodborne illness.

The interior of a cut of meat will still increase in temperature 3–5 °C after it is removed from an oven or other heat source. The meat should be allowed to “rest” before being served, which allows for the juices in the centre to return to the edges. The whole meat, and the centre will also continue to cook slightly as the hot exterior continues to warm the comparatively cooler interior.

The exception is if the meat has been prepared in a Sous-vide process, as it will already be at temperature equilibrium. The temperatures indicated below are the peak temperature in the cooking process, so the meat should be removed from the heat source a few degrees cooler.

Degree of Doneness

The following descriptions for doneness are demonstrated with a grilled beef steak shown at varying stages of doneness. The same criteria for colour, texture, juiciness, and internal temperature can be applied to beef cooked with other methods such as broiling, pan-frying, or roasting. The best method for determining the desired doneness is with the use of a meat thermometer  [brclearboth]

Image Term Temperature range Description
teak cooked to Very Rare doneness Extra-Rare or Blue 46 – 49 °C Beef that is cooked very rare is placed on a hot grill for a few seconds, turned, cooked on the other side for a few additional seconds, and then removed from the grill. The process basically warms the meat. The meat will be soft and very juicy. The colour of the centre will be blood-red and the colour will become bright pink toward the surface. The short cooking time results in a steak that is barely seared, but it will have light grill marks on the surface. Note: It may be risky to consume beef that is minimally cooked.’
Steak cooked to Rare doneness Rare 52 – 55 °C The colour of beef cooked rare is red in the centre and gradually becomes pink away from the centre. The meat is cooked very quickly. When grilled, the surface of the meat becomes a bit grey and has noticeable grill marks. The meat is juicy and tender. Note: It may be risky to consume beef that is minimally cooked.’
Steak cooked to Medium Rare doneness Medium Rare 55–60 °C The colour of medium-rare beef is mostly pink from the centre outward with no blood-red areas and is grey-brown on the surface. The meat is tender, juicy, and flavourful. Because of the increased concern with harmful bacteria that may be present in beef, medium-rare (55–60 °C on a meat thermometer) is the minimum degree of doneness that is recommended.
Steak cooked to Medium doneness Medium 60–65 °C Medium doneness refers to beef that is a bit pink in the centre and gradually becomes grey-brown toward the surface of the meat. When beef is grilled to medium doneness, the surface is nicely seared. The texture is firm, but the meat is still somewhat tender. A greater temperature range is used to describe beef cooked to medium than beef cooked to other stages of doneness.
Well done Well Done 65–69 °C Beef cooked well-done is mostly grey-brown throughout with a hint of pink in the centre. The texture is firm and the meat has lost much of its juiciness, although it is not dry. The surface is nicely browned with a flavourful crust and if the meat is grilled, it has pronounced grill marks on the surface.
Very well done Very Well Done 71–100 °C Very well done beef is grey-brown throughout with no sign of pink in the centre. The texture is chewy and fairly dry. The surface of the meat is crusty and flavourful. Results are better when using cuts of beef with plenty of marbling and natural juiciness. Lean cuts dry out quickly, but tenderising (especially marinating) help to lessen the effect of cooking beef to the well-done stage.

General Guidelines

Even though harmful bacteria are usually only on the surface of whole beef cuts, there is growing concern that bacteria may be present in the internal portions of the meat as well, which is why it is now recommended that whole beef cuts be cooked to an internal temperature of not less than 63°C. Traditional guidelines for doneness state that beef cooked very rare, rare, or medium-rare should have an internal temperature ranging between 46°C to 60°C. Many people prefer beef cooked rare (especially steak), but this decision is up to the consumer and is certainly not recommended by some authorities.

It is important to remember that after a cut of beef is removed from the heat source, the internal temperature will continue to rise. Although thin beef cuts, such as steaks, are usually served within a short time after removal from a grill or broiler oven, thicker cuts, such as roasts, benefit from a “resting” period before slicing and serving. The resting period, which may range between 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the beef cut, allows the juices to redistribute and allows the internal temperature to rise because of residual heat. The internal temperature will increase 3° – 8°C during the resting period, which allows the beef cut to be removed from the heat source when the internal temperature is lower than the desired doneness. A Meat Thermometer should be used to check the internal temperature of the meat to ensure proper doneness.

Whole beef cuts usually have bacteria only on the surface, but it is possible for harmful bacteria to be present in the internal portions, so cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 63°C is sufficient to kill the bacteria. (The surface of the meat will be at a much higher temperature; usually 71°C or above).

Bacteria such as E. Coli may be present on any cut of beef, but it is most common on minced beef because the grinding process may distribute the bacteria throughout the meat. Minced beef must be cooked until the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 71°C to ensure that dangerous bacteria are destroyed.

Minced beef dishes, such as meatloaf, should be checked for doneness with a meat thermometer. This is especially important when the meat has been blended with dark sauces that can mask the colour of the meat, making it difficult to determine if any pink colour remains, which would indicate that the minced beef is not fully cooked.

Colour

As meat is cooked, it turns from red to pink to gray to brown to black (if burnt), and the amount of red liquid, myoglobin (not blood), and other juices decreases. The colour change is due to changes in the oxidation of the iron atom of the heme group in the myoglobin protein: raw meat is red due to myoglobin protein in the muscles, not hemoglobin from blood (which also contains a heme group, hence the colour). Searing raises the meat’s surface temperature to 150 °C, yielding browning via different reactions: caramelisation of sugars, and the Maillard reaction of amino acids. Raised to a high enough temperature, meat blackens from burning.

Drying

Well done cuts, in addition to being brown, are drier and contain little or no juices. Note that searing (cooking the exterior at a high temperature) in no way “seals in the juices” – water evaporates at the same or higher rates as unseared meat. Searing does play an important role, however, in browning, a crucial contributor to flavour.

 

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