Meat Type Style/Cut Internal Temp °C Internal Temp °F
Beef Rare 49 °C 120 °F
Medium Rare 55 °C 130 °F
Medium 60 °C 140 °F
Well Done 71 °C 159 °F
Ground 71 °C 159 °F
Pulled 96 °C 205 °F
Short Ribs 96 °C 205 °F
Brisket 98 °C 205/210 °F
Pork Cooked 63 °C 145 °F
Ham 71 °C 159 °F
Ground 71 °C 195 °F
Pulled 90-96 °C 195-205 °F
Ribs 90-96 °C 195-205 °F
Shoulder Collar Butt 90-96 °C 195-205 °F
Lamb Rare 60 °C 140 °F
Medium Rare 60-65 °C 140-149 °F
Well Done 75 °C 167 °F
Pulled 96 °C 205 °F
Leg Whole 62 °C 145 °F
Chicken Whole Bird 74 °C 165 °F
Dark Meat 79 °C 174 °F
White Meat 74 °C 165 °F
Ground 74 °C 165 °F
Turkey Cooked 74 °C 165 °F
Duck Cooked 75 °C 167 °F
Fish Cooked 63 °C 145 °F

The Science Behind Meat Cooking Temperatures

1. Food Safety Considerations

The primary concern in cooking meat to specific temperatures is to ensure food safety. Different types of meats harbor various bacteria and parasites, which can pose health risks if not adequately cooked. For instance, poultry is known for the risk of Salmonella, while pork can carry parasites like Trichinella. The temperatures specified in the chart are based on guidelines set by food safety authorities like the USDA and are determined to be effective in killing these harmful microorganisms.

2. Effects of Temperature on Meat Proteins

As meat cooks, the proteins undergo transformation. Two key processes are denaturation and coagulation. Denaturation is where the protein molecules unfold, losing their native structure. This unfolding leads to coagulation, where the proteins bind together, causing the meat to firm up and lose moisture. Different temperatures lead to varying degrees of denaturation and coagulation, which is why the texture and juiciness of meat change significantly from rare to well-done.

3. Culinary Considerations

Apart from safety, cooking temperatures are chosen for their culinary impact. For example, tougher cuts of meat with more connective tissue (like brisket or pork shoulder) benefit from longer cooking at higher temperatures, allowing collagen to transform into gelatin, which imparts a tender texture. Conversely, leaner cuts (like steak or lamb chops) are often preferred at lower temperatures to retain moisture and tenderness.

4. Personal Preference vs. Recommended Temperatures

While personal preference plays a significant role in how meats are cooked, it’s crucial to balance this with food safety. This balance is especially important for poultry and ground meats, where the risk of foodborne illness is higher. The recommended temperatures ensure safety, while also allowing for some degree of personal preference in terms of doneness.

5. Resting Time After Cooking

An often-overlooked aspect of cooking meat is the resting time post-cooking. When meat is removed from the heat source, it continues to cook internally for a while — a phenomenon known as ‘carryover cooking.’ Allowing meat to rest before cutting ensures that it reaches the desired internal temperature and helps retain juices, making the meat more tender and flavorful.

By understanding the science behind these temperatures, cooks can make informed decisions to ensure both safety and quality in their meat dishes. This knowledge also empowers them to experiment with different levels of doneness while understanding the implications for texture, flavor, and safety.

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