Animal-based protein sources like beef, chicken, and lamb contain many nutrients (1).

However, these meats can also harbor bacteria, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause serious foodborne illnesses. Hence, it’s important to cook meat to safe temperatures before eating it (2, 3, 4).

Food safety experts say that meat is considered safe to eat when cooked for long enough and at a temperature high enough to kill harmful organisms (5).

This article explains how to properly take the temperature of meat and discusses the recommended temperatures for safely cooking different meats.

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It’s impossible to tell if meat is thoroughly cooked just by smelling, tasting, or looking at it. To ensure safety, it’s important to know how to properly take the temperature of cooked meats (6).

A meat thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat. It should not be touching bone, gristle, or fat.

For hamburger patties or chicken breasts, insert the thermometer through the side. If you’re cooking several pieces of meat, each piece needs to be checked (7).

Temperatures should be read near the end of the meat cooking time but before the meat is expected to be done (8).

When meat is done cooking, it should sit for at least three minutes before being carved or eaten. This period is called rest time. It’s when the meat temperature either stays consistent or continues to rise, killing harmful organisms (8).

Choosing a meat thermometer

Here are five of the most common thermometers for taking meat temperature (5):

  • Oven-safe thermometers. Place this thermometer 2–2.5 inches (5–6.5 cm) into the thickest part of the meat and read the results in 2 minutes. It can safely remain in the meat as it cooks in the oven.
  • Digital instant-read thermometers. This thermometer is placed 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) deep into the meat and can stay in place while it cooks. The temperature is ready to read in about 10 seconds.
  • Dial instant-read thermometers. This type of thermometer is placed 2–2.5 inches (5–6.5 cm) deep into the thickest part of the meat but cannot stay in the meat while it cooks. Read the temperature in 15–20 seconds.
  • Pop-up thermometers. This type is common in poultry and sometimes comes with a packaged turkey or chicken. The thermometer will pop up when it reaches its safe internal temperature.
  • Disposable temperature indicators. These are one-time use readers designed for specific temperature ranges. They change color in 5–10 seconds, indicating that they’re ready to read.

When choosing a meat thermometer, think about the types of meat that you usually cook, as well as your cooking methods. For instance, if you cook meat frequently, you may prefer a durable, multi-use thermometer that will last a long time.

You can find a wide variety of meat thermometers both locally and online.

Summary Many thermometers are available to help you ensure that your meat has reached a safe internal temperature. Your choice depends on your personal preferences and how frequently you cook raw meat.

Safe cooking temperatures vary depending on the type of meat being prepared.

Poultry

Popular types of poultry include chicken, duck, goose, turkey, pheasant, and quail. This refers to whole birds, as well as all parts of a bird that people might eat, including wings, thighs, legs, ground meat, and giblets.

Raw poultry may be contaminated with Campylobacter, which can cause bloody diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and muscle cramps. Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens are also commonly found in raw poultry and cause similar symptoms (9, 10, 11).

The safe internal temperature for cooking poultry — in whole and ground form — is 165°F (75°C) (12).

Beef

Ground beef, including meatballs, sausages, and burgers, should reach an internal cooking temperature of 160°F (70°C). Steak and veal should be cooked to at least 145°F (65°C) (12, 13).

Ground meats often have a higher internal cooking temperature, as bacteria or parasites spread to the entire batch when you grind meat.

Beef is a source of E. coli O157:H7, a bacterium that can cause life-threatening conditions. These include hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure, and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, which causes blood clots throughout your body (14, 15, 16).

The protein that causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is related to mad cow disease, has also been found in beef products. This is a fatal brain disorder in adult cows that can be passed to humans who eat contaminated beef (17, 18).

Lamb and mutton

Lamb refers to the meat of young sheep in their first year, while mutton is the meat from adult sheep. They’re often eaten unprocessed, but some cultures around the world eat smoked and salted lamb.

Lamb meat can contain pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter, which can cause serious foodborne illnesses (5).

To kill these organisms, ground lamb should be cooked to 160°F (70°C), while lamb chops and mutton should reach at least 145°F (65°C) (12, 5).

Pork and ham

You can contract trichinosis, which is caused by the parasite Trichinella spiralis, by eating raw and undercooked pork products. Trichinosis causes nausea, vomiting, fever, and muscle pain, lasting for up to 8 weeks and leading to death in rare instances (5, 19, 20).

Fresh pork or ham should be heated to 145°F (65°C). If you’re reheating a precooked ham or pork product, the safe temperature is 165°F (75°C) (12).

It’s difficult to determine an internal cooking temperature of thin meats like bacon, but if bacon is cooked until crispy, it can usually be assumed to be fully cooked (5).

Wild game

Some people like to hunt or eat wild game, such as deer and elk (venison), buffalo (bison), or rabbit. These types of meat have their own safe internal cooking temperatures, but they are similar to those of other meats.

Ground venison should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 160°F (70°C), while whole cut steaks or roasts should reach 145°F (65°C) (21).

Once these internal temperatures have been reached, the venison is considered safe to eat regardless of what color it is, as it still may be pink inside (21).

Rabbit and ground bison should also be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (70°C), while bison steaks and roasts should be cooked to 145°F (65°C) (5, 22).

Summary Safe internal cooking temperatures vary depending on the type of meat but are commonly around 145°F (65°C) for whole meats and 160–165°F (70–75°C) for ground meats. This includes traditional meats like chicken and beef, as well as wild game.

Meat should be kept out of the danger zone — a temperature range between 40°F (5°C) and 140°F (60°C) in which bacteria grow quickly (5).

After meat is cooked, it should remain at a minimum of 140°F (60°C) while serving, and then be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking or removing it from the oven. Similarly, cold meats, like a chicken salad or ham sandwich, need to be kept at 40°F (5°C) or colder (5).

Meat that has been at room temperature for over 2 hours, or at 90°F (35°C) for 1 hour, should be thrown away (5).

Leftover meats and dishes containing meat, including casseroles, soups, or stews, should be safely reheated to an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C). This can be done using a saucepan, microwave, or oven (5).

Summary It’s important to reheat leftover meats to a safe internal temperature of 165°F (75°C). Also, to prevent bacterial growth, cooked meats should be kept out of the danger zone, which is a temperature range between 40°F (5°C) and 140°F (60°C).

If you cook and consume meat, it’s important to know safe internal cooking temperatures to reduce your risk of contracting foodborne illnesses and infections from potentially harmful bacteria.

Meat products can pose a high risk of foodborne illnesses, which can be very serious.

Safe internal cooking temperatures vary depending on the type of meat but are commonly around 145°F (65°C) for whole meats and 160–165°F (70–75°C) for ground meats.

Be sure to choose a meat thermometer that works for you and use it regularly when preparing meat to ensure it’s safe to eat.