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St. Louis, MO 63117
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Ask The Chef

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What temperature do you like your meat? Rare, medium-rare, medium, or well-done? And just what do those words mean? One person’s rare can be another person’s medium.

In cooking classes, I have seen students react on both sides of the spectrum even in the same class; the meat considered both overcooked and undercooked. Nothing else in the kitchen is so frought with anxiety as getting the meat cooked “just right.” But what is just right? After all, some people like rare roast beef but fully-cooked tuna.

Here is a cook’s guideline to the internal temperatures for beef, lamb, and fish:

  • Rare is 125 degrees.
  • Medium-rare is 130 degrees.
  • Medium is 135 degrees.
  • Well-done is 140 degrees.

I cook pork to 140 degrees because trichinosis is killed at 138 degrees. I cook chicken to 155 degrees so it will not be dry.

The federal government has meat-cooking guidelines that are 20 degrees higher for each category, but cooks do not run the food administration. Restaurants now post a sign alerting diners that the consumption of undercooked meats could be unhealthy. Life is full of risks and risk-takers. Some people hang-glide or climb mountains. I like to eat delicious food, so I willingly sign the release to eat perfectly-cooked meat.

When dining in a restaurant, I specify the temperature (125 degrees) I would like the internal temperature of the meat, because the word “rare” is too subjective. Cooks understand degrees and can cook food to a specified temperature.

At what temperature is the meat optimal? It all depends on the cut. Tenderloin is tough when overcooked and chuck roast is tough when undercooked. Generally, the more expensive the cut of meat, the lower the internal temperature should be — and vice-versa.

The only way to be sure that the meat is cooked to your liking is to use a themometer. The Polder Probe themometer is my favorite. The Thermapen is ideal for cooking steaks.