Food Temperature Guide For Cooking

When is the right time to stop cooking meats, chicken, or fish so you can serve the perfect meal every time? I’ve compiled a list of general guidelines for using internal food temperatures and carryover cooking to gauge the doneness of your protein.

Thermometer checking the internal temperature of a roasted chicken on a wire rack

Preparing a delicious meal is both art and science. I was taught in culinary school to actively use your five senses to gauge how the cooking process is going. Paying attention to the sights and sounds in the kitchen not only makes you more engaged but will develop your instincts.

With enough practice, you’ll begin to recognize early on the doneness of food by how the smells, colors, textures, and flavors change, but it’s highly recommended that you use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures. Keeping in mind proper resting and carryover cooking, you’ll then reach the desired final serving temperature. 

Recommended Temperature Doneness

INGREDIENT STOP COOKING WHEN TEMPERATURE REACHES FINAL SERVING TEMPERATURE
BEEF & LAMB
Rare 115 – 120°F 120 – 125°F (after resting)
Medium-Rare 120 – 125°F 125 – 130°F (after resting)
Medium 130 – 135°F 135 – 140°F (after resting)
Medium-Well 140 – 145°F 145 – 150°F (after resting)
Well-Done 150 – 155°F 150 – 160°F (after resting)
PORK
Medium 140 – 145°F 145 – 150°F (after resting)
Well-Done 150 – 155°F 155 – 160°F (after resting)
CHICKEN
White Meat 160°F 160°F
Dark Meat 175°F 175°F
FISH
Rare 110°F (for tuna only) 110°F
Medium-Rare 125°F (for tuna or salmon) 125°F
Medium 140°F (for white-fleshed fish) 140°F

 

What is Carryover Cooking?

The desired doneness is based on the center internal temperature of the food because that’s the best gauge of when the entire item is done cooking. The outside food is always hotter than the inside, and heat slowly transfers inward, continuing to cook the food even after it has been removed from the heat source, hence carryover cooking.

This effect happens with beef, lamb, and pork, specifically large roasts, steaks, and chops. The higher the cooking temperature and increased thickness of the meat, the more the internal temperature will continue to rise.

There are a couple of exceptions to the rule of carryover cooking. For fish and poultry, carryover cooking does not apply because they don’t retain heat as well compared to meat due to the difference in muscle structures and the presence of bone cavities. Stop cooking chicken and fish at the target serving temperatures.

What Resting Your Meat Does

Allowing your meat to rest for 10 to 15 minutes tends to increase the internal temperature about 5 to 10 degrees. If you want something like a flat-iron steak that is rare, the final temperature in the center of the food should be around 125°F after it has rested, so you stop cooking the meat when the center reaches 115-120°F to account for the carryover cooking.

Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Chimichurri Sauce - This recipe is the perfect summer meal. Spiced rubbed steak topped with a fresh, tangy herb sauce. | jessicagavin.com

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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8 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Siouxchef says

    Regarding your comment about carryover cooking in fish, see Cook’s Illustrated Kitchen Notes, “Carryover Cooking in Fish.” Salmon cooked at 350 rose 15 degrees over the next five minutes out of the oven. We know what that means!

    You might want to revise your article

  2. Laura says

    After going through the three days of your secrets,I wanted to stop and thank you for taking the time and energy in sharing those pearls of wisdom with us. In going over those points from your culinary training is truly awesome and many thanks to you. I’m always sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for more cooking ideas and tips from you.

  3. Barbara Klion says

    Can you recommend a fairly inexpensive meat thermometer? I don’t cook beef or lamb very often. Thanks in advance. I am enjoying learning from you.

  4. Divine Divine says

    Thank you, Jessica, for sharing the information with me. I am learning a lot from you as a passionate chef who desires to grow in my career.

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