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The Best Meat Temperatures From The Gourmet Butcher

Have plans to fire up the grill this fourth of July? Take some advice from the gourmet butcher himself – Cole Ward – and make sure your meat is at the right temperature before you serve it to family and friends.

In the following excerpt from The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat (adapted for the Web), Ward lists the proper cooking temperatures for meat ranging from beef, lamb, and veal, to poultry, fish, and pork.

For more information on meat—how to source it ethically, cut it professionally, and prepare it properly—pick up a copy of The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat. It’s on sale now for 35% off until July 15.

By Cole Ward

What’s the Best Cooking Temperature for Meat?

Storing meat is fine, but at some point you’ll probably want to eat it (just a thought). I get lots of questions about cooking temperatures for meat. Kinda matters, ’cause we’ve all suffered through one of those disastrous dinners involving steak cooked to a crisp, or a roast bleeding onto the table. The USDA has developed guidelines for cooking temperatures of the various meats, and I urge you to consult these.

Having said that, let me tell you that I don’t follow USDA guidelines for meat temperatures except for poultry, eggs, and ground meats whose source I don’t know. I feel comfortable with this because I know the provenance of every piece of meat I consume: where it was raised, how it was raised, when and how it was slaughtered, and so on. I’m comfortable cooking it as I like it. This is probably an example of “don’t do as I do.”

Beef, Lamb, & Veal

For beef, lamb, and veal, the USDA recommends an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). I prefer rare at 125 to 130°F (52–55°C). If you prefer medium rare, cook to 130 to 140°F (55–60°C). For medium well, 150 to 160°F (66–71°C). And if you prefer your meat well done, I can’t help you, because I would never order or cook meat well done. My preference is rare, and it can be difficult to convince a restaurant— hampered as they are by health inspection regulations—to serve you a truly rare (“blue”) steak.

If you are cooking burger from ground muscle meat that you are certain comes from a healthy local source, I recommend 140 to 145°F (60–63°C). For any other (unknown) source, 160°F (71°C) is safest and is the temperature recommended by the USDA.

Poultry & Fish

All poultry should be cooked to 165°F (74°C), and fish to at least 145°F (63°C).


I get a lot of questions about pork. Specifically, the correct internal temperature to cook it to before serving. I’m vigilant about buying only the best meat from a properly raised animal (which is why I like to know about the farmer behind the product), so an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) is what I recommend. This gives a tender, delicious result. However, most people prefer to cook pork to a higher internal temperature of 155°F (68°C) . . . it provides peace of mind. And I agree. If you’re uncertain about the quality of the meat, err on the cautious side.

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