Cooking Safety: What Are Safe Temperatures For Cooking Large Cuts Of Meat?

A helpful guide to cooking large cuts of meats and poultry, with instructions on safe temperatures.

Cooking or baking large cuts of meat can be an intimidating thought for the beginning chef. It doesn't have to be, however; in this modern day of kitchen gadgets and helpers, safely preparing large cuts is simpler than ever.

Large cuts of meat are properly cooked when heated for a long enough time, at a high enough temperature, to kill harmful bacteria, so perhaps the single most important tool in any kitchen is the meat thermometer. By using a proper, reliable meat thermometer, the guesswork of cooking larger cuts of all types of meat is reduced to zero, a reassuring bit of knowledge in itself. A meat thermometer is also vital in preventing food borne illnesses, helps eliminate overcooking, and allows the cook to hold a meal at a stable temperature until serving time.

Tips for choosing a meat thermometer:

There are many different types of cooking thermometers, so be sure to choose a thermometer designed specifically for meats.

Choose an easy-to-read dial, one enclosed in a clear, shatterproof cover.

Stainless steel material in the thermometer makes good sense, as it lasts longer than other materials and is completely washable.

Digital meat thermometers are also available, and easy to read.

Ovenproof thermometers should be placed into the food at the beginning of cooking and remain there throughout, with the meat temperature slowly rising as the food cooks.

Instant-type thermometers are not intended to use during cooking, but rather to place into the meat once it is out of its heat source. To use this type, pull the cooking or roasting pan from the oven just far enough to insert the stem two inches into the thickest part of the meat, or poultry, making sure not to touch bone. The temperature should register in just a matter of seconds.

Cooking Temperatures for Large Cuts of Meat:

Beef Roasts and Steaks: 145 degrees for medium rare, or 170 degrees for well done

Ground Beef: 160 degrees

Pork Roasts and Chops: 160 degrees for medium, or 170 degrees for well done

Whole Poultry (chicken and turkey*, for example): 180 degrees

Chicken Breasts: 170 degrees

Sausages: 160 degrees

(*If using a stuffing for turkey, the stuffing temperature must reach at least 165 degrees to kill harmful bacteria.)

Because of the size of especially large cuts, a visual check of the meat or poultry is definitely not a safe checking measure in itself, but when used in tandem with a thermometer, gives a reassuring second opinion for doneness. Visually, red meat is done when the inside has turned a solid brown color, and poultry is considered done when the juices run clear, not pink.

Cooking for Large Groups, or Cooking Ahead:

When cooking ahead, such as for a party or buffet, large cuts of meat and large portions of food should first be divided and then placed into several smaller containers for refrigeration, which helps to ensure safe, rapid cooling.

Reheating Tips:

All foods should be reheated to a temperature of 165 degrees or higher, and until the food is steaming hot. When using a microwave, always heat using either a lid or a vent made with plastic wrap for thorough heating. If your microwave does not come equipped with a turntable, check and stir the food at least twice during the reheating process, after removing the lid or cover. This will help make sure there are no cold spots left in the food, where bacteria can grow and spread.

Safe Serving Tips:

Holding foods to serve at a later time is fine, so long as the internal temperature holds at 140 degrees or higher. To help facilitate this, use chafing dishes, crock pots, or warming trays for hot foods. Cold foods must be kept at a minimum of 40 degrees F.

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