Is Your Barbecue Safe to Eat?
Do you judge grilled meat doneness by timing or do you puncture it with a knife or fork? I often use timing on my often-cooked recipes because I am familiar with them and with my grill or smoker. A thermometer is the only sure way to accurately determine doneness. The below table lists the minimum internal temperatures to be safe for consumption as measured with a thermometer according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Beef, Pork, Veal and Lamb Temperature
steaks, chops and roasts 145°F
Ham – fresh or smoked (uncooked) 145°F
Ham (fully cooked) 140°F
Fish and shellfish 145°F
The USDA does not suggest the temperatures associated with doneness (rare, well, etc.) of meat, but chefs do. However, there are differences of opinion between chefs. The below table provides my best estimate based upon various sources. Note that medium in the table barely meets the USDA minimum for safety. You be the judge.
Beef, Veal, and Lamb (steaks, chops, and roasts) Temperature
Very rare (bleu in French) 115-125°F
Medium rare 130-135°F
Medium well 145-155°F
Well done 155°F +
The old USDA recommendation for chicken was 170°F for the breast and 180°F for the legs. The leg quarters are higher in fat and connective tissue and require longer cooking to a higher temperature to be tender. This confused some people, so they simplified their recommendation to the single temperature of 165°F to be safe to eat. At 165°F there will still be some pink and you may not consider the meat fully cooked. The visual signs of when poultry is done are: the joints move easily, and the juice is clear.
According to the USDA fish and shellfish should be cooked to at least 145°F. However, the temperature of seafood is not always easy to measure with a thermometer. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has provided the following visual guidelines for seafood doneness.
Fish can be flaked with a fork
Shrimp and lobsters shell or meat turns red
Scallops meat becomes opaque
Clams, oysters, and mussels shells open