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Meat Temperatures 101

Martha Stewart Living, November 2006

Everyone loves a homemade feast. But when cooks head into the kitchen to prepare a turkey -- or a roast beef, a pork loin, or almost any cut of meat, grand or small -- they also walk into a controversy about the temperature to which the meat should be cooked. "In order to get the best taste, texture, and juiciness from a piece of meat, you need to essentially minimize the heating and keep it to a very narrow range of temperatures," says Harold McGee, the author of "On Food and Cooking" (Scribner; 2004) and a long-standing elucidator of kitchen science.

These spot-on temperatures, which can make the difference between rosy tenderness and gray dryness in red meat and succulence and chalkiness in poultry, are in fact quite easy to pinpoint (see our Meat Temperatures Chart). The rub is that they are frequently at odds with safety temperatures recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The apparent dilemma: cook meat for great flavor or overcook it to eliminate potentially harmful microbes. This concern can feel especially acute during the holidays, when hosts have big-ticket butcher items on menus and are cooking for a house filled with relatives and friends. But there may be a happy medium.

What Is Standard?
Evaluating the Risk
Getting It Just Right
Meat Temperatures Chart
Choose a Thermometer
Recipe: Pork Roast with Lady Apples and Seckel Pears