As one of the more preferred and well-loved types of protein, meat as an entire category is often used in nearly every cuisine around the world. Whether it’s used in curries, stir fry, baked or grilled, the different kinds of meat give our daily meals unique tastes that can’t be found with other proteins like lentils. Even within the group of foods themselves, a dish with beef often tastes far more different than the same dish with chicken or pork, even though the same seasoning and ingredients are used.
When it comes to grilling though, many pitmasters and chefs have a preference for how cooked their meat is. The overall level of doneness to which a cut of meat is cooked can often directly influence how a dish tastes, to the point where some pitmasters will only grill their steak and pork chops to a specific level of doneness.
To a new and aspiring pitmaster though, these levels have only been brought up in passing. Knowing exactly what the temperatures are and what all levels of doneness are for the different cuts of meat can be difficult to remember, so we’ve put together this guide to help. If you want to try what you learned with a new grill or some rubs and accessories, you can check this catalogue here.
The levels of doneness for beef
As one of the staples of barbeques, the different levels of how well cooked your beef is widely known, if at least by name. Many people have more than likely heard of well done, medium and rare steak but not many know of their exact temperatures or the levels of doneness between them. There is even one doneness level that is even lesser known, though mostly due to how rare it is that people order steak cooked to that level.
The standard doneness for beef, well done is essentially what you get when you cook beef through completely. When grilling and measuring the beef’s internal temperature, the heat goes through and increases it to a high 160 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving little to no pink.
With less time to cook than a well done cut of meat, medium well is the third most popular level of doneness for beef. This is primarily because the centre, while still cooked, is slightly pinker. Ideally, a medium well steak or burger usually has an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving it somewhat tender.
Medium & Medium rare
Unlike the other two levels we mentioned, medium and medium rare are two of the most popular levels of doneness for steaks and beef burgers. At 145 and 135 Fahrenheit respectively, these two levels are often pitted against each other when new pitmasters ask for suggestions. Ultimately, the best choice is whether you prefer medium rare steak’s warm red centre or medium’s warm pink. Both are still safe to eat!
What are the levels of doneness for pork?
Like beef, pork is a meat that frequently shows up at barbecues. Whether it’s in the form of ribs, pork chops, or the occasional burger, pork is a delicious alternative to beef. Pork too has its levels of doneness, though different cuts of pork are highly suggested to be cooked to specific temperatures to ensure food safety.
Pork chops, roasts, and tenderloin
If you’re barbecuing any of these cuts of meat, many health organisations suggest that you aim to have an internal temperature between 145 degrees and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. In terms of doneness, this means that your cuts should fall between medium rare and medium, especially before they’re put aside to rest for three minutes.
With a rack of ribs, the ideal temperature for doneness is mostly the same for pork chops and roasts; 145 degrees Fahrenheit, or medium rare minimum. However, to properly ensure that the ribs are both safe and easy to eat, many grilling experts and pitmasters suggest cooking it to a higher degree of doneness, with 200 degrees Fahrenheit being the highest.
What are the levels of doneness for lamb?
Unlike pork and beef, the USDA and other health organisations have the levels of doneness for lamb at a slightly lower temperature. For well done lamb, aim to have the internal temperature at 150 degrees Fahrenheit, ten degrees below the doneness for beef and pork. Medium well comes out at 145 Fahrenheit, medium at 130 degrees, and medium rare at 125 degrees.
The ideal doneness levels for chicken
Chicken, on the other hand, doesn’t have levels of doneness like beef, pork or lamb. When grilling any chicken, aim to have the internal temperature reach between 165 and 175 Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures should ideally be achieved for dark chicken meat, namely the legs and other similar pieces are tougher, but it’s safe as long as it hits 165 at the least.
The levels of doneness for fish and seafood
Due to some of the more deadly foodborne illnesses being found in badly cooked and raw seafood and fish, always aim to reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit when grilling your fish. Other seafood, like scallops, lobster and shrimp should similarly be cooked to a point where the meat’s turned an opaque milky white. Scallops – as well as shucked clams and oysters – should also be firm to the touch and cooked and shelled clams, oysters and mussels have to be open to be considered safe to eat.
For certain foods, there’s only one temperature and level of doneness that you should always cook to. Many health organisations around the world say to cook any type of ground meat to a safe 160 Fahrenheit or well done. Additionally, some levels of doneness like rare, aren’t as well-liked and as such aren’t cooked to that doneness often.
While many people cook to below the FDA and USDA-approved internal temperatures, they are mostly aware of the risk that comes with it. Many uncooked and raw foods have the risk of containing foodborne illnesses, many of which are either incredibly deadly or even contagious. Grilling your meat to these internal temperatures ensures that not only is the food delicious but also that none of the bacteria and viruses that cause these illnesses are still on your meat.