The best way to tell when a steak is done

A food thermometer isn’t as thrilling as, say, an ice cream maker, but it is an essential kitchen gadget for summer, especially at a cookout. If meat isn’t cooked to a safe temperature, harmful bacteria can develop and can make people sick — not a great way to make your BBQ a memorable one.

Grilling meat with thermometer

From a food safety standpoint, sight isn’t a good indicator that meat is done. Take hamburgers, for example. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that one in every four patties turn brown before they’re really done on the inside.

You could cut into a steak for a peek at the inside color, or poke it with your finger to see how it has firmed up, but, really, those are just guesses.

For a precise answer, use a food thermometer to take the internal temperature of meat, poultry and fish, and make sure the measurement meets the USDA’s standards. Before you fire up the grill, check out the latest temperature recommendations from the USDA:

USDA temperature recommendations

Beef, pork, lamb and veal

Beef, pork, lamb and veal in the form of steaks, chops, and roasts should reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Remove from the heat source, then allow the meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or eating. (Previously, the USDA recommended 160 degrees F for pork, specifically, with no rest time. During the three-minute rest period, the temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which will destroy any remaining harmful bacteria.)


Hamburgers made with ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal should have an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.


All poultry should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.


Fin fish should have an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. For other seafood, the USDA has these guidelines: For shrimp, lobster and crabs, cook until flesh is pearly and opaque; for clams, oysters and mussels, cook until shells open during cooking; for scallops, cook until flesh is milky white, or opaque, and firm.

Which food thermometer is right for you?

Instant-read thermometer

A versatile, pocket-size temperature-taker with a metal stem and a digital or dial display. This type of thermometer is the best option if you have to check on multiple pieces of food. It’s an affordable addition to your kitchen: A typical meat thermometer with a digital display is about $10-$20.

In-oven thermometer

A probe stays in the food the entire time it’s cooking, while a separate digital reader sits on the countertop. The probe and reader can be connected with a wire or be wireless, which allows you to slip it in your apron pocket. The temperature is constantly measured and displayed while the food is cooking, and some models alert you when the food has reached a set temperature. Best for a large, single piece of meat, and for cooks who might forget to check the temperature until it’s too late. To get a reading with this style, you don’t have to open the oven door or lid of the grill, which lets heat escape.

What to buy

Cooks Illustrated, which vigorously tests kitchen items, recommends the following: For instant-read thermometers, ThermoWorks Super-Fast Waterproof Pocket Thermometer; for in-oven thermometers, Taylor Wireless Thermometer with Remote Pager Plus Timer.

Tips for using a food thermometer

  • Measure temperature by sticking the metal probe into the thickest part of food. If that part is safe, you’ll know the rest of it is, too.
  • The probe shouldn’t touch bone, fat or the bottom of the pan. This could throw off the temperature reading.
  • Because the thermometer could touch undercooked meat, it’s important to wash with soap and hot water after each use.

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