Is It Done Yet?
Every chef will tell you that, when it comes to cooking meat, temperature matters more than time. Investing in a high quality meat thermometer will ensure thousands of successful roasts, steaks, briskets, and chickens for decades to come. But how do you know when your meat is ready?
First, it is important to understand a little about what happens to meat at different temperatures
What Happens To The Meat
Ideal freezer temperature.
Meat freezes. Since the water in meat contains proteins, meat freezes at a lower temperature than plain water.
Water is not frozen and microbial growth is minimized making this the ideal refrigerator temperature.
The USDA refers to this as the “danger zone” for bacterial growth. At these temperatures, bacteria can double in as little as 20 minutes increasing the likelihood of food-borne illness.
Animal fat starts to melt.
Myosin, the protein involved in muscle contraction, begins to lose its structure in a process called “denaturing”.
Many pathogens begin to die, slowly. At this temperature it takes over two hours to pasteurize meat, meaning all of the pathogenic bacteria is dead.
Medium rare doneness. Fats begin to render, or liquefy, albeit slowly.
Collagen begins to contract pushing pink juice from the muscle fibers onto the surface of the meat. Red or pink juices begin to turn clear and bead up on the surface of the meat.
The muscle protein actin begins to denature making the meat tough and dry.
When you are cooking large cuts of meat, such as pork butt or beef brisket, this is what is known as “the stall zone”. Meat seems to get stuck in this temperature range for hours because moisture evaporates on the surface of the meat and cools it like sweat. Once evaporation slows, the meat’s temperature will start to rise again.
The “instant kill zone”. Most meat is safe to eat long before this temperature because the majority of the bacteria is on the surface. However, in the case of ground meats, it is necessary to cook them beyond well done in order to ensure their safety.
Tough collagens melt and form tender gelatin. Dehydrated fibers begin to fall apart and pull away from any bones and the meat is easy to shred.
Cut Of Meat
Desired Internal Temperature
190-200°F (190°F for sliced, 200°F for pulled)
Beef Country Style Ribs
135°F (Medium Rare), 145°F (Medium)
130-135°F (Medium Rare)
130-135°F (Medium Rare)
Baby Back Ribs
FISH & SEAFOOD
Oysters that have been shucked, rinsed, and smoked in a shell half are done when the edges start to curl.
Shrimp are done when they turn bright pink and opaque.
Corn on the cob
Cook until kernels change color.
Cook until soft.
Cook until skin splits.
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