How to Test Meat & Poultry for Doneness

How to tell if food is done -- both for food safety and personal preferences.


The great taste of food hot off the grill is a reward to be savored. Knowing when to pull it off the grill is important for a great eating experience and also to ensure safety. Determining "doneness" in terms of texture, appearance, and juiciness is often a matter of personal preference. However, in terms of safety, foods are "done" when they are cooked to an internal temperature high enough to eliminate harmful microorganisms. The best way to measure internal temperature is with a food thermometer.

Qualitative Measures

  • Steaks/chops/chicken breasts: With lots of practice, the "poke test" provides a quick gauge for doneness. The poke test compares the tension in the fleshy part of your hand at the base of your thumb with the tension you feel as you press your index finger into the center of the cut of meat.
  1. For rare: Bring your thumb and index finger together gently and press the base of your thumb to test tension.
  2. For medium: Bring your thumb and middle finger together gently and press the base of your thumb to test tension.
  3. For well-done: Bring your thumb and pinky finger together and press the base of your thumb to test tension.
  • Whole chicken: Insert and skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. It's done if the juices run clear. Or wiggle the leg, which should be loose.
  • Fish: Flesh is done when it turns opaque; breaks into large, firm flakes; and pulls away easily from any bones.

Scientific Measures

The most accurate and safe way to determine doneness is to use a thermometer. To achieve an accurate reading, use the following guide to determine where to insert the thermometer.

  • Beef, lamb, pork roast: Insert into the thickest part of the roast, avoiding the bone and fat. Remove the roasts from the grill 5 to 10 degrees F below final doneness. Tent with aluminum foil. Let stand for 15 minutes. The temperature will continue to rise to reach final doneness. During standing, the meat juices redistribute and the roast becomes easier to slice.
  • Burgers, steaks, chops: Insert horizontally into the center, away from bone and fat.
  • Whole poultry: Gauge the temperature at part of the thigh, avoiding the bone.
  • Poultry parts: Insert thermometer in the thickest area, avoiding the bone.

Source: USDA FSIS


Safe Meat Every Time: Using A meat thermometer

Oven/Grill-Safe Meat Thermometer

Enlarge Image From left to right: oven/grill-safe meat thermometer, instant-read thermometer, digital instant-read thermometer
  • Generally used for larger items such as roasts.
  • Designed to stay in the food while cooking.
  • If taken out, these thermometers can take 1 to 2 minutes to register.

Instant-Read Thermometer

  • Available in digital and dial versions.
  • Measures temperatures in 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Dial models are inserted 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep (a nick on the stem indicates how deep to go) into the thickest part of the food. Insert sideways into thin foods. Most digital models have a sensor at the tip. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for correct use.
  • Not designed to remain in food while cooking. Check temperature toward the end of cooking time.

Thermometer Fork Combination

  • Utensil combines cooking fork with a food thermometer.
  • Measures temperature in 2 to 10 seconds.
  • Good for both thin and thick foods. Place at least 1/4 inch in the thickest part of food.
  • Not designed to remain in food during cooking. Check temperature toward the end of cooking time.

Disposable Doneness Sensors

  • Designed to measure a temperature range. Relatively new to the retail market; sold as sticks or picks. This thermometer first appeared in 1965 when the turkey industry used a pop-up version.
  • Designed for one-time use.
  • Not designed to remain in food while cooking. Check temperature toward the end of cooking time. If the desired temperature has not been reached, reinsert until temperature is reached.

Ground Meat

  • Beef, lamb, veal, pork: 160 degrees F
  • Chicken, turkey: 165 degrees F

Fresh Beef, Lamb, Veal

  • Medium-rare: 145 degrees F
  • Medium: 160 degrees F
  • Well-done: 170 degrees F

Poultry

  • Chicken, turkey (whole): 180 degrees F
  • Poultry breasts: 170 degrees F
  • Poultry thighs: 180 degrees F
  • Duck, goose: 180 degrees F

Fresh Pork

  • Medium: 160 degrees F
  • Well-done: 170 degrees F
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