Chow Town

Meat thermometers help perfect the art of grilling meat

Say goodbye to over- or under-cooked chicken. Check the internal temperature of boneless chicken breasts or other favorite meats with a meat thermometer so you can serve perfectly grilled poultry or meat.
Say goodbye to over- or under-cooked chicken. Check the internal temperature of boneless chicken breasts or other favorite meats with a meat thermometer so you can serve perfectly grilled poultry or meat. Special to The Star

Hot off the grill. It smells so good, but one bite reveals a dry and tasteless piece of chicken or overdone steak. Not again.

Too often when grilling meat, it just doesn’t come out perfect. And with the cost of the meat ever-climbing, no one wants that.

But how can you judge how done a piece of meat or chicken is? That perfectly browned outside reveals nothing about the inside.

Some people cut the steak or chicken breast to check the inside color. Sadly, the juices drip out. This method negates the fact that meat continues to cook once off the heat, so it is just not reliable.

The touch test is also prone to errors. If you touch a steak, a rare one feels spongy, a medium one springs back, and the well done one is firm. Sounds a bit loose — one person’s springy may be another person’s firm. Most of all use caution if touching a hot piece of meat on the grill. Ouch!

The best way to check is to use an instant read meat thermometer. You may even have one stashed away, thinking it was only good for the holiday turkey. Get it out and use it when grilling. No more guessing, and you will serve perfectly cooked meat every time.

First, you can tell if the meat is safe, meaning the minimum temperature has been reached. For beef, pork and lamb that minimum temperature is 145 degrees. For chicken or turkey it must reach 165 degrees.

Once you have surpassed that minimum point, you can cook it just the way you like it. If a steak cooked to 149 degrees is just perfect for you, so be it. Or you can take that pork tenderloin off the grill the moment it reaches 153 degrees each and every time if that is the way you like it best.

It is easy to use. Just insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, not touching the bone. If the meat is not up to temperature, cook it a little more and check again.

A couple of hints. Once the meat temperature reaches about 120 to 130 degrees, it will climb quickly, so watch it closely. Another hint: Keep a list of the meat temperatures handy (both the recommended ones and your ideal ones) so you can refer to them quickly.

Once the meat or poultry hits the temperature mark, remove it from the grill, put it on a clean platter, cover it and let it rest for about 5 minutes. That applies to any meat cut, even those everyday burgers. The internal temperature will continue to rise, and most of all, the juices set so the meat will be juicier and more flavorful.

Recommended meat and poultry temperatures

The USDA has set 145 degrees as the minimum temperature for beef, pork or lamb. The minimum temperature for poultry is 165 degrees. Some will occasionally suggest serving a meat quite rare and propose a temperature below the recommended level. Let safety rule and follow the USDA recommendations.

▪ Beef, lamb or veal

Ground: 160 degrees

Steaks, chops, roasts

Medium rare: 145 degrees

Medium: 150-155 degrees

Well done: 160 degrees

▪ Chicken and turkey

Whole, parts, ground: 165 degrees

▪ Fish and seafood

Fish and seafood: 145 degrees

<bullet>Pork

Ground: 160 degrees

Roasts, chops

Medium rare: 145 degrees

Medium: 150-155 degrees

Well done: 160 degrees

Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is The Newlywed Cookbook: Cooking Happily Ever After. She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com

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