Meat Doneness and Safety

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
As we’ve seen, meats inevitably harbor bacteria, and it takes temperatures of 160°F/70°C or higher to guarantee the rapid destruction of the bacteria that can cause human disease—temperatures at which meat is well-done and has lost much of its moisture. So is eating juicy, pink-red meat risky? Not if the cut is an intact piece of healthy muscle tissue, a steak or chop, and its surface has been thoroughly cooked: bacteria are on the meat surfaces, not inside. Ground meats are riskier, because the contaminated meat surface is broken into small fragments and spread throughout the mass. The interior of a raw hamburger usually does contain bacteria, and is safest if cooked well done. Raw meat dishes—steak tartare and carpaccio— should be prepared only at the last minute from cuts carefully trimmed of their surfaces.