The ultimate internal temperature cooking guide for meat, poultry, and fish. Learn the essential tools needed, how to use them and how to safely cook protein that’s delicious, moist and perfect every time! 

white plates set on a wood table topped with mashed potatoes, pan seared filet mignon, and green beans

Here in the Midwest, meat is a must. You’ll find it very few and far between where the main entree isn’t consisting of some kind of red meat or at least poultry. However, the problem I run into time and time again is either grossly undercooked or overcooked meats (to the point of no return).

The solution? Don’t use time as the rule when cooking meat. Instead, use time as a guide and use temperature as a rule. Cooking times vary, but temperature never lies (unless your thermometer is in severe need of recalibration).

Cooking meat by internal temperature instead of time guarantees a safe to eat, perfectly cooked, tender piece of meat even if your grill runs hot or your oven runs cool. Cooking by internal temperature takes all of the guesswork out of cooking your meals.

Photograph of a Thermapen thermometer on a gray table

Instant-Read or Digital Thermometers

Instant read thermometers are a MUST in cooking and although a quality one can be a bit of an investment, it’s a one-time purchase you’ll never have to make again—it’s well worth it. Here at ZK we recommend the Thermapan Mk4 or the more economical ThermoPop, both are fabulous digital thermometers.

Check out our article on how to use your instant-read thermometer! You’ll learn how to insert the thermometer probe correctly, which is essential for getting an accurate temperature reading.

Read all about kitchen gear in our article for the 15 Essential Kitchen Gadgets and Equipment for Every Cook

Safe Internal Temperature Cooking Guide

Chicken & Turkey

  • Light meat: 160–165ºF (71–73ºC) 
  • Dark meat: 175ºF (79ºC)


  • Medium: 140–145ºF (60–63ºC) 
    145–150ºF (63–65ºC) after resting
  • Well-done: 150–155ºF (65–68ºC)
    155–160ºF (68–71ºC) after resting

Beef, Veal & Lamb

  • Rare: 115–120ºF (46–49ºC)
    120–125ºF (49–52ºC) after resting
  • Medium-rare: 120–125ºF (49–52ºC)
    125–130ºF (52–54ºC) after resting
  • Medium: 130–135ºF (54–57ºC)
    135–140ºF (57–60ºC) after resting
  • Medium-well: 140–145ºF (60–63ºC) (recommended USDA temperature)
    145–150ºF (63–65ºC) after resting
  • Well-done: 150–155ºF (65–68ºC)
    155–160ºF (68–71ºC) after resting

Ground Meat & Sausage

(such as ground beef, ground pork, ground chicken and ground turkey)

  • 160ºF (71ºC)

Fish & Seafood

  • Rare (tuna or swordfish only): 110ºF (43ºC)
  • Medium-rare (tuna, swordfish, salmon): 120–125ºF (48–52ºC)
  • Medium (salmon and white-fleshed fish like tilapia, cod, halibut, sea bass): 140–145ºF (60–65ºC)

A Note on Internal Cooking Temperatures

These temperatures are what we recommend when cooking meat, poultry and fish. There are, however, some exceptions that should be noted.

Carry Over Cooking

  • Beef, pork, or lamb should be removed from the heating element when it temps 5–10 degrees BELOW your desired doneness. Dense meat retains heat better, which causes internal temperatures to continue to rise as it rests off-heat.
    This is called carry over cooking, so if you want your meal to come off the grill, pan, or oven just the way you like it, give it a short rest and pay attention to the temp!

The above temperatures take into consideration your health, safety and enjoyment. We’ve found these degrees (from experience) are the ideal safe temperature—great meaty results that are safe and delicious. You can always cook for a little longer if you prefer your meals especially well-done.

Meat Temperature Chart

text and animal graphics on a gray background

Print off our meat cooking temperatures cheat sheet and post it to your fridge for easy access any time!

The Importance of Resting

As instructed with pork, beef, veal and lamb, it’s important to allow a resting period between your cooking temperatures. This will vary depending on a number of factors, including the density, size and even the “juiciness” of your meat.

Allowing your meat to rest keeps the juices absorbed in the meat and helps to avoid overcooking! Keep in mind, the lower the cooking temperature, the less resting time it will need. As a general rule of thumb, any thicker slices of meat should rest for at least 10–15 minutes, but you can let it rest longer without any worry.

Use Your Meat Thermometer in these Meaty Recipes

The key to perfecting all of these meat, poultry and fish recipes? Using internal temperature as a guide, NOT just times!

We are always here to help, so if you have any meaty inquires or general kitchen cooking questions, leave a comment or send an email to

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About The Author

Loretta McGraw is a senior in journalism and mass communication at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Iowa State University. She is currently working as a Digital Food Publishing Intern here at Zestful Kitchen while attending classes and engaging in extracurricular media organizations on campus. After graduating she hopes to continue mastering her writing skills in the magazine industry.

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