Cookbook Profile


by Wayne Gisslen

excerpt from Professional Cooking



The meaning of the term doneness depends on whether the cooking method uses dry heat or moist heat.

1. Dry heat.

Meat is "done" when the proteins have reached the desired degree of coagulation (see p. 65 of the book), as indicated by internal temperature.

2. Moist heat.

Meat is "done" when connective tissues have broken down enough for the meat to be palatable. With a few exceptions, meat cooked by moist heat is always well done.

Dry-Heat Cooking

The object of dry-heat cooking is to achieve the desired degree of doneness (protein coagulation) while preserving natural tenderness and juiciness.

Degree of Doneness

As meat cooks, its pigments change color. These color changes indicate degrees of doneness.

(Of course, there are stages in between.)

White meat (veal and pork) changes from pink or gray-pink to white or off-white. It is generally cooked well done, although many cuts of veal may be considered done when still slightly pink in the center.

As explained on page 23 of the book, trichinosis is a disease caused by a parasite that lives in the muscle tissue of hogs and some wild animals. In countries in which this disease is a problem, pork must be cooked long enough to eliminate this danger. This parasite is killed at 137 degrees F (58 degrees C), but, to be safe, pork should be cooked to at least 150 degrees to 155 degrees F (66 degrees to 68 degrees C). At this stage, pork is only medium to medium-well done. Some people are happy to eat pork that is still pink in the center, but most people prefer it to be cooked slightly more than this. On the other hand, it is not necessary to cook pork to 185 degrees F (85 degrees C), as older guidelines said. At this temperature, pork is overcooked and dry. For diners who avoid any trace of pink in pork, perhaps the best doneness range is 160 degrees to 170 degrees F (71 degrees to 77 degrees C).

Testing Doneness

Determining doneness is one of the most difficult and critical aspects of meat cooking. Anyone can put a steak on the grill or a roast in the oven. But it takes experience and skill to take it off the fire at the right time.

Color change cannot be used to test doneness because it would be necessary to cut the meat. Piercing the meat and examining the color of the juices is not a reliable method.

Internal Temperature

Testing the interior of meat with a meat thermometer is the most accurate method of testing doneness. Thermometers are of two types: standard, which are inserted before roasting and left in the roast; and instant-read, which are inserted at any time, read as soon as the needle stops moving, and pulled out. Whatever thermometer you use, make sure it is clean and sanitary before inserting it in the meat.

Interior Temperatures of Cooked Meats

Meat Rare Medium Well Done
Beef 130 degrees F (54 degrees C) 140 degrees-145 degrees F (60 degrees-63 degrees C) 160 degrees F (71 degrees C)
Lamb 130 degrees F (54 degrees C) 145 degrees F (63 degrees C) 160 degrees F (71 degrees C)
Veal   145 degrees-150 degrees F (63 degrees-66 degrees C) 160 degrees F (71 degrees C)
Pork     160 degrees-170 degrees F (71 degrees-77 degrees C)

The tip of the thermometer should be inserted into the center of the thickest part of the flesh, not touching fat or bone. The Table gives internal temperatures of meats at various degrees of doneness.

In general, regional traditions of eating well-done or overcooked meats are decreasing, and more people are eating meat cooked rare. For decades, meats cooked to an internal temperature of 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) were called rare, but by today's standards, this is more like medium. Current preferences are reflected in the temperatures given in Table 10.3.

It should be stated that the USDA and other agencies caution that meats may contain harmful bacteria and parasites. Although studies are still being done, these agencies suggest meats be cooked to at least 145 degrees F (63 degrees C) in order to be completely safe. The USDA requires that beef precooked for foodservice sale (such as precooked roast beef for sandwiches) be heated to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees F (63 degrees C) when it is processed.

You may recall from Chapter 2 that cooking foods to lower temperatures can make them safe. Note, however, that according to Table 2.5 on page 30 of the book, the lower the final internal temperature, the longer the product must be held at that temperature. Thus, for example, a roast may be brought to an internal temperature of only 130 degrees F (54 degrees C), but it can be considered safe only if it is held at that temperature at least 112 minutes.

Clearly, it is not possible to keep a rare steak at its final temperature for 112 minutes before serving it. According to safety standards, then, rare steaks are not considered safe. Those who prefer their steaks rare, however, are not likely to be swayed by this argument and will continue to request meat done to their liking. Each food-service operator must decide whether to please these customers or to follow food safety guidelines.

In any case, whether or not 145 degrees F (63 degrees C) is the lowest safe temperature for cooking most meats, it is not really accurate to call it rare.


Carryover Cooking

Internal temperature continues to rise even after the meat is removed from the oven. This is because the outside of roasting meat is hotter than the inside. This heat continues to be conducted into the meat until the heat is equalized throughout the roast.

Carryover cooking can raise internal temperatures from 5 degrees F (3 degrees C) for small cuts to as much as 25 degrees F (14 degrees C) for very large roasts, such as a steamship round. The usual range is 10 degrees to 15 degrees F (6 degrees to 8 degrees C) for average roasts. Exact temperature change depends on the size of the cut and on the oven temperature.

Remove roasts from the oven when internal temperature is 10 degrees to 15 degrees F (6 degrees to 8 degrees C) below the desired reading. Let the roast stand 15 to 30 minutes before slicing. For example, a beef rib roast cooked rare should be removed from the oven when the thermometer reads 115 degrees to 120 degrees F (46 degrees to 49 degrees C). Carryover cooking will bring the temperature to 130 degrees F (54 degrees C) after the roast has stood for 30 minutes.



The small size of steaks and chops makes using a thermometer impractical. The cook must depend on his or her sense of touch.

Meat gets firmer as it cooks. Pressing it lightly with the finger indicates its doneness.

Press the center of the lean part, not the fat.


Time-Weight Ratio

Many charts give roasting times per pound of meat. However, these can be approximate only and should be used in estimating and planning cooking times, not in determining doneness.

Many factors other than weight and oven temperature determine cooking time:

1. Temperature of the meat before roasting.

2. Amount of fat cover (fat acts as an insulator).

3. Bones (bones conduct heat faster than flesh, so boneless roasts cook more slowly than bone-in roasts of the same weight).

4. Size, type, and contents of the oven.

5. Number of times the oven door is opened.

6. Shape of the cut (a flat or a long, thin cut cooks more quickly per pound than a round, compact cut).

You can see why roasting requires experience and judgment. To be really accurate and useful, a complete roasting chart that took all variables into consideration, including all meat cuts, sizes, oven temperatures, and so on, would be the size of a small book.

Point 6 above is a key point. It is the thickness of a cut, not its weight, that determines cooking time-the time needed for the heat to penetrate to the center. Half a pork loin roasts in about the same time as a whole pork loin, even though it weighs half as much. The thickness is the same.

Perhaps the most useful roasting time charts are those you make yourself. When you regularly roast the same cuts in the same way with the same equipment and find they always take the same length of time, you may use those times as indicators of doneness. Many foodservice operators have developed charts based on their own practices, and the correct times are indicated on their individual recipe cards.


Moist-Heat Cooking

Meat cooked by moist heat is cooked well done and actually beyond well done. Doneness is indicated by tenderness, not by temperature.

Piercing with a meat fork is the usual test for doneness. When the prongs of the fork go in and slide out easily, the meat is done.

Low temperatures-no higher than simmering-are essential to avoid toughening protein in moist-cooked meats. Oven temperatures of 250 degrees to 300 degrees F (120 degrees to 150 degrees C) are usually sufficient to maintain a simmer.



Three main factors determine the juiciness-or, more accurately, the perception of juiciness in cooked meat. Despite the myths about basting with stock and about searing meat to "seal in the juices," the following are the only factors that have any significant effect on juiciness.

1. Internal fat.

Fat makes meat taste juicy. This is why well-marbled meats taste juicier than lean meats. We understand the health effects of too much fat in the diet, but there is no getting around the fact that high fat content makes meat taste juicier. When lean meats are cooked, other measures (such as using sauces and, especially, avoiding overcooking) are used to increase palatability.

2. Gelatin.

This factor is most important in braised meats. Gelatin, converted from connective tissue, helps bind water molecules and hold them in the meat. Also, the texture of the gelatin improves the texture of the meat in the mouth. This is why braised beef shank tastes so much juicier than braised outside round.

3. Protein coagulation.

As you know, as protein coagulates or is cooked, it breaks down and begins to lose water. The more it is cooked, the more it contracts and forces out moisture. No matter how much you try to sear to "seal in the juices," this moisture will be lost. The only way to minimize the loss is to avoid overcooking.


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This page created May 2010