Determining the Doneness of Beef

Determining the Doneness of Beef

How Do I Determine Doneness?
Determining doneness of beef is a stumbling block for many cooks, but it's one that can easily be overcome with a little know-how. The following information should smooth the way to success every time.

Click on the kind of beef to go directly to the desired info.

First, recognize that the cooking times in our Beef Recipes and Cooking Timetables are not absolutes, even though they are based on extensive industry testing. Rather, they are meant to be used as guides - useful for establishing a work plan and to help determine doneness. Variations in individual animals, size and conformation of a specific cut, as well as differences in cooking equipment, are just some of the factors that contribute to variations in cooking times.

Next, become familiar with the stages of doneness and with thermometers. It will make life a lot simpler.

It's important to be able to recognize the various stages of doneness in beef by appearance.

  • Medium rare beef is very pink in the center, slightly brown toward the exterior.
  • Medium beef is light pink in center, brown toward the exterior.
  • Well done beef is uniformly brown throughout.
A thermometer is essential for determining the doneness of beef oven roasts and meatloaves. It can also be useful when cooking burgers and steaks. See our thermometer guide.

There is no reliable visual indication of doneness for beef roasts, unless you cut into them. Therefore, a meat thermometer is essential to successfully determine the doneness of roasts. It should be inserted into the thickest part of the roast, not resting in fat or touching bone.

The ovenproof meat thermometer is the most convenient type to use when cooking roasts. It is inserted prior to roasting and left in throughout the cooking process. The instant-read thermometer can also be used to test the internal temperature of roasts. Although it cannot be left in the roast during cooking, its slim stem allows for frequent testing with minimal loss of flavorful juices. Insert for about 15 seconds to take a reading, then remove it and continue cooking, if necessary.

To achieve the desired doneness (145°F for medium rare; 160°F for medium), remove the roast from the oven when the thermometer registers 5°F to 10°F below the desired doneness. Let roast stand 15 to 20 minutes before carving. The internal temperature will continue to rise during standing and reach the desired temperature.
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The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Culinary Center recommends cooking steaks just to medium rare (145°F) or medium (160°F) doneness; do not overcook.

The most accurate way to determine doneness of steaks is with an instant-read thermometer. This is especially recommended for steaks more than 1-1/2 inches thick. Insert the thermometer horizontally from the side, so that the temperature sensitive part of the thermometer penetrates the thickest part or the center of the steak, not touching bone or fat.

To determine doneness visually, make a small slit near the bone, or near the center for boneless steaks, and check the color.
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Ground Beef
Ground beef should be cooked to medium (160°F) doneness, until not pink in center and juices show no pink color. The most accurate way to determine doneness of ground beef patties and meatloaf is with an instant-read thermometer.

The temperature-sensitive part of the thermometer should penetrate the center or thickest part of the meatloaf or patty. To test patties, insert thermometer horizontally from the side into the center.

Due to the natural nitrate content of certain ingredients often used in meatloaf, such as onions, celery and bell peppers, meatloaf may remain pink even when a 160°F internal temperature has been reached. Always check the internal temperature of meatloaf using a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer to be certain it reaches 160°F.
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Pot Roast & Beef for Stew
Due to the nature of moist-heat cookery, pot roasts and beef for stew will always be well done. Simmer pot roasts and beef for stew until the beef is fork-tender. To test, insert a double-pronged utility fork into the thickest part of the beef. When the fork can be inserted without resistance and releases easily when pulled out, the beef is done.

Can you overcook a pot roast? Absolutely! Pot roast cooked beyond the fork-tender stage may begin to fall apart and seem more tender. Actually, it is losing moisture, becoming dry, tough and stringy. Do not overcook!
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Beef for Kabobs
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Culinary Center recommends cooking beef for kabobs just to medium rare (145°F) or medium (160°F) doneness; do not overcook. To determine doneness, make a small slit into the center of a beef cube and check the color.
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Beef for Stir-Fry
For best flavor and texture, stir-fry beef just until outside surface of pieces is no longer pink; the center should be slightly pink. Stir-frying proceeds very rapidly so be careful not to overcook. Certain cuts, such as tri-tip and round and all cuts of Select grade beef, are sensitive and can quickly become dry, tough and less flavorful if overcooked.
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