Are y’all ready to talk about the best way to cook beef? Well, let me tell you, where I come from, we take our beef seriously. It’s a family tradition to cook that meat just right.
Now, I know y’all may think that cooking beef is easy, but there’s more to it than just throwing it on the grill. It’s all about that internal temperature, and trust me on this, that internal temperature is nothing to mess around with, whether you’re cooking in the kitchen or out on the grill.
To make sure your beef is not only delicious but also safe to eat, it has to reach a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). After you take the beef off the heat, allow it to rest for at least 3 minutes before cutting it.
This golden rule applies to whole beef and beef cuts only. If you’re cooking ground beef or beef sausages, the minimum internal temperature that the USDA recommends is higher, at 160°F (71.1°C). This is because grinding introduces surface bacteria inside the meat.
While I know it may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised how many folks forget to check or ignore it altogether.
Raw or undercooked beef can carry some harmful bacteria, like Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E.coli, that can make you mighty sick if you don’t cook it to the right temp. The food safety experts warn: you don’t want any of these pathogens inside your body.
As the family grill masters, it’s our responsibility to cook food that’s not only tasty but also safe to eat. Don’t do the mistake that many a home cook do and rely solely on the color of the meat or the juices running clear — that’s not a reliable way to tell if your beef is cooked through.
So, whether you’re searing up some beef steaks or smoking a whole brisket overnight, make sure you have a trusty meat thermometer at hand, and check that temperature before you cut it up and send it to the table, now, will you?
And always take the internal temperature in the thickest part of the cut. Once that beef reaches at least 145°F (63°C) for whole beef and cuts and at least 160°F (71.1°C) for ground beef and beef sausages, you can safely take it off the heat and let everyone dig in. Trust me, your tummy will thank you for it.
What About Rare or Medium-Rare Steak?
A rare or medium-rare steak may be delicious, but it does come with some risks.
The USDA’s recommended minimum internal temperature for beef, as we touched on, is set at 145°F (63°C) for whole beef and cuts and 160°F (71.1°C) for ground beef and beef sausages for a reason. Eating undercooked beef can expose you to harmful bacteria.
Now, if you’re a healthy adult with an immune system in good shape, a rare/medium-rare steak once in a while may not be a big deal. But if you or somebody else you’re cooking for has a compromised immune system, it’s probably a good idea to cook your beef to the minimum temperature for safety.
This, per the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes pregnant women, young children, and older adults.
So, it’s perfectly fine to eat your steak rare or medium-rare as long as you understand the health risks involved. And if you do decide to cook your steak to a lower temperature, make sure to purchase high-quality beef from a reputable source — and handle it with care to minimize the risk of contamination.
Temperature of Safety vs. Temperature of Tenderness
I know what y’all are thinking!
“This may be true, Sammy, but then why do we cook a beef shoulder or brisket at a much higher temperature than the USDA prescribes?”
Well now, when it comes to BBQ, there’s more to cooking meat than just making sure it’s safe to eat. Cooking that cut of meat to tenderness is just as important as cooking it to safety — and that’s especially true when it comes to smoking beef.
See, when you smoke a tough cut of meat like a beef brisket, it’s all about breaking down the collagen. Tough cuts of meat contain collagen, which is a protein that gives the meat its structure. But collagen also happens to be tough and chewy, which means it needs to be broken down if you want your beef to be juicy and tender.
The trick is to smoke the meat low and slow, at a cooking temperature between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C), until the collagen has had a chance to break down and melt into the meat. This takes place at a higher internal temp than the one for just cooking it to safety.
That’s why the good folks at the USDA prescribe cooking whole beef and cuts of beef to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), so they come out safe to eat, but it’s also why you’ll want to pull tough cuts of beef from the smoker at a higher temperature, around 195°F (91°C).
Why the difference?
Well, like I said, all meats must be cooked to safety, but tough cuts of meat need to also be cooked to a higher temperature to break down the collagen and become tender. And because the heat takes a long time to get to the center of the meat when smoking, you need to keep the meat in the smoker until it reaches that higher temperature.
Before beef is eaten, it ought to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) for whole beef and cuts, and 160°F (71.1°C) for ground beef and sausages.
For tougher cuts of beef like brisket or shoulder, it needs to be braised, stewed, slow-roasted, or smoked until it reaches an internal temperature of 195°F (91°C), give or take 5 degrees, for it to be both safe to eat and tender.
So, y’all, grab that meat thermometer and get to cooking that beef to perfection!