The Grilled Meat Temperature Guide: How to Cook the Perfect Meat

The Grilled Meat Temperature Guide: How to Cook the Perfect Meat

The Grilled Meat Temperature Guide

This grilled meat temperature guide is your perfect reference for cooking, grilling, smoking, and preparing red or white meat in the best ways.

It's a balmy summer afternoon and the house is buzzing with friends and family. The side dishes are finished, the buns laid out, and people are hungry.

Ever felt the pressure to grill everything to perfect doneness and impress your friends with your grilling skills?

But you are often uncertain when the meat is fully cooked.

We've all felt the glory of cutting open the perfect steak. And we've all felt the awkwardness of seeing our loved ones chewing...and chewing a piece of dry chicken. Oh, the shame!

It can be difficult to know how long to grill or smoke certain meats.

Let's explore this meat temperature guide. Learn about ideal cooking temperatures, helpful tools, and smoking methods.

Meat Temperature Guide: The Numbers Game

As many as 1 in 6 Americans will get food poisoning each year according to a recent CDC report. Grilling meats to the proper temperature keeps everyone safe.

The best way to be sure that meat is fully cooked is through the internal temperature. Let's look at the minimum temperature requirements for different meats.

From the highest required temperature to lowest:

165 (F) Degrees

  • All Poultry (ground meat, whole birds, pieces, and stuffing)
  • Leftovers (foods that have been previously cooked and are being reheated for consumption)

160 (F) Degrees

  • Ground Meats (excluding poultry which requires a higher cooking temp)

145 (F) Degrees

  • Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal
  • Ham (smoked or fresh)

Check out these other useful grilling safety tips that keep your family safe.

To Rest or Not to Rest

Remember we are always trying to land at the ideal cooking temperatures above.

Keeping that in mind, it's important to note that meat continues to cook once removed from the grill. Taking it off a little early to account for this is a good idea.

Remove your piece of meat from the grill and allow it to rest. I place a piece of foil on top and allow the meat to stay warm while the juices redistribute throughout the meat.

Taking the temperature

The days of the pop-up turkey thermometer are over. There are so many great digital and analog thermometers to help you stop guessing.


  • Traditional
  • Digital
  • Infrared Laser

How to use:

Place the traditional thermometer into the center of the meat. Avoid contact with the bones: it affects the accuracy of the reading.

Wait until the maximum temperature to know where you stand on doneness.

Digital thermometers are an absolute revolution in the grilling world. Not only is the temperature more accurate, it is also easier to read.

With wireless thermometers, you check the internal temp of the meat from inside the house. I love knowing that the meat is not burning while I'm inside preparing the rest of the meal.

Infrared thermometers are great for checking grill temperatures accurately. You will get an instant-read from up to 5 feet away. These measure the surface temperature, not the internal temperature of the meat.

Try the Hand Trick:

Check out this clever way of checking the doneness of your steak using only your hand.

Open your hand and press on the part of your palm next to your thumb. This is the way meat feels when its raw.

Now put your thumb and your pointer finger together, like you're saying "OK". This is how rare feels.

Follow with your middle finger to thumb next and all way to your pinkie. Each of them goes from medium rare, rare, and well done.

I actually use this when I'm cooking steaks. It's amazing how it works.

Smoking Hot

It has become more and more popular to smoke your own meats at home.

We'll explore the meat temperature guide from a smoked foods perspective now.

That way you can get smoking on your next BBQ.

Three variables to control:

  • Smoke temperature
  • Smoking time/pound
  • Finished internal temperature

A smoker temperature control will be a great help. This is different than any of the thermometers we discussed earlier. This device uses a fan to either increase or decrease the amount of smoke. Therefore keeping the ideal smoking temperature across the required cook time.

Smoked Meat Temperature Guide

Like traditional grilled meats, temperature guidelines exist for smoked meats as well. Following these methods will help create consistent, delicious food every time.


Smoking Temp: 220 (F)

Smoking Time per pound: 1.5 hours/lb

Finished Temp: 175 (F)

Beef Ribs

Smoking Temp: 225 (F)

Smoking Time: 3-4 hours

Finished Temp: 165 (F)

Baby Back Ribs

Smoking Temp: 225 (F)

Smoking Time: 5 hours

Finished Temp: Until tender

Spare Ribs

Smoking Temp: 225 (F)

Smoking Time: 6 hours

Finished Temp: 172 (F)

Pork Butt

Smoking Temp: 225 (F)

Smoking Time per pound: 1.5 hours/lb

Finished Temp: 190 (F)

Pick Your Wood

Wood is the fuel behind the smoke and imparts many interesting flavors.

Here are a few examples and the flavor profile they offer:

  • Cherry: Mild-mannered
  • Hickory: Big, BOLD smoke, stands up to lamb and beef.
  • Apple: Sweet flavor that matches well with light meats and fish
  • Maple: A great combo of sweet and savory

The classic smoking fuel is wood, but there are also other alternatives. Charcoal, Electric, and Gas fuel each have their own benefits.

  • Mixing charcoal with wood is a good combination. The coals help the wood to light and burn longer.
  • Electric smokers are a luxurious ticket but worth every penny. It is not necessary to tend the fire the way you do in other methods.
  • Smoking with gas is as easy as turning on the grill. However, you are sacrificing the flavor you get from wood and charcoal.

Beef Cuts

Choosing the right beef cut is important when choosing the best beef to smoke. Here is a useful chart for beef cuts

Keep Your Lid Closed

One big amateur mistake is opening the lid during the first 4 hours of cook time. Leave the lid closed, and keep yourself from peeking. Control the flame with your smoker temperature control or by adjusting the fuel. 

On the other-hand, when using a gas grill, you cook with the lid open. On many grills, keeping the lid closed will cause damage to the grill. Especially super hot (in temp) grills like Lynx and Alfresco for example. 

The Grilling Masters

Few things satisfy me more than grilling a delicious meal for my family. I hope you can use this meat temperature guide as a handy resource. Join our grilling family and stay connected at The BBQ Depot.

For custom grill support or questions regarding our products please contact us at your leisure.

by Tracy Hollander on 26th Oct 2017
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