The only guaranteed way to tell when meat is perfectly cooked is by getting the internal temperature to the right degree, and for that, you need a reliable meat thermometer. There are other ways that people use to test for doneness - cutting open the meat and testing for pinkness, wiggling the bones to test for looseness or tenderness - but these methods aren't entirely certain, and if you're preparing food for company, you'll want to be sure.
This guide to cooking times will let you know precisely what the internal temperature of your meat needs to reach to be considered "done."
To get internal temperatures right, it's important to know where to put your thermometer for the best read. For example, if you just poke your thermometer into a bone-in chicken thigh, you might pierce a fat pocket which will cause your result to be much higher than it actually is.
- Roasts: Place your thermometer into the thickest middle part of the roast, away from fat, gristle, or bone. If your roast is irregularly shaped, take several temperature readings throughout the roast.
- Whole Turkey or Chicken: You should check the temperature by placing your thermometer in 3 spots: the innermost part of the thighs and wings, and the thickest part of the breast. Again, keep away from fat and bone as these heat differently than meat does and can interfere with readings.
- Thin Foods: For pork chops, burger patties, or chicken breast, it's recommended to insert your thermometer into the side of the food, through to the center.
These numbers represent the minimum internal temperature recommended for safe cooking. It's important to note that food continues to cook after it's been removed from the heat, sometimes raising the internal temperature by 5-15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Duck & Goose