Can you eat a burger medium rare? If the answer is no, why not? After all, people have been eating medium rare steaks without ill effect for a long time. And burgers are made of beef, so what’s the difference? Read on to find out the answers.
Can You Eat a Burger Medium Rare?
Raw beef might be contaminated with bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses when consumed. You can eradicate these bacteria by cooking the meat to 165 degrees. Since the bacteria can be spread throughout ground beef, eating medium rare burgers poses a health risk.
About Safe Serving Temperatures
Let’s start by establishing why meat needs to be cooked in the first place. Animal flesh can harbor pathogens that may cause serious illness when consumed. When these pathogens are exposed to high temperatures, they start to die off, rendering the flesh safe to eat.
In general, meat should be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit before it’s taken off the heat. At that temperature, the bacteria that cause illness are eradicated within seconds, so you don’t have to worry about getting sick.
Why, then, can you cook a steak to a lower temperature? We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, understand that the hazardous bacteria linger on the surface of the flesh. As long as you’ve seared the outside of the meat, the inside can remain rare.
Rare to Well Done: A Temperature Chart
What does medium rare mean, exactly? The term refers to the internal temperature of the beef. Here’s the rundown on the popular serving temperatures.
Steak hits the “rare” mark when it’s cooked to 120-130 degrees. At this point, the center will be ruby red in the center with lighter pinkish-red around the edges. The middle should also be slightly cool to the touch, and the outsides just slightly charred.
The majority of steak cuts are best when cooked to medium rare, as the fats have just begun to render at these temperatures. At 130-135 degrees, the steak will be juicy and tender in the middle and nicely charred on the exterior.
When the steak cooks to the range between 135 and 155 degrees, it’s considered medium. Mostly pink throughout with shades of brown extending to the crust, it’s not quite as juicy as a steak cooked to just medium rare.
A medium well steak has cooked to 155-165 degrees. Once the steak hits this threshold, it’s begun to dry out and the insides will be mostly brown.
Cooked past 165 degrees, beef will be dry and tough. If you value your reputation as a grilling aficionado, it’s best not to let your steaks get to this point.
Can You Eat Raw Beef?
There are many popular recipes worldwide that call for raw or extremely rare beef.
Steak tartare, a dish of minced raw beef mixed with egg yolk and seasonings, is ubiquitous on brunch menus. Thin slices of raw beef make up an Italian appetizer known as carpaccio. And Pittsburgh steaks are seared on each side, but served mainly raw.
Despite the notoriety of these dishes, the USDA recommends cooking beef to at least 145 degrees to ensure food safety. Cooking it to a rare temp of 125 will increase the risk of food-borne illness, but it’s still better than nothing.
You’ll notice that when restaurants list steak or burgers among the menu options, they’ll include a disclaimer that includes the USDA guidelines. That gives the customer full disclosure, so they know they’re taking a risk by ordering an item that contains rare beef.
The good news is that the longer the bacteria are exposed to the high temperatures, the lower the risk. For example, while it’s not recommended to eat chicken that’s cooked to just 145 degrees, salmonella can be eradicated at this temperature—it just takes longer.
Can You Eat a Burger Medium Rare?
Now that we’ve established that it’s permissible to consume medium rare steak, we’re left with the question: Can you eat a burger that’s cooked to those temperatures?
Unfortunately, this is another practice that isn’t recommended by the USDA. Ground meat products play by a different set of rules than whole muscle cuts. You should always cook ground beef to 165 degrees before serving it.
Why the discrepancy? As we pointed out, the bacteria that cause illness are found on the surface of the meat. Cooking the exterior to a high temperature, therefore, should be sufficient to ensure food safety. That’s true of whole muscle cuts like steaks and roasts.
In order to make ground beef, the whole muscle cuts are fed through a meat grinder. When this happens, the meat that was on the surface gets all tossed in with the rest. As a result, it’s impossible to tell where the bacteria might have ended up.
That said, people have been known to cook burgers to medium rare without ill effect. That’s because not every cut of meat will be contaminated with the pathogens that can make you sick.
The problem is, there’s no way to be sure if it’s contaminated or not. Your only safe bet is to cook all ground beef to at least 165 degrees. You can take it off the heat at 160 and let carryover cooking take care of the rest, but don’t stop cooking it before that.
Can a Burger Be Pink in the Middle?
The red color in beef comes from myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to the muscles. Though it’s often confused for blood, the red liquid that comes out of a steak or burger as it cooks is actually made up of this protein.
When you cook the beef, the proteins denature, which causes the meat to turn a lighter shade of pink, and then brown. Many people think that if a burger is still pink in the middle, it’s undercooked, or at least rare. But that’s not always the case.
The only way to test the internal temperature of a burger is to use a meat thermometer. Sometimes, the meat is cooked to 165 and still pink in the center. Other times, it will be brown all the way through, but it still hasn’t achieved the proper temp yet.
You don’t want to plunge the thermometer into the meat multiple times, or the juices will run out. Wait until the burger has cooked for a minimum of 4 minutes per side before you test the temperature.
What About Turkey or Chicken Burgers?
It’s even more important for burgers made out of ground poultry to cook to a safe temperature. Again, that means taking them off the heat when they’ve hit the 160-degree mark and letting them rest for 3 to 5 minutes to finish cooking.
In fact, you probably already know that all poultry products need to cook to 165 degrees, whether the meat is ground or not. That’s because poultry flesh is less dense than beef or pork, so the bacteria can penetrate further beneath the surface.
The Bottom Line
The official line is that you can’t eat a burger medium rare because the meat might be contaminated with bacteria. If you opt to take the risk, you might wind up getting sick. The risk might be minimal, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!