Is it safe to eat undercooked burger? What’s the definition of “undercooked” in this case, anyway? If you’ve ever cooked burgers for a crowd, you’ve probably already asked yourself these questions. Let us guide you through the answers.
Ground beef isn’t considered fully cooked until it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The meat could be contaminated with bacteria that can only be eradicated through exposure to high temperatures. If you take a chance and eat raw or undercooked burger, you run the risk of food poisoning.
Why It’s Important
Raw meat is a prime host for the types of bacteria that cause food poisoning when consumed. That’s why it’s critical to cook all meat to a safe serving temperature, although these can vary depending on the type of meat you’re talking about.
We should point out that not all cuts of meat will be contaminated with these harmful pathogens. However, there’s no way to tell whether the bacteria are present. Cooking the meat is the only way to make sure you won’t get sick after eating it.
If you do consume undercooked burger that happens to be contaminated, the symptoms could range from mild stomach upset to life-threatening kidney failure. Most people would agree that it isn’t worth the risk.
Steak Serving Temperatures
Red meat is considered rare when it’s cooked to 120-130 degrees. It should be seared on the outside, with a dark red center that’s still cool to the touch.
The transition to medium rare occurs around 130 to 135 degrees. The fat begins to render at this point, creating a nice juicy texture. The meat will still be red in the center, but it should be warm throughout.
Medium steak has cooked to 135-150 and retains a lot of pink in the middle, though it will be grayish-brown around the edges. At these temperatures, the meat is still relatively moist, but the juices should run clear when you cut into it.
Cooked past 155 degrees, the steak has turned the corner into medium well territory. It will be mostly brown throughout, with perhaps a streak of pink running through the middle. Once it loses that pink color, it will be well done and therefore quite dry.
Red Meat vs. White Meat
It’s common knowledge that you can eat a steak that’s cooked to medium rare, but it’s not acceptable to consume undercooked poultry. If you don’t already know the reasoning behind this, we’re here to fill you in.
Red meat—that is, beef, pork, and lamb—is denser than the white meat you’ll find on chickens and turkeys. That means the hazardous pathogens can’t penetrate too far beneath the flesh.
With poultry, on the other hand, the bacteria can burrow more deeply into the meat. You need to cook it thoroughly in order to avoid the risk of illness.
Can You Eat Undercooked Burger?
Since hamburger is ground beef, you’d think that you would be able to eat a medium rare burger with no issues. After all, we’ve established that it’s okay to eat beef that’s cooked to just 120 degrees, as long as it’s seared on the outside.
Unfortunately, though, that rule doesn’t apply once the meat is fed through the grinder. All ground meat products, including beef, should cook to 165 degrees before you attempt to consume them, according to USDA guidelines.
Here’s the catch: When the meat is ground, the surface flesh and the meat from the inside of the cut are all mixed in together. That means that any bacteria from the surface could be lurking anywhere.
Again, there’s no guarantee that the meat will be contaminated. But there’s no way to be sure that it isn’t contaminated, either. Cooking the ground beef to 165 degrees ensures that any potential bacteria will be wiped out almost instantly.
How To Tell if Burger is Undercooked
Most recipes will tell you to cook ground beef until no trace of pink remains. That’s a useful rule of thumb, but it doesn’t work that well if you’re grilling a batch of burgers. After all, you don’t want to cut into each and every burger to check for pink.
What’s more, beef that’s browned all the way through isn’t necessarily cooked to a safe temperature. It could be fully browned and still register an internal temp below 160 degrees. Conversely, sometimes it’s safe to eat even if there’s still some pink showing.
You can tell when ground beef is fully cooked by testing the temperature with a meat thermometer. It only takes a couple of seconds, and it will ensure food safety—as long as you keep your thermometer calibrated.
It’s fine to stop cooking the burger when it hits an internal temp of 160 degrees. The residual heat will allow the meat to continue cooking even when you’ve set it aside to rest.
When you’re browning a batch of ground beef in its loose form, it won’t matter so much if you overcook it. Most recipes will call for some form of sauce or liquid that will prevent the meat from becoming too dry.
For burgers, though, you want to take care not to let the meat cook too far past 160 degrees. Well-done burgers tend to resemble hockey pucks, no matter how much ketchup and mustard you cover them with.
How Long Does it Take to Cook Ground Beef?
One pound of ground beef should be cooked through in 8 to 10 minutes when you use medium-high heat and a heavy-bottomed skillet. If you need to brown more than a single pound, it’s better to cook the meat off in batches.
Preheat the pan so that it’s reasonably hot before you add the beef. It will brown more efficiently this way. We prefer to season the meat right after we add it to the pan, but if you forget, it’s fine to do so once the burger is already browned.
Use a heatproof spatula to break the ground beef into chunks as you’re adding it to the hot skillet. This is another tip to promote even browning.
Once the beef has achieved the optimum temperature, drain the excess grease by tilting the pan and moving the meat to the higher side. You can remove the fat with a spoon or turkey baster, or blot it away using paper towels. Never pour hot grease down the drain.
We don’t recommend rinsing the ground beef after browning it. While this technique does remove excess fat, a bit of residual grease is necessary to help the meat retain flavor and moisture. What’s more, it will send grease into your pipes, which will clog them up.
How Long Does it Take to Grill a Burger?
In order to reach the recommended temperature, a burger should cook for about 3-1/2 to 4 minutes per side. The total time will depend on the size of the burger, as well as the cooking temperature. Medium-high heat is preferable for most burgers.
Try to flip the burger only once. Constant flipping causes the meat’s juices to spill out onto the fire. That causes flare-ups that can char the meat, which is something you certainly want to avoid, especially since the meat has already lost all that moisture.
There’s another reason why you’ll want to wait a while before you flip: The meat will stick to the cooking grates if it hasn’t had a chance to develop a nice sear on the bottom. Let the burger cook for at least 3 minutes before you try to turn it over.
The Bottom Line
It’s not a good idea to eat undercooked burger. True, some people flout these guidelines and chomp away at medium rare burgers on a regular basis, but they’re risking their health by doing so. Now that you understand why, go ahead and cook that burger all the way through.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!