Most meat eaters love the juicy texture of a steak cooked to a perfect medium rare. It’s natural to want to replicate this sensation when preparing burgers. But is is safe? Exactly what temp should burgers be when they come off the grill?
What Temp Should Burgers Be?
All ground meat products, including hamburger, should cook to 165 degrees before they’re served. At that temperature, the pathogens that cause foodborne illness will be eradicated in a matter of moments. You can cook the meat to a lower temp, but it might still harbor dangerous bacteria.
What’s The Best Cooking Temp For Burgers?
Before you add those patties to the grill, you’ll need to bring the cooking temperature up to the correct level. The burgers should start sizzling immediately, but not get so hot that they burn on one side before you’ve had a chance to turn them over.
The ideal temperature range for grilling burgers is between 375 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit. We would recommend aiming for 400 degrees if your grill is capable of maintaining a fairly stable temp. If it runs cool, set it to 425 degrees.
What Temp Should Burgers Be Prior to Serving?
According to USDA guidelines, burgers aren’t fully cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. That means you should cook them to 160, remove them from the heat, and let carryover cooking take care of those last 5 degrees.
Since an internal temp of 160 degrees is considered medium well to well done, you might be wondering why this is the guideline. Steaks, after all, are unpleasantly dry and tough once they reach this stage. So why do burgers need to cook for so long?
Raw meat can harbor bacteria that may cause food poisoning. That’s why you should always cook meat products before you eat them.
But these bacteria don’t penetrate very deeply—at least not in the case of red meat. Poultry flesh isn’t as dense, so the bacteria can burrow beneath the surface. As a result, you can eat steak that’s cooked rare, but not chicken or turkey.
As long as you’ve seared the outside of a whole muscle cut like a steak or roast, the bacteria should be wiped out. But with ground meat, the surface flesh has been all mixed in with the rest of it, so any portion of the mixture could be contaminated.
Of course, not all meat will necessarily harbor these dangerous pathogens, and even if it does, there’s no guarantee that you will get sick. The risk is minimal enough that many people continue to eat burgers cooked rare to medium rare.
What does this mean? As a rough estimate, about 1 in every 60 to 65 burgers will be infected with E. coli. And even if it is contaminated, there’s a chance that exposing the bacteria to heat—even temperatures lower than 160—will be sufficient to destroy it.
Still, it’s best to err on the safe side when it comes to practices that can make you ill. You’ll notice that restaurants might offer menu options that include raw or undercooked meat and egg products, but they add a disclaimer to cover their bases.
There are groups of people who should never consume undercooked meat or eggs. Pregnant women, very young children, the elderly, and anyone with compromised immune systems all fall under this umbrella.
We would recommend following the USDA guidelines and cooking burgers to 160 degrees before setting them aside to rest. If you want to serve them at a lower temperature, know that you’re putting yourself (and your guests) at risk, however low that risk may be.
A Serving Temperature Guide
What is a medium rare burger? And at what point is it considered well done? Let’s take a look.
A burger is considered rare when it’s cooked to 120-125 degrees. The meat will still be red in the center, and may even be cool to the touch.
125 degrees is too low a temperature to eliminate hazardous bacteria. The burger simply hasn’t been exposed to enough heat to ensure food safety. What’s more, when burgers are completely rare, the fat hasn’t had a chance to render and infuse the meat.
Next up on the serving temperature scale, we have medium rare. Burgers are considered medium rare when they’ve cooked to 130-135 degrees.
While the risk of food poisoning is still fairly high at these temperatures, you can lessen the danger by purchasing and grinding your own fresh beef. The burger will be pink throughout and very juicy—enough so that red juices may run out and stain the bun.
At the 140-145 degree mark, burgers have cooked to medium doneness. This is clearly a lower number than the USDA recommends, but this temp is nonetheless preferred by many burger aficionados because the meat is still moist throughout, often with hints of pink.
The burger reaches this serving temp when it’s cooked to 150-155 degrees. It will have a drier texture than a burger cooked to medium, but it’s closer to meeting USDA guidelines. Usually, red meat that’s cooked to these temperatures will be brown throughout.
Once the burger has cooked to 160, it can be considered well done. That’s what the USDA means when they recommend cooking the meat “thoroughly.” The ground beef can be dry and somewhat tough at this temperature, but at least any bacteria should be eradicated.
How Long to Grill a Burger
The total cooking time will depend on the temperature of your grill or griddle, as well as the size of the burger patty.
In general, a burger that weighs 4 ounces (or a quarter pound) before grilling should cook for 3-1/2 to 4 minutes per side. If you’re aiming for a slightly lower serving temp, grill the patties for 3 minutes per side.
Try not to flip the meat until it’s had a chance to cook for at least 3 minutes. Otherwise, the burger might stick to the grilling grate. You don’t want the meat to fall apart on the grill.
What If My Burger is Still Pink in the Middle?
There’s no need to worry if your burger is still showing a hint of pink when you cut into it. However, since 25 percent of burgers are usually brown all the way through before they hit the 160-degree mark, that’s not likely to be the case.
On the other hand, sometimes burgers can still be pink in the center even after they’ve cooked to 160 or more. If you were to keep cooking the meat in this case, you’d wind up with a dry burger.
You should never rely on color along when testing the temperature of a burger. A meat thermometer is the only reliable technique. Use an instant-read version, and try not to insert it into the burger too many times, or the meat will lose a lot of moisture.
How Long to Let Burgers Rest
Letting meat rest allows the moisture to redistribute and the serving temperature to rise a few degrees. With burgers, the resting period has the added benefit of draining some of the fat, so you won’t be dealing with a grease-soaked bun.
Since burgers are obviously smaller than huge cuts like brisket, they don’t need to rest as long. The process should only take about 5 minutes. In fact, if you wait any longer, the burgers will start to cool off.
If you’re pressed for time, there’s no need to wait out the whole 5 minutes. Just make sure to let the burgers rest for at least a minute or two, preferably on a wire rack to allow the grease to drain.
Food Safety Tips
We’ve established that it’s safer to cook burgers to 160 degrees before taking them off the grill. But if you have your heart set on cooking them medium or medium rare, you can take the following precautions to decrease the risk of food poisoning.
—Purchase high-quality beef. Your butcher might be able to recommend a product made from locally raised cattle. Grinding it yourself will lessen the risk even further.
—Keep the ground beef cold until you’re ready to start cooking. Exposing the meat to warm temperatures is a surefire way to attract bacteria.
—Clean all kitchen surfaces and wash your hands thoroughly both before and after handling raw meat products.
—Don’t use the same work surfaces or utensils for cooked meat without washing them first. If they’ve come into contact with raw meat, they might be harboring bacteria.
—Store ground beef away from other foods when keeping it in the fridge. If you suspect that any produce has come into contact with the raw meat, discard the contaminated product at once.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to ground beef, there’s only one way to eliminate the risk of becoming ill from the consumption of undercooked meat. Die-hard burger enthusiasts might disagree with this, but there’s a reason behind the USDA’s recommended serving temp of 160 degrees.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!