What temperature should a hamburger be cooked to? Well, it depends on who you ask.
According to the USDA, hamburger meat should be cooked to 160°F to ensure proper food safety.
But let's be real here for a second:
A lot of folks—including me—like our burgers cooked medium-rare to medium.
Which is most definitely not 160°F.
So, let's talk about different burger temperatures and the importance of cooking hamburger meat properly.
What Temperature Should Burgers Be Cooked To?
Again, the USDA plays it safe with their recommendations. They advise hitting a minimum temperature of 160°F to 165°F for your burger meat, which will give you a dry, well-done patty.
If you're a little more adventurous and actually want a burger that tastes good, study this temperature guide for different levels of doneness:
- Rare: 120°F to 125°F
- Medium Rare: 130°F to 135°F
- Medium: 140°F to 145°F
- Medium Well: 150°F to 155°F
- Well Done: 160°F to 165°F
How do you keep track of your burger temp when grilling?
With a meat thermometer, of course. The best and most accurate way to measure your temp. Just remember to insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the patty to get the most accurate reading.
Note: this doesn't really apply to smash burgers, which are flattened down so thin that you can't even measure them properly with a thermometer.
How Long Do You Cook Burgers?
You should always cook any meat to temperature, not time.
That's because "how long does it take to cook a burger?" depends on many things, like:
How thick is the patty? Which cooking method are you using? And how do you like your burger cooked?
That said, some general guidance can be useful for beginners.
Say you have a typical one-inch patty, around four-inches in diameter.
Also assume you're cooking on a 450° to 500°F surface like a grill or cast-iron pan.
- Rare: Cook for 2 minutes per side, totaling 4 minutes.
- Medium-rare: Cook for 2 minutes and 30 seconds per side, totaling 5 minutes.
- Medium: Cook for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes per side, totaling 6 to 7 minutes.
Why Temperature Matters
If you grossly undercook your burger meat, you could get a foodborne illness—and get really sick.
That's why we care about burger temperature.
The USDA specifically recommends 160°F because that's the temperature that effectively kills off any harmful bacteria that may be present in the meat.
That said, it's extremely common to eat burgers medium rare, which is 130°F.
Understanding Temperature Ranges
Raw and Undercooked Meat
You definitely don't want to eat raw ground beef, or any burger cooked below rare. Again, this is due to potential bacteria and parasites that could make you really sick.
I personally prefer my burgers cooked medium rare, which is between 130°F and 135°F.
A medium rare burger is juicy and tender, with some pink in the center.
At this level of doneness, the meat will be juicy and tender, with some pink coloration in the center.
Many folks also enjoy a burger cooked medium, which is between 140°F and 145°F.
A medium burger will be cooked more evenly throughout than medium-rare, still pretty juicy, but a little bit more firm, and barely any signs of pink color.
Well-done burgers are dry, less flavorful, and have zero pink coloration inside. If you want a well-done burger, be sure to cook it between 160°F to 165°F.
USDA's Temperature Guidelines
As mentioned, the USDA has their own safety guidelines for cooking hamburgers.
Their goal is the help you to avoid foodborne illnesses and getting sick.
Here's what the USDA has to say about ground beef:
- For food safety reasons, cook your hamburger meat to 160 °F.
- Use a meat thermometer to measure internal temperature accurately.
- Allow your meat to rest for at least 3 minutes before eating it.
What Are The Risks With Ground Beef?
Ground beef can contain harmful bacteria and lead to foodborne illnesses like E. coli and Salmonella, especially when it's not cooked well. That's why the USDA recommends cooking to 160 °F, to help destroy those bacteria.
You also have to consider cross-contamination when doing your food prep. You don't want bacteria from your raw ground beef being accidentally transferred to other food that you're preparing at the same time.
Here are some tips to help you prevent cross-contamination:
- Always wash your hands before and after handling raw ground beef.
- Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and any fresh foods.
- Clean utensils and surfaces that have come into contact with raw ground beef using hot, soapy water.
Should You Grind Your Own Meat?
If you have the time, then grinding your own meat can give you better quality, better taste, and a burger that's safer to eat.
Better quality, because your grind is going to be much fresher than the pre-ground meat you get in the store.
Better taste, because your grind is not only fresh, but you also get to choose which types of meat to blend—so you have much more control over the fat content, which can result in a juicier burger.
And better food safety, because there's less risk of cross-contamination that can occur when your beef is ground in the factory.
How To Check Burger Temperature
The best—and really, only reliable—method for checking burger temperature is with a meat thermometer.
The Meat Thermometer
A meat thermometer is the most accurate, and the fastest, way to check your burger temp.
Just insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the burger—making sure to avoid making contact with your grill on cast iron pan—and you should get an accurate reading in a few seconds.
Visual and Touch Techniques
Now, some folks love to claim that they can tell a burger's doneness just be touch and feel.
This is obviously not as reliable as using a meat thermometer, but there's what to look for:
- Rare: Cool red center, soft/spongy feel, 120-125°F internal temperature.
- Medium-rare: Pink center, firmer yet tender, 130-135°F internal temperature.
- Medium: Pale pink center, firmer texture, 140-145°F internal temperature.
- Medium-well: Brown with a pink hint, quite firm, 150-155°F internal temperature.
- Well-done: Fully browned and firm, 160-165°F internal temperature.
You should always rest your burgers for a few minutes after cooking.
This helps redistribute the juices and allows them settle, so the juiciness stays inside your burger, not on your plate when you bite into it.
The Ultimate Two-Stage Cooking Method
Some folks swear by the two-state cooking method for burgers.
Note: this only works for non-smash burgers.
The idea behind two-stage cooking is the same as when you reverse-sear a steak: by cooking low and slow first, and then cranking up the heat, you guarantee an evenly cooked burger that's not dried out.
Grill your burgers first on the cooler side of your grill, and cook with the cover down until it hits an internal temperature of five degrees cooler than your desired temp.
For example: if you like your burger cooked to 135°F, then cook it on the cooler side until 130°F.
Then, transfer your burger over to the piping hot side of your grill, a minute or two for each side, to get that nice sear and crust.
This final step will also elevate the final cooking temperature to your desired doneness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, a burger with a blush of pink can be safe to devour, provided it hits an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C), as per USDA guidelines. Thorough cooking is paramount to curb the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Though a meat thermometer reigns supreme in accuracy, other tactics are at your disposal when a thermometer is out of reach. The finger test is a popular choice, equating the firmness of your burger patty to various areas of your hand. Keep in mind, however, that this method lacks the precision of a thermometer.
Another approach involves slicing into the burger to examine its color and juices. A fully cooked burger should show no pink center, though it's important to remember that color alone isn't a foolproof indicator of doneness.
Although 145°F (63°C) is often considered a safe temperature for cooking whole cuts of beef, it is not recommended for ground meats, including hamburgers.
The USDA recommends cooking ground meat to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. This temperature ensures that harmful bacteria in the meat are killed, providing a safer eating experience for you and your family.
- Meat Thermometer. My go-to meat thermometer is the Thermapen One. It's the best meat thermometer on the market for checking internal temps.