For safety purposes, the USDA recommends cooking foods to the following internal temperatures:
A good meat thermometer is a great investment—they don’t cost a lot, and it will help you ensure that your dishes are properly heated through and cooked to perfection every time! For more information about safely handling food, get tips from the USDA.
Baked goods such as cakes and brownies are done when they spring back when lightly pressed in the center, begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, or when a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Breads are done when the loaf sounds hollow when tapped and reaches an internal temperature of 200 to 210° F. To determine the temperature of bread, insert an instant read thermometer in the bottom of the loaf.
Most vegetables are “done” precisely at the moment when you like the texture—either crisp and crunchy, soft and tender, or someplace in between. The best way to determine whether or not vegetables are cooked properly is to taste them when their cooking time is nearly up. Then you can decide whether or not they are cooked to your taste.
Some vegetables, however, must be cooked until tender. Potatoes, squash, beets and root vegetables like turnips are best cooked until they’re soft through and through, with no hint of crunch. Test by either tasting or by inserting a knife tip or skewer into the vegetable. It shouldn’t meet with any resistance.
Dried pasta should be cooked until tender but not mushy. In fact, many Italian recipes call for pasta to be “al dente,” which means “to the tooth”—tender yet still with a bit of “bite.” The only way to see if pasta is cooked to the proper stage is to bite into it. If it is still white at the core, give it another minute, then test again.
Dried beans should also be cooked until tender with no sign of chalkiness, and again, the best way to find out if they are done is to taste them. Test several beans before deciding whether or not to take them any further—they can cook somewhat unevenly.
Most varieties of rice are done when tender but not mushy or soggy. Like pasta and beans, there shouldn’t be any crunch to it, but overcooking is easy to do, so sample the rice when it’s finished cooking. If it’s still a touch chewy, let the rice stand, covered, for a few minutes. Often, the steam in the pot will be enough to cook it through. If making risotto with Arborio rice, the finished dish should have the slightest bit of bite or resistance to it. Test a grain of rice by biting it in half—if there’s a tiny white spot in the center, you’re good to go.