Cooking meat the right way is one of the most important things you can learn about handling food. And I’m not just talking about making it taste good- I’m talking about cooking it so it doesn’t make you sick.
The most obvious rule is that it’s generally not a good idea to eat raw meat. You risk ingesting e coli or salmonella, the things that give you food poisoning. The way to avoid food poisoning is to cook the meat until it’s not pink or jelly-like in the middle. Meats like steak and beef (same animal, different cut) should be cooked until somewhere in the range of faintly pink (rare) to as brown as the exterior (well-done). Fish is done when it’s entirely opaque (not gel-like) on the inside. If you have a specific thing you want to cook, while Googling it is a perfectly good option, there’s nothing like knowing ahead of time what your food’s goal state of being is.
Now, one thing that I got the sense a lot of students over-look is how they handle the raw meat during the preparation process. Never use the same utensil and cutting board with which you prepared raw meat to prepare anything that’s not raw meat! This means, cut the vegetables on a separate board with a separate knife. Once you touch raw meat, don’t touch anything else other than raw meat utensils until you thoroughly wash your hands- and use your arm to get the faucet running. And, use a different utensil to prod and poke the meat while it’s cooking than you use once it’s cooked. There would be nothing more tragically ironic than going through all the pains of cooking your meat well only to get food poisoning from a fork you touched while the meat was still raw.
If you’re cooking something big, like a roast or a large bird of some kind, get a meat thermometer so you can check the internal temperature. The minimum for steak is at least 145, for chicken it’s 160. These are in Fahrenheit. Also, unlike red meat, chicken HAS to be cooked until there is no pinkness to be found- it’s a less dense meat so it’s easier for bacteria to travel and infiltrate it.
Those two things- cooking the meat all the way through and being mindful of handling raw meat- are the two big things to remember when making your hamburgers, stir fries, burritos, chicken parm, and any other culinary college creations you concoct.
As for making meat extra tender and tasty, that’s a whole other article.