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All About Carryover Cooking

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2011

When you’re cooking an expensive roast, getting it to the table cooked just the way you like it is critical. To do that, you must hit the meat’s target temperature spot-on. Here's the best way to do that.

When you’re cooking an expensive roast, getting it to the table cooked just the way you like it is critical. To do that, you must hit the meat’s target temperature spot-on; 5 or 10 degrees off can make a huge difference. But judging precisely when meat is done is tricky, because what you’re actually gauging is not whether the food is ready to eat right now—but whether it will be ready to eat once it has rested. Meat will continue to cook even after it has been removed from the heat source, a phenomenon known as “carryover cooking.” This happens for two reasons: First, the exterior of a large roast gets hot much more quickly than the interior. Second, because heat always moves from a hotter to a cooler area, as long as there is a difference in temperature between the two regions, heat will keep moving from the surface to the center even after you remove the meat from the heat source. This transfer will slow, and eventually stop, as internal and external temperatures approach each other and even out. But the process can result in a significant increase in temperature at the center of a large roast, bringing it from a perfect pink to a disappointing gray.


The exterior of meat heats up far more quickly than the interior, resulting in a huge temperature differential between the outside and the center of a roast. The internal temperature is what matters. When the center of a roast comes within 10 degrees of the target, it’s time to take it off the heat.


As long as there is a difference between the outside and inside temperatures of a cut of meat, heat will continue to travel inward. Off heat, the temperature of this roast continued to rise—a ­phenomenon known as “carryover cooking.” After 15 minutes, it reached its target of 150 degrees.

So when, exactly, should you remove meat from the heat source? Both the size of the roast and the heat level during cooking will impact the answer. A large roast will absorb more heat than a thin steak, which means there will be more heat in the meat and therefore a greater amount of carryover cooking. Similarly, meat cooked in a 400-degree oven absorbs more heat than meat cooked in a 200-degree oven, so carryover cooking is greater in a roast cooked in a hot oven.

Use our guidelines to determine exactly when to take meat off the heat so when you serve it, it’s at the desired temperature. (Note: While carryover cooking can occur in poultry,  for food safety reasons we usually don’t recommend removing it from the heat until it’s done.)

               For Final Serving Temperature           Stop Cooking When Temperature Reaches

For large roasts/high heatThin cuts/moderate heat
Beef and Lamb
Rare125°F115°F 120°F
Medium-Rare130°F 120°F 125°F
Medium140°F 130°F 135°F
Well Done160°F 150°F 155°F
Medium150°F 140°F 145°F
Well Done160°F 150°F 155°F