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I'm trying to get a temperature range for knowing when food is too hot to eat. Most of what I am finding is temperature ranges for food to kill bacteria instead.

For example, if I'm serving a hot drink or a soup/stew which was recently simmering or boiling, what temperature should I let it cool to before serving?

  • Beside the all caps, this question is off topic for the site. We concentrate on cooking food. How you serve it, or what happens to you when you eat it (including getting burned) is not part of our expertise. – rumtscho Aug 15 '14 at 17:15
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    @rumtscho It does seem like safe serving temperature would be quite relevant, for the same reasons that we allow specific food safety questions. (I know you can just sample things in the kitchen but it could be helpful to be able to just check the temperature.) – Cascabel Aug 15 '14 at 17:19
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    It's not a fixed temperature ... it has to do with the specific heat as well (oil holds more heat than water at a given temperature), and how much contact it makes. (this is why liquids in general are a problem). See wiki.chemprime.chemeddl.org/index.php/… – Joe Aug 15 '14 at 17:29
  • Ricardo, I've edited in an example that makes the question a little more easily answerable - I think liquids are really the primary time we're concerned with burning our mouths. If there are other categories of foods you were interested in, please feel free to edit further! – Cascabel Aug 15 '14 at 19:05
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    @Joe oil holds much less heat than water, 1.67 vs 4.18 kJ/kg*K (but water losses it faster due to evaporation) – Eugene Petrov Sep 9 '15 at 23:08
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I made myself some spicy chicken and macaroni soup, and put it in a bowl while it was still boiling. I put a thermometer in it as it cooled and I started to eat. I figured the soup was a good thing to test as I could take big bites that included liquid and solids that required chewing.

I took a bite every minute or so and noted the temperature, and I repeated with boiling soup after it had reached "too cool to enjoy".

At temperatures over 190F (87.8C) I couldn't put it in my mouth without giving it time to cool on the spoon and "blowing on it".

At 180F (82.2C) I was still "blowing on it", but not in an unpleasant way for the first bites of soup. I would consider that to be optimum serving temperature for this kind of soup (see quote concerning Chinese noodle soup below).

At 170F (76.7C) I could put the bite straight into my mouth without pausing or "blowing on it" but it was still a bit hot, if I were eating without paying attention to the temperature, I would have "blown on it"

At 160F (71.1C) I can and did eat comfortably. It was just pleasantly hot.

At 150F (65.5C) it was still pleasantly hot.

At 145F (62.7C) It was still quite warm, pleasant for soup.

At 140F (60C) it was still fine, but not hot at all.

At 135F (57.2C) it was still OK, but definitely getting on the cool side for soup.

At 130F (54.4C) I was glad to be almost done.

At 125F (51.7C) I was thinking seriously about the microwave.

At 120F (48.9C) It was too cool to enjoy this particular soup.

Obviously, different foods are going to have different optimal temperatures. I wouldn't want steak to have ever hit over 130F (45.4C).

Also, consider that I have been cooking for 35 years. I am accustomed to sticking a spoon into something boiling on the stove in order to taste it.

Consider too that there is (at least there is for me) something fun and vaguely comforting about soup that's still a bit too hot to eat. Some of us blow on it, noodles are often slurped for that reason:

Slurping is de rigueur among the Chinese, for practical reasons. “It’s a way of introducing cool air into your mouth to cool off the noodles and the broth if it’s a noodle soup. … Chinese food is generally served hot, often served piping hot.” -Chow.com

So, I don't think there is really such a thing as too hot to serve soup to "consenting adults".

Other types of food are cooled or rested before serving for other reasons. Meat should always be rested to allow the fibers to relax so that the juices stay in the meat instead of running all over the plate. Cheesy things like pizza are easier to cut and serve after they have cooled a bit. Some things are just (subjectively) better after cooling (I prefer fried chicken barely warm, for instance).

So, that's my $.02 on the subject, the answer of "best temperature" is largely subjective.

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    This seems great! I know the best temperature is subjective, but it seems reasonably objective that over 180F is going to be problematic for people managing to actually eat it immediately. – Cascabel Aug 15 '14 at 22:28
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    Amazing. Nicely done. It's people like you who make the internet great. – PICyourBrain Apr 24 '18 at 22:22
  • What brilliant research! Thank you! – Matt W Jul 20 '18 at 12:04
  • See biology.stackexchange.com/questions/23985/… (I think losing sensitivity from a repetitively burned mouth is normal). – Stephane Bersier Feb 19 at 21:55
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This most definitely is a food safety question. I work for a school district, and we have had several instances of small children burning themselves on the soup. We needed to write the proper serving temperature into our HACCP recipe to ensure that this would not happen again. We did some testing ourselves and found that the 145-155 temperature range was optimal for best quality and safe transport on a lunch tray.

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I worked under a chef in Seattle for about six months. He tended to recommend serving at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The soup I ate tonight was too hot until it cooled down to 140 degrees. At 145 degrees I had to blow on it first.

  • I wonder if the difference between our experience has to do with our respective ages? I'd love to know how old you are. I'm 47. – Jolenealaska Jan 15 '15 at 23:31
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Thanks for the well considered answers- apart from the comments above, please consider the following which I have observed in forty years of restaurant ownership:

Older people definitely require hotter food.

The temperature that a meal leaves the kitchen is way different to that of the last morsel eaten. I hat heavy plate is a great help here.

Certain foods which have a large surface area and small mass (like grilled calamari) cool very quickly.

In sous vide cooking, items like trout or rare meats which are cooked at about 52 deg C (125 deg F) are too cold to serve. They will need searing or a blast of higher temperature to elevate them to the optimal eating temperature.

If the first few mouthfuls are pleasantly warm, the eater will seldom be unhappy with the cooler remnants.

Happy cooking

Chef Nic

  • Welcome to the site! This is a nice post but there's just one problem -- it doesn't actually answer the question at the top of the page, which is about food being too hot, not too cold. Because we're a Q&A site, rather than a discussion forum, we are looking for answers to the specific question, so your answer might get down-voted. Please take a look at the tour for more information about how the site works. One thing you could do is post a new question about how to ensure that food is hot enough by the time it reaches the table, and then repost this as an answer to that question. [cont.] – David Richerby Mar 23 '17 at 21:48
  • That might feel like you're talking to yourself but a lot of our questions are found via search engines and an answer like yours would surely help lots of people who found it that way. In any case, I hope you stick around -- after forty years, you must have a whole lot of knowledge that others could benefit from. Welcome, again! – David Richerby Mar 23 '17 at 21:49
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You can order starbucks lattes at specific temperatures. I find that 140 is about the hottest I can handle without having to wait, but I also have a sensitive mouth.

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Well in the past year or so, I heat soup to 170F. Two reasons, one this temperature is about the temperature, once plated, that the soup is edible immediately, never burn your mouth again. I hate to wait. Second, per the USDA, at 170F, virtually all pathogens are goners. Third, this temperature will destroy less nutrients then heating to boiling, a bonus. Knowing this, I would think that restaurants that are concerned with table turnover should bring soup out at this temperature, this would allow people to eat quite hot soup, without waiting, and decrease the time they are at the table. Just a thought.

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