Do you use a meat thermometer when you’re cooking? Do you use it the right way? Let’s find out how to use meat thermometers to get the right temperatures and keep your family safe!
Hi, it’s Marybeth from Alarm Clock Wars and AgriCultured! Do you have a meat thermometer in your kitchen? If you’re like me, you have a few… I keep collecting freebies that I get! The even more important question is – do you know how to use a meat thermometer? A meat thermometer doesn’t do you (or your family) any good if it just sits in your kitchen drawer collecting dust. It also doesn’t do any good if you aren’t using it correctly. So, let’s find out how!
How To Use a Meat Thermometer
Types of Thermometers
Did you know that there is more than one kind of meat thermometer? It’s important to know what type of thermometer you have, so you know how to use it.
- Thermocouple thermometers read the temperature at the tip of the thermometer. This is an instant-read thermometer, and will measure the temperature in 2-5 seconds. They are not oven-safe. These tend to be more expensive – $40 and up.
- Thermistor thermometers are more common than a thermocouple. It also reads the temperature at the tip of the thermometer, within about 10 seconds (so still pretty close to instant-read). They are not oven-safe. Most thermometers on a cord that plugs into a base are thermistors. (This style is oven-safe.) The price varies widely on these types of thermometers. They are usually $10-20 and up.
- Bimetallic-coil thermometers read the temperature along the length of the thermometer, over 2-2.5 inches. Because it takes so much space to measure the temperature, these are best used for thick foods like roasts or whole chickens or turkeys. Some bimetallic-coil thermometers are oven-safe, and some are not. Expect to pay $5-10 for an oven-safe thermometer, and a little more for one that is not oven-safe.
These are just generalizations about thermometer types. Make sure that you read the manufacturer’s recommendations for your thermometer so you know where it measures temperature and whether or not it is oven-safe.
You can find out more about meat thermometers (and other types of kitchen thermometers) in this article from the United States Department of Agriculture.
When to Insert the Thermometer
If you are using an oven-safe thermometer, you can place it in the meat before you start cooking. This makes it easy to tell the temperature of the meat as it cooks, so you know when it’s done. If your thermometer is not oven safe, then (obviously) you don’t want to put it in the oven. When you think your meat should be done cooking (based on the clock), take it out of the oven and insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat (see the next section to find out where).
My favorite type of meat thermometer has a probe attached to a long cord. The cord plugs into the base, where you read the temperature. My model has an alarm I can set for time, or for temperature. So no more guessing if that chicken is done yet!
Where To Insert the Thermometer
The thermometer should be inserted into the thickest portion of the meat. You want to read the temperature of the coldest part of the meat (the farthest inside). As long as the inside part is at the temperature you want, you can be sure that the rest of the meat is at that temperature (or even a little higher).
For whole chickens or turkeys, the thickest part of the meat is the inner thigh (between the drumstick and the body), between the wing and the breast, and the thickest part of the breast. For a large roast, place the thermometer in the thickest part of the roast, with the tip as close to the center of the roast as you can get it. To measure the temperature in thinner foods (like steaks, pork chops, hamburgers, or chicken breasts), you’ll want to measure the temperature in the center of the meat. The best way to do this is to take the meat off the heat source with tongs. Hold it upright, and insert the thermometer from the side, until the tip of the thermometer is in the center of the meat.
Be sure that the thermometer is not touching any bones in your meat. Bone temperature changes at a different rate than meat temperature, so you won’t get an accurate reading.
If your food is irregularly shaped (like many beef roasts or whole chickens or turkeys), check the temperature in a few different places.
Don’t forget your casseroles! These dishes have a minimum internal recommended temperature, too! Check a casserole’s temperature in the center of the dish. The trick is to not touch the bottom of the pan with your thermometer. The temperature will be higher on the outside, top, and bottom edges than it will in the middle. You’re aiming for a spot right in the middle of the pan, and trying to get your thermometer into the center of the food. Of course, not every oven or every dish heats evenly, so you should check the temperature in 2-4 different places.
What Temperature to Aim For
Now that you know what kind of thermometer you want, when to check the meat’s temperature, and how to check the meat’s temperature, you need to know what you need that temperature to be! The USDA has recommended minimum internal temperatures for all meats. These temperatures help to ensure that the food is cooked hot enough to kill any bacteria that might be present. Head on over to this post on AgriCultured to find out more. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to download a handy kitchen cheat-sheet!
Did you know that you can calibrate your meat thermometer? Over time, the temperature readings can get off a little bit. It’s a good idea once a year to check that your thermometer is reading correctly.
Will you start using your meat thermometer? You should be using one every time you cook meat to be sure that the food is reaching the minimum internal recommended temperature. While appearance or feel of meats can give you an estimate of how “done” it is, the only way to know for sure is with a thermometer.