Cooking Thermometer - Meat Thermometer - Digital Cooking Thermometer
How To Use Cooking Thermometers - How To Use Meat Thermometers - ThermoWorks Thermapen Thermometer

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Author Linda StradleyArticle by Linda Stradley of What's Cooking America.


Have you ever cut into a roast or a turkey to see if it has finished cooking?

Have you ever paid what seemed like a fortune for a beautiful steak and have it come off the grill overcooked and dry?

You DEFINITELY need to use a cooking thermometer or meat thermometer!

Cooking thermometers and meat thermometers take the guesswork out of cooking, as they measures the internal temperature of your cooked meat and poultry, or any casseroles, to assure that a safe temperature has been reached, harmful bacteria have been destroyed, and your food is cook perfectly. A cooking thermometer or meat thermometer should not be a "sometime thing." Use it every time you prepare foods like poultry, roasts, hams, casseroles, meat loaves and egg dishes.

If you don't regularly use a thermometer, you should get into the habit of using one. A thermometer can be used for all foods, not just meat. It measures the internal temperature of your cooked meat and poultry, homemade breads, and casseroles to assure that a safe temperature has been reached and that harmful bacteria like certain strains of Salmonella and E. Coli O 157:H7 have been destroyed. Foods are properly cooked only when they are heated at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause food-borne illness.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, temperature is the only way to gauge whether food is sufficiently cooked. USDA research reveals that the "color test" can give consumers misleading information about the safety of the foods they are preparing, since cooked color varies considerably. For example, freezing and thawing may influence a meat's tendency to brown prematurely.

A cooking or  meat thermometer can help you:

  • Cook foods to a safe temperature and prevent food borne illness.
  • Prevent overcooking
  • Hold foods at a safe temperature

Which Type of Cooking Thermometer To Buy?

There are several types of thermometers available at grocery, hardware or kitchen supply stores. The type of thermometer determines when it should be inserted in the meat.

    Instant-Read and Digital Thermometers: An instant-read thermometer is the best way to determine when most foods are properly cooked. The digital instant-read thermometers should be used only toward the end of the cooking time - they're not designed to remain in the food as it cooks. Most need to be inserted only a half-inch  deep, so they can be used on a wider variety of foods such as burgers, pork chops, and chicken breasts. Some types can even be calibrated.

    This is the type of cooking and meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking. I get many readers asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking. I, personally, use the Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the right. Originally designed for professional users, the Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer is used by chefs all over the world. To learn more about this excellent thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined: Thermapen Thermometer.

    #2 - I have also sometimes used the RT600C Thermometer (show in the photo on the right), but I prefer the ThermoWorks Thermapen Instant-Read Digital Thermomter. To learn more about this inexpensive excellent thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined: RT600C Thermometer.

    Digital Probe Thermometers: These remote devices transmit temperature from a long probe left in the meat and attached to a thin cord that extends out of the oven to a digital console. According to Cook's Illustrated magazine, they report that you should not throw out your instant-read thermometer. They tested 11 models-several by the same manufacturers-and not one was flawless. The ones that accurately measured temperature sported function buttons that were too slow or too hard to figure out. Others that were user-friendly were also unreliable.

    Pop-Up Type Thermometers: These are commonly found in poultry that you purchase, but may be purchased for other types of meats. Not real accurate and not recommended. I take out this pop-up type of thermometer and throw it away.

    Check out my article on Purchasing and Using a Good Instant-Read Thermometers

    How To Use a Cooking Thermometer

    To use a cooking or meat thermometer, insert it through the fat side of the meat, being careful not to touch bone. Bone conducts heat faster, and you'll get a false reading of the meat's temperature.

    Where to Insert - To be an accurate indicator, a meat thermometer must be inserted properly. The sensing area of thermometers is approximately 1 inch to 2 inches long, and this area must be completely immersed in the deepest area of the food.

    • Poultry - insert it in the inner thigh area near the breast of the bird, but not touching bone.
    • Red meat, roasts, steaks or chops - insert in the center of the thickest part, away from bone, fat, and gristle.
    • Ground meat and poultry - place in the thickest area of meat loaf; insert sideways in thin items such as patties.
    • Casseroles and egg dishes - insert in the center or thickest area. Hot, cooked foods must be held at 140 degrees F or higher; cold foods, at 40 degrees F or below.

    REMEMBER: After each use, wash the stem of the thermometer thoroughly in hot, soapy water.

    Check out my article on Meat and Seafood Internal Temperature Cooking Chart

    How To Test a Cooking Thermometer

    Most dial or digital food thermometers are accurate to within plus or minus 1 to 2 degrees F. The accuracy of the meat thermometer can be verified and the thermometer "calibrated" if necessary. ThermoWorks Thermapen Thermometers should be checked periodically. Follow manufacturer's recommendations. Some dial thermometers have a calibration nut under the dial that can be adjusted by twisting the small nut beneath the thermometer face with pliers.

    The easiest way to check the accuracy of a food thermometer:

    Ice Water Method - Fill a large glass with finely crushed ice. Add clean water to the top of the ice and stir well. Immerse the thermometer stem a minimum of 2 inches into the mixture. The thermometer should read 32 degrees F after 30 seconds.

    How To Calibrate a Cooking Thermometer

    You should calibrate your meat thermometer on a regular basis:

    ThermoWorks Thermapen Thermometer - Remove back label which covers the two calibration adjustment screws. Place tip of the probe in ice water (being careful not to let the probe tip touch the container) and adjusted the “Zero” screw (on the right) until the temperature reads 32 degrees.

    Repeat the same test, this time using boiling water and adjusting the “Span” screw (on the left) until the thermometer read 212 degrees. (You will need to adjust for the fact that the boiling temperature of water drops 1 degree for every 500-foot increase in elevation above sea level.)

    Digital Instant-Read Thermometer
    - Digital thermometers aren't as easily adjusted and usually have to be done by a professional.

    Dial-Face Thermometer
    - Just immerse the thermometer in a slurry of ice water (boiling temperature calibration is not necessary), being careful not to touch the container and, using a pair of needle-nose pliers, adjust the screw on the underside of the dial face until it reads 32 degrees.


    Other Safety Tips:

    Reheating Foods: Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees F or until hot and steaming. Soup and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil.

    Serving Foods: When holding or serving a buffet, hot cooked foods must be held at 140 degrees F or higher. Cold foods should be held at 40 degrees F or lower.

    Clean Up: After each use, wash the stem section of the meat thermometer thoroughly in hot, soapy water.


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