How to Use a Meat Thermometer the Right Way, According to the Pros

From picking out the right one, to reading it correctly.

<p>Nhattien Photo/Getty Images</p>

Nhattien Photo/Getty Images

A meat thermometer is an essential tool in any kitchen—professional or home—but do you know how to use it properly? Using a meat thermometer the right way is the key to perfectly seared steaks cooked to temp, juicy whole roast chickens and turkeys, and even burgers that have the red or brown center you desire. Just a few expert tips can help you be well on your way to professional-level cooked meats with your meat thermometer. 

And there’s more—read on to see how to use this versatile kitchen tool for more than just your standard proteins. Your meat thermometer, or multiple, is about to become your favorite and most important cooking device.

Look for a good quality meat thermometer

There are so many meat thermometers out there, including both instant-read (digital) and an old fashioned dial. There are benefits to both. A dial thermometer can withstand high oven temperatures and rest in your piece of meat while it cooks, so you can monitor the progress. However, an instant-read may be more accurate, and takes just a few seconds to register the temperature of your food. It also doesn’t cause your meat to lose any moisture when it’s quickly inserted and removed, whereas a dial thermometer roasting in your meat creates a small hole for juice seepage.

For instant-read thermometers, look at the packaging to evaluate if the product is waterproof, and see its response time and accuracy. For bluetooth and wireless meat thermometers, you may also want to look at how easy it is to use, its presets, programs, and if it offers audible alarms or alerts. Many smart ovens now come with temperature probes, so you can check cook times and temps via an app on your Smartphone and adjust the cook time as needed.

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Insert the thermometer properly

If your thermometer isn’t placed into your meat the correct way, the temperature read may be inaccurate. “Insert the probe tip into the thickest middle part of the food, avoiding bones and fat,” recommends Reed Lalor, Vice President at ThermoPro, which makes meat thermometers. “Inserting the probe into a cold spot or hot spot can result in improperly cooked food.” For example, if you’re cooking a turkey, you’ll want your thermometer to be in the breast—the thickest part of the bird—but not touching any internal bones. For a leg of lamb, go for the hunkiest, meatiest part, rather than the skinnier meat areas.

Keep an eye on cook time

Don’t wait until your timer beeps at the end of a roast to check your meat’s temperature – ovens can be unpredictable, as can cuts of meat, and recipes are oftentimes just very strong suggestions that might require some modification. “If you're using an instant-read thermometer, check the internal temperature a couple minutes before the estimated finish time,” Lalor recommends. “This will help you reach the perfect internal temperature.” Remember that meat will continue to cook and increase in temperature for several minutes after it’s removed from heat, so if you’re aiming for poultry at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, stopping the cook at 160 degrees will ensure you get that perfect final temp.

Use your meat thermometer for non-meat items

A meat thermometer is a valuable culinary tool with so many uses. “It can also be used for fish, seafood, deep frying, measuring the temperature of oil and liquids, and more,” Lalor says. “It can even be used for making candy if it’s within the thermometer’s temperature range.”

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Keep your meat thermometer germ free

There’s no reason to test the temperature of your meat before it cooks, but if the meat is cooking more slowly than anticipated, your probe may touch raw meat. “Transferring the probe from an uncooked piece of meat to a near done piece of meat can potentially contaminate the almost-cooked piece of meat with salmonella or other bacteria,” Lalor warns. “Wipe the probe with a damp, soapy cloth to avoid contamination.”

Double check your presets

It’s easy to let machines do all the work for us, but you can’t uncook meat once it’s well done. If you’re using a bluetooth-style thermometer, make sure it’s correctly programmed and inserted before your meal gets too far from your intentions. While these devices are trustworthy, user error isn’t so uncommon.

Let your meat thermometer teach you to cook

Never roasted duck? Never seared tuna? Afraid to grill venison? A meat thermometer is like a protein tutor in the kitchen. “Meat thermometers are a great help when cooking a new type of meat or food you've never cooked before,” Lalor says. While you can’t see inside a piece of meat, the thermometer is your probe into the suggested cook time to help you master new meats.

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Use multiple meat thermometers when hosting

Keeping food hot and cooking your meat to a safe temperature may be overwhelming as a host, especially if you’re juggling several side dishes, entrees, and maybe a plant-based option. Use your meat thermometer to keep an eye on your main courses, and to measure the inside of casseroles, mashed potatoes, or anything else to ensure all the food is hot and ready to go, without relying on too many sample spoonfuls.

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