Types and Benefits of Food Thermometer: The Ultimate Guide

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Last Updated on April 20, 2021
Annabelle

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated

to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

chicken breast

The CDC estimates that 48 million people suffer from foodborne diseases in the United States each year, with many of them resulting from poorly cooked meat and fish. Cooking meat, fish, and poultry to the correct temperature is crucial for eliminating harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli.  Proper internal cook temperatures aren’t just necessary for kitchen safety; roasting or grilling meat to the right temperature also ensures that your dishes are juicy, tender, and never dry. 

Learning how to use a food thermometer properly can be a life-changing experience. Although they may seem rather complicated to use, once you understand the proper techniques for using and reading a food thermometer, you’ll achieve delicious results with minimal effort.

1. What is a Food Thermometer?

chicken

A foof thermometer is an instrument used to check the cooked meat’s internal core temperature, especially a roast or a steak. However, they can be used to check the temperature of fish and poultry.

Every meat has a different core temperature to make it safe to eat. Chicken should be at 165°F, and steak should be between 145°F (rare) to 170°F (well done), depending on how you like it. Having a food thermometer enables you to cook meat perfectly every time.


2. Different Types of Food Thermometers

getting the temperature

Several types of food thermometers, including oven thermometers with dials, wired probes, and digital instant-read thermometers, use thermocouple technology. There are also more traditional variants, like bimetallic or bulb thermometers, which are relatively inexpensive and can be found in most grocery stores. However, they’re made of glass which can break and contaminate your food. 

Most professional chefs and home cooks consider instant-read thermometers superior to other models as they provide you with much quicker readings and are more user-friendly. These give the most accurate results, provided they are used correctly. These are the steps to follow on how to use a food thermometer to get perfectly cooked meat every time.


3. How to Use a Food Thermometer: A Step-By-Step Guide

food temperature

Step 1: Calibrating your thermometer

If you haven’t used your thermometer in a while, or it is new, it may be slightly inaccurate. It’s critical to ensure that your thermometer is properly calibrated to get accurate readings. You can check it by holding it in a glass of ice water for 30 seconds, or if using a dial thermometer, hold it in for around 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure it does not touch the bottom or side of the glass. 

If your thermometer reaches 32°F, it’s working correctly. If it reads lower or higher than this, you may need to recalibrate it. Do this by following the manufacturer’s instructions or adjust just the nut at the back of the dial for analog thermometers. Most new digital thermometers have a self-calibration function. You can factor in the degree difference when cooking; however, it is advised that you recalibrate it for the most accurate readings and results. 

Step 2: Correct placement of the food thermometer

It’s crucial to know how to place the food thermometer to get the most accurate results. To do this, you need to insert the thermometer into the meat’s thickest part, avoiding any fat and the bone. Placing the thermometer too close to the bone will give you a higher reading, as the dense bone conducts heat better than the surrounding soft tissue.

Depending on the thermometer you are using and the cut of the meat, you will need to insert it to a depth of ¼”-½” for thermocouple digital instant-read thermometers, or 2”-2½” for analog dial thermometers. For thinner cuts of meat like cutlets or burgers, place the thermometer in the side of the meat rather than the top. Although most people think they want the highest temperature of the meat, you want to find the lowest internal temperature as this will give you the most accurate reading.

All meat has a different optimum temperature, so check the FDA recommendations before testing. A digital instant-read thermometer allows you to check the temperature quickly at various points in the meat, so the temperature may fluctuate slightly as you move around. 

Step 3: Check the meat early and often

The time to start checking the temperature depends on the type of meat you are cooking. All food thermometers should be used toward the end of your projected cook time, not when the meat is supposed to be ready. 

If you are cooking a large roast, start checking the meat about 30 minutes before you expect it to be done. If you are cooking thinner or smaller cuts of meat you may only want to start doing this 5 to 10 minutes before you expect it to be done. To ensure you have got to the right level of doneness, aim for the meat temperature given in your recipe or check what it should be by using food-safety guides. 

Once you have the temperature within 5-10°F of what it should be, you can take it out of the oven or off the grill and leave it to rest for 10 minutes as the meat continues to cook using residual heat. This process is called carryover cooking.


4. How to Clean and Maintain a Food Thermometer?

To keep your food thermometer working optimally, you need to clean and store your unit properly. Wash the probe with soap and hot water between uses, even if they are only minutes apart, ensuring that it is switched off if you have a digital thermometer. This prevents any potential cross-contamination. Always store the unit in a sheath or box, if it comes with one, or use a container to keep it separate from other utensils, as minor dings can damage the probe, leading to inaccurate readings.


5. Key Points to Remember

Learning how to use a food thermometer properly is key to achieving perfectly tender and juicy results every time. A food thermometer can also help you maintain safe and hygienic food preparation practices to avoid food poisoning and enable you to multitask in the kitchen without burning any dishes. But to get the most accurate readings you need to ensure that your thermometer is calibrated correctly, inserted into the meat at the right depth, and measurements are taken at the precise time, allowing for rest time and carryover cooking.