How To Use a Meat Thermometer – Everything You Need to Know

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You can improve your cooking skills by adding a high-quality meat thermometer into your routine. You no longer have to experience the frustrations that come whenever you carefully cook meat only to emerge either undercooked or overcooked once you place it on the table. And this can accidentally happen in front of friends and family. Ensuring the safety of the food that we consume by being certain that it is in the right temperature that is safe to consume is a great move to show how caring you are. 

Based on the type of thermometer you are using, you can either place it in the meat you are cooking and leave it there or take the temperature using an instant-read thermometer once you are done with the cooking. To be certain that you have the correct readings, it is important to calibrate your thermometer after buying, and at least once a month afterward. If you need infrared thermometer check it out. 

How To Meat Calibrate Thermometer 

  1. Fill a glass or cup with ice water and allow it to sit for five minutes. Add as much ice as it can hold and fill it with tap water. There is no need of adding more water once the ice starts floating. 
  2. Insert the stem of the thermometer into the water for a couple of seconds. Hold your thermometer to ensure that it doesn’t touch the sides or bottom of the glass, since this can interfere with the reading. The temperature of the water should be at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or zero degrees centigrade. 

What can you do if you don’t have ice? You can test it in boiling water. The temperature should be 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees centigrade at sea level.

  1. Adjust the calibrator if your thermometer doesn’t read 32 degrees Fahrenheit or zero degrees centigrade when inserted in ice water. Most thermometers come with a screw or dial on the back that adjusts the gauge. You can either use your hand or a wrench or your hand to make the adjustments.

Instant-read Thermometer

Instant-read thermometers happen to be the most accurate and will provide exact readings whenever you are cooking meat. However, they are not supposed to be placed inside the oven. If you are planning to use this type of thermometer, heat your meat for the minimum recommended time at first and then check the readings once you are done with the cooking process. 

An oven-safe Thermometer

Oven-safe thermometers are meant to be placed inside the food while it is cooking. With such, it is very easy to monitor the temperature throughout as your meat cooks. Oven-safe thermometers happen to be very convenient and reliable when you are preparing large meat portions. Examples include a whole chicken or turkey. 

Using a Meat Thermometer

If you want to get accurate readings, the thermometer opt to be inserted into the thickest part of the meat. This applies for both instant-read and oven-safe thermometers. The reason behind targeting the thickest part is that it takes the longest time to cook. This simply implies that the entire portion of the meat will be ready for consumption.

  • If you are cooking a whole turkey or chicken, the thickest target of the meat can either be the thigh or the breast.
  • It is also important to find a target that is not near fat or bone because these can lead to erroneous temperatures.
  • For meat slices or thinner portions, the temperatures ought to be taken from the side for accurate readings.
  • The probe of the thermometer should reach up to the indicator mark or at least 2 inches inside the meat. The majority of meat thermometers have a round temperature dial while others have digital display screens. Irrespective of the type, the probe of the thermometer should be at least 2 inches inside the meat.
  • The majority of instant-read digital thermometers only require to be inserted about half an inch. Always check the indicator mark. In most thermometers, it looks like a small notch along the length of the probe. This should guide you on how deep the thermometer needs to be inserted.
  • For an instant-read thermometer, you should wait up to 20 seconds before taking the reading.
  • The best time to check temperature is when you are about to finish cooking. After your meat has had plenty to attain the desired temperature, check the thermometer reading. What happens if it is not yet cooked? Simply return it to the heat for a couple of minutes before taking the readings once more.
  • Food will normally continue cooking even after you have removed it from the heat. If it is just about to get ready, let it rest for a few minutes and find out if it achieves the minimum recommended safe temperature.
  • You should remove the meat from the heat immediately if it is ready.  In case you are using a leave-in thermometer, it is good to insert it another half an inch after reaching the correct temperature. This will ascertain that the entire portion of the meat is properly cooked. 

Cooking Meat to the Right Temperature

Animal protein from sources like beef, poultry, chicken, and lamb are leaded with many nutrients. However, such meats can also host many bacteria like E.Coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter, which can lead to foodborne diseases. It is thus important to ensure that meat is cooked to safe temperatures before consuming it. 

According to food safety experts, meat is considered safe for consumption when it has been cooked for long enough at a temperature that is high enough to kill all the harmful organisms. 

Safe cooking temperatures are mostly determined by the kind of meat that is being prepared. 

Poultry

The most common types of poultry include turkey, chicken, goose, quail, duck, and pheasant. When raw, poultry may harbor Campylobacter, a bacterium that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle cramps. Raw poultry can also be contaminated with Salmonell, and Clostridium perfringes.

If whole or in ground form, the safe internal temperature for cooking poultry should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit (75 degrees centigrade).

Beef

Veal and steak should be cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit or 65 degrees centigrade. For ground beef like sausages, meatballs, and burgers, the ideal cooking temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit or 70 degrees centigrade.

Ground meats should be cooked at a higher temperature because bacteria often tend to spread to the entire batch when grinding meat.

Lamb and Mutton

Lamb comes from young sheep in their first year, while mutton is the meat from adult sheep. Though they are commonly eaten unprocessed, there are certain cultures across the world that eats smoked or salted lamb. 

Lamb meat may host pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Campylobacter, which are associated with foodborne diseases.

To eliminate these organisms, lamb chops and mutton should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees centigrade), while ground lamb should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees centigrade).

Ham and Pork

Raw and undercooked pork products are associated with trichinosis, which is caused by a parasite known as Trichinella spiralis. Symptoms associated with trichinosis include nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and fever, which can last for up to 8 weeks and can cause death in rare cases.

Fresh ham and pork should be cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees centigrade). The safe temperature for reheating a precooked ham or pork is 165 degrees Fahrenheit (75 degrees centigrade).

It can be tricky to determine an internal cooking temperature for thin meats such as bacon, but it should be cooked until it is crispy.

Wild Game

Some people enjoy eating meat from wild game like rabbits, elk, deer, and buffalo. These types of meat have their own internal cooking temperatures, although they tend to be closer to those of other animals.

For ground elk, cook to a minimum temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees centigrade), while roasts or steaks should be heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees centigrade). After attaining this internal temperature, elk is considered to be safe although the meat may still look pink.

Ground bison and rabbit should as well be heated to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees centigrade), while their roasts and steaks should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees centigrade).

Choosing Meat Thermometer

The most common types of meat thermometers include:

  1. Oven thermometer
  2. Digital instant-read thermometer
  3. Dial instant-read thermometer
  4. Pop-up thermometers
  5. Wireless meat thermometer
  6. Disposable temperature indicators

When you are selecting a meat thermometer, consider the types of meat that you normally cook, and also your preferred cooking methods. For example, if you frequently cook meat, go for a durable multipurpose thermometer that will last. There are plenty of meat thermometers that are locally available or you can purchase online.

Why You Need a Meat Thermometer

In reference to Robert Gravani, Phd, Food Science Professor at Cornell University, most cooks are capable of telling when the food is done and safe for human consumption from simple looks and feels. Nevertheless, recent studies demonstrated that color and texture are not reliable indicators of food temperature safety, according to USDA. The use of a food thermometer is the surest method to ensure that meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to temperatures high enough to eliminate all the harmful microorganisms.

Cleaning a Meat Thermometer

It is important to ensure that a meat thermometer is clean before you return it back to its storing place. This may look practical although there are certain things you need before cleaning a meat thermometer. Should it be washed or rinsed? When can you wash it and how?

If a thermometer is inserted when the meat is still raw, it can become contaminated with harmful microorganisms. It is thus important to properly clean it before it is stored or inserted back into undercooked meat to check temperature again. 

In addition, the thermometer can still become caked with food particles or grease. Fat may attach to the probe if the thermometer is continuously used for an extended period without cleaning.  This can make it difficult to generate the correct reading. 

So, when can you clean it? 

Apart from cleaning when you have finished cooking, there are other instances that a meat thermometer should be washed. Examples include when you are using it to measure the internal temperature of uncooked meat and then used again on cooked foods.

It is also a good idea to clean your meat thermometer when you are using it to check the temperatures of cooked dishes to get rid of food particles and grease, which can lead to inaccurate readings.

How should you clean a meat thermometer?

According to some food safety education specialists, a food thermometer needs to be cleaned the same way other food-contact surfaces are cleaned. This implies when you start cooking, followed by washing, and then disinfecting to ensure it is safe before using. 

Meat thermometers should be washed with soap and hot water to eliminate bacteria, grease and food particles. You don’t have to submerge the entire thermometer in water. Damages can occur in some of its components and alter the readings. Once you are done with cleaning, rinse your thermometer and dry well before sanitizing.

If you are cleaning a digital meat thermometer, care should be taken because they normally have a sensitive probe. 

For wireless digital thermometer, cleaning should mainly focus the tip of the probe.

Other meat thermometer cleaning tricks involve the use of alcohol wipes, bar soap, cooking spray, and white vinegar. Sanitization can be done using boiling water chlorine bleach, or alcohol swabs.

Conclusion

Using a meat thermometer is a practical way to ensure that your food is cooked properly. It is important to know the safe internal cooking temperatures of the different types of meat that you regularly consume to lower the risk of contracting foodborne illnesses. Insert the meat thermometer in the thickest part and take readings in 10 to 15 minutes if you are using an instant-read type. While most meats only require a temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate all the bacteria, certain types may need higher temperatures. 

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