Using a meat thermometer will save you the frustration of undercooking or overcooking an expensive steak or cut of meat and ensure that the meat is cooked to the perfect doneness, and more importantly, that it is safe to eat.
Here is how to use a meat thermometer and an overview of the different types of thermometers and the easiest and most accurate ways to calibrate them at home.
How to use a meat thermometer?
In order to make sure that the food is cooked to the desired doneness and that it has reached the FDA-recommended safe temperature for consumption of meat, poultry, or fish, you should follow these steps for proper use of a meat thermometer:
Test the thermometer
It is recommended that you test or calibrate your kitchen thermometer on a regular basis. This is done easily with the use of either ice or boiling water and will confirm that the readings of the tool are correct, and you can rely on it for preparing perfectly cooked and safe food.
You can read more about the methods for calibrating a meat thermometer at the end of this article.
Position the thermometer correctly
To get an accurate reading, you should insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the meat cut, but make sure that you avoid any fat, gristle, or bone. This will allow you to get a reading of the lowest internal temperature of the meat.
Depending on the thermometer you are using, you will need to insert its probe to at least ½ or 1/8 inches into the meat, but if you are cooking a thick cut of meat, then you may need to go in further.
Watch the reading as you insert it. If it starts rising, then you have passed the coldest spot and will need to pull it back to the central and coolest part of the meat cut.
Check the temperature during the cooking
You should start checking the temperature of the meat at about 5-10 minutes before the expected doneness is reached for thinner cuts and at about 30 minutes before a larger cut or roast is expected to be done.
Remember that meat will continue cooking even after you take it off of the grill or oven, so especially for larger cuts, make sure you remove it when it reaches about 5 degrees Fahrenheit of the desired doneness and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. While it is resting, it will continue to cook, have its juices redistributed, and should reach the perfect expected internal temperature.
Read the thermometer
Follow the instructions of the manufacturer to get the proper temperature reading. Most meat thermometers are pretty straightforward to read and have displays or dials where the current doneness temperature will be displayed in Fahrenheit or Celsius, depending on your preferences.
What type of thermometer do you need?
There are several different types of kitchen meat thermometers. Here are the three main types, their pros and cons, and who they are most suitable for:
Digital instant-read meat thermometers
These instant-read thermometers are accurate, and offer instantaneous readouts, so they are perfect for very quick temperature checks. They cannot be left inserted in the meat during the cooking, so you will need to check the doneness periodically.
Still, all you need to do is insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat, and you will get an accurate readout in seconds.
The downside is that you will need to open the oven or the lid of your grill and smoker every time you want to check the temperature, which can let some of the heat and smoke out.
Digital probe meat thermometers
They are an excellent choice for roasting or smoking large meat cuts such as brisket, rib roast, turkey, and others without hovering around the grill throughout the long low, and slow process.
The obvious benefit is that you will be able to monitor the internal temperature of the meat at any moment, and in some cases, can monitor the ambient temperature in the smoker, grill, or oven.
There are some probe thermometers that have wireless connectivity, so you can keep an eye on the doneness and cooking from your phone or from a distance.
The downside is that the probe cables can wear down over time due to exposure to high heat, and also, in many cases, they are more expensive than other types of meat thermometers.
These are the most basic types of meat thermometers and can be either bulb or bimetallic. They are the cheapest option of all and are easily accessible in just about any store, but they are less accurate, slower than, and not as durable as the digital ones.
How to calibrate a thermometer?
There are two easy methods to check the accuracy of your meat thermometer readings:
Using ice water
This is done by filling a bowl or large glass with ice and then filling it up with cold water. Stir the water and ice and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Then insert the probe of the thermometer at least 2 inches and check the readout after at least 30 seconds.
It should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius, which is the freezing temperature of the water.
Using boiling water
Bring some water to a boil, and then insert the probe at least 2 inches in it. Let it sit for about 30 seconds and check the reading. It should be 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius, which is the boiling point for water at sea level.
But keep in mind that the higher the altitude, the lower the boiling point of the water will be. In fact, it will lower by about 1 degree Fahrenheit for every 500 ft. increase of the elevation, so check the altitude and boiling point of water in your area.