Proper Meat Thermometer Use - Tips for the Home Cook
By: Devon Mendez
With the continuation of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, individuals are cooking at home more often than they may have in the past. While this cooking increase can lead to healthier meals, proper food safety must be followed to kill any potential foodborne pathogens. Although many people own a food thermometer, many people do not know how to use them properly. When cooking meat or eggs, a food thermometer is an essential kitchen item in preventing foodborne illness.
While all food thermometers are capable of reading temperatures, they are not created equal. Even though all thermometers can register temperature, each does it in different ways, making different types of thermometers appropriate for different uses.
Though not an exhaustive list, the chart below gives additional information on some thermometer types commonly used in the home kitchen. While no one individual needs all these thermometers, cooks should use this knowledge to help guide the thermometer they choose to ensure it is appropriate for their regular needs. All thermometers included in chart can be found with relative ease either in store or online.
|Thermocouple||2-5 sec.||Can be inserted as little as ¼” or deeper as needed||
Can be used for both thick (>1/2”) and thin foods
Should not be left in food while cooking
Can be expensive
|Thermistors||10 sec.||At least ½” deep in the food||
Can be used for thick and thin foodsUsed to check food temps at end of cooking time
|Oven Cord Thermometers||10 sec.||At least ½” deep in the food||
Can also be used outside the ovenCan remain in food while cooking
|Thermometer Fork Combination||10 sec.||At least ½” deep in the food||Used to check food temps at the end of cooking time|
|Pop-Up Timers||Reacts when meat is 1 to 2 degrees F from ideal temperature||Thickest part of meat||
Recommend verifying temperature with conventional food thermometer.Accuracy highly dependent on proper placement
|Liquid-Filled Thermometers||10 sec.||At least 2 inches deep||
Can get false high readingsNot good for food safety purposes
|Candy/Jelly/ Deep Fry Thermometers||10 sec.||Sits in pan with tip in liquid||
Can be used for candy making and fryingCan measure extra-high temperatures
Armed with the knowledge of what thermometer to choose, home chefs must also remember some these important tips to ensure the safe use of their chosen thermometer:
- Check manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you are following proper instructions.
- For roasts, the thermometer should be inserted midway into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone.
- For burgers, steaks, and chops the thermometer should be inserted into thickest part away from bone, fat, and gristle.
- Poultry should be measured at the innermost part of the wing or thigh, and in breasts it should be in the thickest part.
- Be sure to use caution when checking food temperature.
- Remove food from heat.
- Make sure to wear hand covering/ oven mitts when handling metal probes.
- This information and more about food thermometers and other important food safety facts resources can be found on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/kitchen-thermometers