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How to Use a Meat Thermometer for Perfect Cooking

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In the world of cooking, getting things just right is the secret for culinary perfection. Whether you’re a kitchen pro or a newbie finding your way around the stove, nailing that ideal doneness in your recipes can sometimes feel like a delicate dance. And this is where the humble kitchen hero, the meat thermometer, steps in.

It ensures spot-on doneness, from juicy steaks to tender chicken, while bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. But that’s not all! We’ll also discover how this handy tool can enhance non-meat culinary endeavors, from candy-making to baking. In this guide, we’ll explore how a meat thermometer can be your kitchen’s secret weapon, answering the question “how do you use a meat thermometer?”. Let’s dive in and unlock the full potential of your meat thermometer.

Five different kinds of meat thermometers on a white countertop.

Why Use a Meat Thermometer?

Using a meat thermometer isn’t just about food safety; it’s about honoring the ingredients, maximizing flavor, and achieving culinary perfection. A thermometer is a small but powerful tool that empowers you to take your cooking to the next level, ensuring that every meal you prepare is a masterpiece worth savoring. 

  • Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures: USDA guidelines stress cooking meat, poultry, and eggs to safe internal temperatures. With a thermometer, ensuring you’ve reached these levels is easier.
  • Reliability: Unlike subjective visual cues like color or texture, a food thermometer ensures accurate internal temperature measurement. It guarantees the desired texture, appearance, juiciness, and safety.
  • Texture: Overcooking is the nemesis of meat recipes. Precise temperature control preserves moisture and tenderness.
  • Culinary Precision: Meat thermometers lets you to get the exact level of “doneness” you desire, whether it’s medium-rare steak or perfectly moist chicken breast.
  • Time and Effort Well-Spent: Cooking a meal is a labor of love. Meat thermometers help you make sure that your time and effort are well-spent. You won’t waste your hard work on an overcooked or flavorless dish.

Types of Meat Thermometers

The choice of meat thermometer depends on your cooking needs and preferences. 

Instant-Read Thermometers

  • Instant-Read Thermometers are quick and versatile, providing high accuracy, some within half a degree. However, you can not leave it in the meat while it cooks.

Leave-In Thermometers: 

  • Leave-In Probe Thermometers offer continuous monitoring and accuracy for roasts and slow-cooked dishes with alerts. They make great grill thermometers and they are perfect for slow cooking roasts in the oven.
  • This type of probe thermometer has some drawbacks, including susceptibility to cable damage from grill flare-ups and potential limitations when used for quick-cooking foods.

Wireless Thermometers

  • Wireless Thermometers enable remote monitoring, offer flexibility, and provide alerts. They are especially great for outdoor grilling. However, they are pricier, battery-dependent, and require a somewhat complex initial setup.

Regarding the sensors that measure the temperature: Any of these thermometers can come with either bimetal (also called dial thermometers), thermistor, or thermocouple sensors. These sensors determine the type of technology used to measure the temperature.

Thermocouples are the most accurate and are known for their high precision and ability to take measurements across a wide range of temperatures. 

How to Use Your Thermometer

Before you get started make sure you have a reliable meat thermometer and choose one that suits your needs (wireless, instant-read, or leave-in probe). Here is a quick run down of how to use these handy cooking tools. 

Inserting a meat thermometer in a raw steak.
  1. Find Your Target Temperature: Refer to a trusted source for the recommended internal temperature for the meat you’re cooking.
  2. Insert the Meat Thermometer: See the section below about where to insert the probe of the thermometer in various types of meat. 
  3. Wait for the Reading: Depending on the type of thermometer, it may take a few seconds or minutes to register the temperature.
  4. Check for Doneness: If it hasn’t reached the desired temperature, continue cooking and recheck periodically to avoid overcooking.
  5. Remove the Meat and Rest:Once the meat reaches the target temperature, remove it from the heat source and allow the meat to rest.
  6. Clean and Sanitize: After use, clean your meat thermometer thoroughly with warm, soapy water. If it’s not waterproof, be careful not to immerse the electronic parts in water.

Tip: Remember, the key to accurate readings is to avoid touching bones, as they can give a false reading. 

Where to Put the Probe of a Meat Thermometer

Precise in placement is key when it comes to using meat thermometers to ensure your recipes run the perfect internal temperature. Getting the location just right can be the difference between a delectable dish and one that falls short of your expectations.

For Roasts

  • Insert the probe midway into the roast. Avoid contact with bones, fat, or gristle, as they can affect the reading.

When you put time, money and all your heart into preparing a dish like our Puerto Rican Pernil or another type of roast, you want to make sure it is done right. Check a few different spots to ensure even cooking.

Poultry (Whole Birds)

  • For whole birds like chicken, turkey, and duck, place the thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh or the thickest part of the breast. If you place it in the breast meat, position the probe horizontally, parallel to the baking tray.
  • Avoid the bone, as it can give inaccurate readings. Additionally, check the thickest part of the breast for thorough cooking.
  • When you think the meat is finished cooking, check the temperature in multiple locations to ensure even cooking.
An AI generated sketch of a turkey, showing the correct placement of a meat thermometer probe.

Thin Cuts: Steaks, Chops, Burgers

  • For thinner cuts of meat, insert the thermometer probe horizontally into the thickest part, aiming for the center.  

 Beyond Meat: Using Meat Thermometers as Multipurpose Cooking Tools

You can use a meat thermometer for more than just sizzling steaks or perfect poultry. This versatile tool brings precision to baking and candy-making, ensuring your bread, chocolate, and sugar syrup get cooked to perfection. With one tool for both savory and sweet creations, it simplifies your kitchen tasks and adds a touch of sophistication to your culinary adventures.

Check out our post about how to use meat tenderizer for more ways to cook perfect meals.

Dahn Boquist

Dahn is a retired nurse, recipe creator, home cook, baker, and self-proclaimed foodie. She loves creating in the kitchen and cooking for family and friends. She lives in Washington State with her husband and dog. When she isn't cooking or baking, you can usually find her spending time with her grandchildren or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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