How to Use a Meat Thermometer

No one wants their guests or family to get sick from the food they have prepared, but many people run that risk each day by not using a meat thermometer to check their food for proper doneness. Instead, they rely on the color of the meat or the appearance of clear juices.

Meat that has not reached the proper cooking temperature runs the risk of transmitting bacteria that can cause foodborne illness to your family and friends. Meat thermometers are the only way you can ensure meat is properly cooked.

Thermometers can be oven safe, which means they are inserted into the meat before cooking and can withstand high oven temperatures. They produce readings throughout the cooking process.  Instant-read thermometers either produce a dial reading or a digital reading within 15 seconds of being inserted into the meat. Use these thermometers to check meat temperatures after removing the food from the oven or the grill. Do not leave instant-read thermometers in the oven because they cannot withstand oven temperatures.

All these thermometers will give you accurate readings. The most important thing is to purchase one if you do not already have one. You can find fairly inexpensive models at most grocery stores.

Here are some additional tips for using a meat thermometer.

  • Know the proper cooking temperatures for different kinds of meat. Ground meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Fish, shellfish, and pork should reach 145 degrees F. Poultry, casseroles, and any leftovers should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  • Calibrate your thermometer before using it, and check its calibration often to ensure accurate readings. To calibrate, place the thermometer into an ice slurry (cup of crushed ice and water) being careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the glass.  Wait at least 30 seconds. The thermometer should read 32 degrees F. If the thermometer is not calibrated correctly, you may either need to change the battery, if it is a digital one, or manually calibrate the dial to 32 degrees F by turning the nut under the dial using a small wrench while still immersed in the ice slurry.
  • Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching fat or bone. To get accurate readings on thinner cuts of meat, like hamburger and chicken strips, insert the thermometer into the meat sideways.
  • Always clean the thermometer stem and tip between uses to prevent cross contamination.

Using a meat thermometer can give you peace of mind that your meal has been properly prepared, especially when cooking for others. More food safety information is available at the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service office in your county.

Source: Annhall Norris, Food Safety and Preservation Extension Specialist