Meat thermometers are a crucial kitchen tool
thermometers might seem like an unnecessary accessory -- after all, can't you
tell when a piece of meat is done by cutting into it, or poking it with a
finger? For home cooks, the answer is no. As clever as some of the guesswork
methods of estimating when meat is done may be, they're just that -- guesswork.
In fact, many
of us are reaping the consequences of all that guesswork without realizing it.
Often, what we call the "stomach flu" is not related to the influenza
virus at all, but instead a reaction to improperly cooked food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that
every year, about 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases. That's 48 million people -- and of
that group, some 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
Even the old
methods that once worked -- for example, waiting until a cooked chicken's
juices run clear to call it done -- don't necessarily work today, because the
way we've raised our meat animals has changed. Things get especially tricky
when you're dealing with a big roast, ham or turkey, because different parts of
the meat may heat at different rates, and you need to be sure the entire cut is
done all the way through.
Having a meat
thermometer on hand is the only way to be sure the meat you're cooking is safe.
As a bonus, it'll also make it easy for you to produce perfectly cooked cuts of
meat every time, even if your grill or oven has hot spots that make separate
cuts of meat heat unevenly.
Types of Meat Thermometers
Digital Instant Read Thermometers
An instant-read thermometer is poked into the meat to check its doneness, then removed. "Instant-read" thermometers can have two types of sensors: thermistors, which are less expensive but can take 5 to 7 seconds -- or more -- to provide an accurate temperature, or thermocouples, which are more expensive but give accurate readings within 2 to 4 seconds.
Leave-in thermometers (also called probe thermometers) have one or more probes that are inserted into the meat and left there as you cook, or can be clipped to the oven or grill rack to monitor ambient temperature. The probes are connected to a base station which displays the temperature and sounds an alarm when your meat reaches the desired temperature. Some leave-in thermometers can also be programmed to chart the meat's temperature over time or sound an alarm if it exceeds a set minimum or maximum temperature.
Most probes remain connected to the thermometer display base by cables, but wireless probe thermometers -- most of which use Bluetooth technology to communicate with the display base -- are becoming more common. One of the leave-in thermometer probes we evaluated can even communicate with your smartphone.
put the thermometer
measure the temperature of a large cut of meat in several places, because
variations in the grill or oven temperature and the meat itself can cause it to
cook at uneven rates.
using a thermocouple thermometer that gives quick readings, insert the
thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, pushing just past the center,
then pull the thermometer out slowly and take the lowest (coldest) reading.
Don't position the thermometer against the bone, because bone heats at a
different rate than the meat of the muscle. If you're cooking a steak, a burger
or other slim cuts of meat, try inserting the meat thermometer from the side.
using a thermistor thermometer that can take up to 30 seconds to give an
accurate reading, aim as close to the center of the cut of meat as possible and
leave the thermometer in place until you get a stable reading. Then pull it
slowly out to check for cold spots.
a meat thermometer
meat thermometers are calibrated when they come out of the box, some
thermometers can be calibrated at home to fine-tune their accuracy. Experts
recommend doing this once a year, or any time the thermometer has been dropped
or possibly damaged.
thermometer's accuracy by inserting the probe into a glass of ice water, just
below the level of the ice; it should read within a few degrees of 32 degrees
Fahrenheit. Test another extreme with boiling water: The thermometer should
read 212 degrees, or a little less if you live above sea level. For most
purposes, being within 2 or 3 degrees of those goals is good enough. If your
thermometer needs to be calibrated, consult the owner's manual for specific
Finding The Best Meat Thermometers
"Meat Thermometer Ratings"
"Instant-Read Digital Thermometers"
"Our Favorite Thermometers For Food, Cooking, Ovens, Grills, And Smokers, As Well As Ratings And Reviews Of More Than 100 Devices"
In order to
find the best meat thermometers, we consulted comparative reviews from expert
foodie and tech sites such as Cook's Illustrated, ConsumerReports.org, Good
Housekeeping, AmazingRibs.com, YourBestDigs.com and TheSweethome.com.
out how meat thermometers perform under laboratory conditions is only part of
the puzzle. To determine how well they hold up in real-world use by real people
in real kitchens, we also evaluated hundreds of user reviews from retail
websites including Amazon.com, where the most popular meat thermometers have
amassed up to a thousand or more user comments.