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How to Use a Digital Meat Thermometer Correctly

I wasn’t a fan of meat thermometers before. I always assumed that as long as I cook the meat in the recommended cooking time and use the right temperature, everything will be cooked perfectly. But when I learned about food safety and the importance of knowing the internal temperature, the meat thermometer became my best friend. It is essential, however, to know how to use it properly.

When using a digital thermometer, insert the thermometer’s probe at least half an inch into the meat. Wait for at least 10 seconds for the temperature to register to get an accurate result. A digital meat thermometer is used for both thin and thick cuts of meat, such as chops, steaks, and burgers. 

While digital meat thermometers provide the most accurate results, there are still other types of meat thermometers available in the market. 

What Is A Meat Thermometer?

A meat thermometer is a device used to measure the internal temperature of foods such as meats and other types of protein. It is important to know the internal temperature of foods like beef, pork, poultry, and eggs to ensure that harmful bacteria are destroyed. Aside from that, knowing that the meat reached the minimum internal temperature can also prevent people from getting food-borne illnesses. 

There are different types of meat thermometers in the market. It is available in digital and analogue. Depending on the model or version, there are some meat thermometers that can be left inside the meat while it cooks, such as the leave-in meat thermometer or oven-going probe thermometer. However, when using an instant-read meat thermometer, whether analogue or digital, they shouldn’t be left inserted in the meat while it cooks. 

Meat thermometers can also help prevent the meat from getting dry due to overcooking. It can also prevent the flavours and juice from escaping the meat since you don’t need to cut it to check its doneness. A meat thermometer is an essential tool that anyone who loves to cook should have in the kitchen. 

Step-by-Step Guide On How To Use A Digital Meat Thermometer

If you want to make sure your food is cooked properly and has reached the specific internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria, here’s a guide on how to properly use a digital meat thermometer.

  1. The first step is to find out if the meat thermometer is working properly. To do this, get a bowl filled with ice and water. Place the thermometer in the bowl and wait for 20 seconds to get a reading. If the temperature shows 32°F(0°C), then the thermometer is working properly and ready to be used. If the thermometer doesn’t show the right temperature, then you need to recalibrate the thermometer. To recalibrate it, simply follow the instructions according to the manual. If after doing that and it still doesn’t work, then you may need to replace and buy a new one. 
  1. To get an accurate result, do not remove the food from the stove, oven, or grill. Removing the food from the heat source may result in an inaccurate reading. To check the temperature, insert the thermometer while the meat is cooking, but remember to remove it from the food as soon as you get the temperature. 
  1. When checking the temperature on a large chunk of meat, insert the thermometer in the thickest part. Make sure not to touch the fat, bones, or gristle to get an accurate result. Wait for 10 seconds to get a reading. Take out the thermometer from the meat after getting the internal temperature. According to CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meat’s centre part should reach at least the safe minimum temperature. 
  1. Once you have gauged the temperature on your digital thermometer, check the digital readout to find out the meat’s doneness. If the temperature has not reached the minimum safety requirement, then let the meat cook more. Don’t forget to monitor the internal temperature of the meat until it reaches the minimum temperature requirement. 

What Are The Different Types Of Meat Thermometer?

As mentioned earlier, there are different kinds of meat thermometers available in the market. Here are some of the most common food thermometers that you can buy.

Oven-Going Meat Thermometer

What we discussed earlier was using a digital instant-read thermometer. What makes it different from an oven-going meat thermometer is that you can leave the thermometer in the meat even while it is cooking on the grill or in the oven. It can go into any cut, type, or size of meat.

When using a leave-in meat thermometer, find the centre of the thickest or largest muscle of the raw meat and insert the thermometer in it. Make sure the thermometer is at least 2 inches deep and should not get in contact with the pan, bone, or fat. Doing so will result in an inaccurate reading. 

Monitor the temperature reading on the thermometer and if it shows the required temperature, push the thermometer a bit more in the meat. The temperature will either stay the same or will drop. If it is the latter, then let the meat continue to cook more. If the temperature stays the same, then your meat is ready and well-cooked. You can now remove it from the grill or oven.

Another type of oven-going thermometer is the oven-going probe thermometer. The difference from the leave-in thermometer is that you don’t need to put the whole thermometer inside the oven. The oven-going probe thermometer is digital and has a wired probe.

All you need to do is insert the wired probe into the meat. The wired probe is attached to a base that can be placed outside the oven. The advantage of using this kind of thermometer is you can read the temperature easily even without opening the oven.

There are some models that you can set an alert to inform you that the meat has reached the desired temperature. To get the best result after removing the meat outside the oven, cover it with foil. Let it stand for at least 15 minutes before cutting. 

Instant-Read Meat Thermometers

This type of thermometer can come in digital and analogue mode. Unlike an oven-going thermometer, this type cannot be used while the meat is cooking, it is inserted into the food outside the heat source and will provide an instant reading.

The stem of an analogue instant-read thermometer should be inserted about 2 inches into the meat. If the meat is thin like pork chops or burgers, the stem is inserted in the side of the meat for an accurate reading. Let the thermometer stay inside the meat for at least 15-20 seconds for the temperature to register. Again, never leave the thermometer while the meat is cooking.

How To Clean Meat Thermometers

Just like any other kitchen tool, your meat thermometers need to be cleaned as well. Since this tool goes into the meat, you should always make sure that it is clean before inserting it into the food. This is particularly true when you inserted it in raw meat. If you don’t clean it before inserting it again into cooked meat, it may spread bacteria such as salmonella. 

Depending on the type of thermometer you have, you should follow the instructions in the manual to make sure it won’t damage your thermometer. However, here are some ways to clean your food thermometer.

Cooking Spray

A food thermometer can develop stains due to smoke build-up. When this happens, all you need is some cooking spray or any food-grade silicone spray. Spray some on the stem and wipe off using a clean cloth. After that, wash the stem with warm soapy water and dry it. 

White Vinegar

Another excellent cleaning agent you can use for your meat thermometer is white vinegar. Simply put some white vinegar on paper towels or cotton pads and wipe the probe. Focus on areas where the stain had build-up. Let it dry before using. This is a good alternative if you want to avoid chemical-based cleaning agents.

Alcohol Wipes

Alcohol wipes will not only clean your meat thermometer but will also sanitize it. Some use it to clean the insert of the thermometer. However, when using alcohol wipes, make sure to rinse the probe thoroughly to get rid of the alcohol. Also, before wiping the probe clean with alcohol wipes, make sure to let it dry a bit. This will prevent over-saturation.

Related Questions

Are digital meat thermometers accurate?

Yes, most digital meat thermometers are accurate and perform much better than using analogue thermometers. They are much cheaper, low maintenance, consistent and easy to read as well. 

Can you leave digital thermometer in meat while cooking?

Yes, a digital thermometer can be left in meat while cooking. Just make sure that the manufacturer says it is oven safe. Always read the label and safety information before cooking. But generally, most digital meat thermometers are made to be oven-safe. If there is no safety information, then you must first ask the manufacturer whether or not it is safe to use for cooking.

David Frangos
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