The Right Way to Use a Meat Thermometer

About 28% of American adults say they “can’t cook.”

But cooking isn’t as hard as it might seem, and yes, this is even true for tricky foods like meat. If you have a good meat thermometer, you won’t have to worry about eating undercooked meat that’ll make you sick. 

However, having a meat thermometer won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to use it. 

We’ve put together this guide to help you learn how to use a meat thermometer the right way. 

So let’s get started!

Don’t Aim for the Centre

Wait… isn’t that the entire point of a meat thermometer? 

Well, yes and no. 

When you’re checking the temperature of your meat, you want to find the coolest part of it so you can get an accurate reading. Sometimes that part happens to be in the exact middle, but that actually happens less often than you might think. 

Remember, meat is full of fat, tissue, bones, etc. These things can heat up faster than the meat itself. 

For example, let’s say you’re cooking a ham for Christmas dinner this year. If you stab the meat thermometer right into the center of the ham, the tip will end up close to the bone. The heat from the bone can make the thermometer register at the wrong temperature, meaning you could end up eating ham that’s underdone. 

So where are you supposed to check the meat instead?

It depends on what you’re cooking. As a general rule, you should always put the thermometer in the thickest section of meat that doesn’t have any fat or bones. 

Here’s a quick guide about how to check the temperature of different types of meat.  

Thick Cuts

For thick meats, such as steaks, stick your thermometer in the thickest part you can find. But remember, do your best to stay away from bones and other substances. 

Thin Cuts

Thin cuts of meat can be challenging to work with because there isn’t much meat there in the first place.

You won’t get an accurate reading of the temperature if you stab the thermometer through the center in this case. Put the thermometer in through the side instead. 

Large Pieces of Meat 

When you’re taking the temperature of things like turkeys or hams, you should do your best to stay in the center (since this will be the thickest part). But you might have to move the thermometer off to the side to avoid bones. 

The thigh is a good place to take the temperature of whole poultry. Just make sure you keep the thermometer as close to the breast as possible while you’re doing it.

Ground Meat 

You don’t have to worry about bones or tissue when you’re working with ground meat. This makes it much easier to get an accurate temperature reading. All you have to do is put the thermometer in the thickest area. 

The Poke and Pull Method

Are you having trouble finding the coolest part of your meat? Try using the poke and pull method instead. 

Start by stabbing your thermometer all the way through the meat until the tip is poking out the other side. Then begin pulling the thermometer back out again. 

But do it nice and slow. 

You should see the temperature changing as you go through different parts of the meat. The coolest temperature you find is the one you should go by. 

If your thermometer won’t fit all the way through your meat, push it in as far as it will go (or until you hit bone). Then repeat the process until you find the coolest point. 

This will help you get the most accurate temperature so your meat turns out just the way you want it. 

How Often Should You Check the Temperature of Your Meat?

There’s nothing worse than overcooked meat. 

To keep your meat from ending up dry and tasteless, you should start checking the temperature early and keep checking it often. 

For small pieces of meat, you should start checking the temperature at least 10 minutes before the estimated finish time. For large pieces of meat, you should start checking at least 30 minutes early. 

After the first check, keep checking every few minutes for small pieces of meat and every 10 minutes or so for large pieces of meat. 

And remember, your meat will continue cooking even after you take it out of the oven or off the heat. This won’t affect smaller pieces of meat. But it does mean you should take large pieces of meat, such as a turkey, out of the oven when it reaches 5 degrees under the recommended temperature.  

How to Tell If Your Thermometer Is Lying to You

Sometimes thermometers stop working properly, and the temperature they tell you isn’t actually right. A bad thermometer can mess up your entire cooking experience. 

If you think your thermometer might not be working, fill up a bowl with ice and pour water over the top of it (and give it a few quick stirs). Then put your thermometer in this water. 

Make sure you hold it so the tip of the thermometer is in the center of the water. You might have to hold it here for a minute or two. 

Your thermometer should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees celsius. This test will work for any type of thermometers, including a wireless meat thermometer, so if it doesn’t say this, you need to buy a new meat thermometer.  

How to Use a Meat Thermometer the Right Way 

Learning how to use a meat thermometer the right way isn’t hard. All you have to do is find the right part of the meat—the thickest area that doesn’t have any bones, fat, tissue, etc. 

Want to learn some other helpful cooking tips? Be sure to check out the rest of our blog!

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