How to Use a Meat Thermometer
A tool which you’ll find in every serious grill master’s arsenal of equipment is the simple meat thermometer. It takes the guesswork out of cooking times, eliminating the need to cut into the meat to check if it’s done. Meat should be rested after it leaves the grill, allowing the natural juices to circulate and preserve its flavor and moisture. It would be a tragedy to let those delicious juices escape; to some seasoned chefs, almost sacrilegious! It’s also an important safeguard against bacteria which could exist in undercooked meat. You don’t want to risk ruining a BBQ with food poisoning, so always rely on a thermometer rather than the meat’s color.
If you’re using an older model thermometer with a manual dial, insert it into the meat before cooking at the center of the thickest part of the meat. Pick an area with flesh only, as placing the thermometer near a bone could give an inaccurate reading. For instant-read digital thermometers, simply perform these steps near the end of cooking. Do not leave a digital thermometer in during cooking (especially in an oven) or place it near the hot element of the grill where it can be scratched or damaged. Always use clean tongs and plates to avoid cross-contamination of uncooked meat.
When you’ve cooked your masterpiece according to your recipe’s recommendation, or your own innate sense of chef’s intuition, it’s time to take a reading. It’s safer to err on the side of caution and get a temperature reading five-to-ten minutes before you expect the meat to be done. Even if the reading is close to the recommended temperature, continue cooking for the length advised by the recipe. Or, exceed the length of the suggested cooking time if the temperature is not high enough.
Safe Temperature Guidelines:
140 °F: Precooked Ham
145 °F, followed by a 3 min. rest: Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal
165 °F: Chicken or Turkey, whole
160 °F: Ground Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb
Check your thermometer for signs of wear. If you’re using an older model with a dial and a glass cover, you may need to replace the glass. Cracked glass or other damages can interfere with the accuracy of the temperature readout and encourage bacterial growth, endangering your safety. Another key step in the prevention of bacteria on your thermometer is to clean it after each use to sanitize it, especially after it has been in contact with undercooked meat. Keep your thermometer in a case to protect it from dirt and damage.
Recalibration is another important step to ensure you get an accurate temperature readout every time. If your thermometer doesn’t come with a recalibration button, you will have to use the boiling water method. Submerge the stem in boiling water. If you are at sea level, the readout should be 100 °C or 212 °F. Adjust the calibration according to your thermometer’s manual.