How to Use a Meat Thermometer

This week, common post-holiday-cooking-frenzy questions: Where do I place a meat thermometer in my turkey? And how do I use a meat thermometer?

Use a meat thermometer to test cooked food for doneness. The FDA guidelines for cooking temperature are listed to keep food safe from bacteria. The thermometer, used correctly, gives a read on the internal temperature of meat, poultry, fish, bread, and casseroles.

There are a variety of types of thermometers. Important considerations when using thermometers to get desired results for doneness and an accurate read are calibration, and awareness of residual heat (continued cooking of the food due to the heat carried inside).

follow the jump to find out how to use and calibrate thermometers

Thermometers are the tools that deliver the best results for desired doneness. Use a thermometer and leave out the guesswork based on time, temperature and the size of what's being cooked. The biggest mistake to avoid is to test doneness by cutting into protein to check the color inside. Slicing allows the juice to run out, resulting in dried out meat, fish or poultry.

Remove the meat, fish or poultry from heat source when the thermometer registers about 10 degrees below desired internal temperature (doneness), and let the protein rest. Resting gives time for the residual heat, to continue to cook (carry over cooking) the protein, and for the juices to redistribute evenly inside. Resting time varies on size of product. A good rule of thumb is 10 minutes for a steak, chop, fillet or patty, 20 minutes for whole poultry, whole fish or a large roast.

The tip of any type of thermometer is the location on the probe that picks up a reading of internal temperature. Insert the thermometer so the tip of the probe does not touch bone or fat, and does not poke out of the food.

To test meat temperature, insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat. (Note: as the thermometer is pulled in or out, the temperature will vary slightly based on the thickness and how close to the center the probe is placed.) Fish follows the same form.

Measure poultry by inserting the probe into the inner thigh, close to the breast, avoiding the bone. To check hamburgers and other meat patties insert the probe on the side. Insert the thermometer a good 2 inches into the food.

Check the accuracy of the thermometer by simply place in ice water. The temperature of ice water reads 32 degrees F. 15-20 seconds is all it should take for an accurate reading. Alternatively, place the thermometer in a pan of boiling water, 212 degrees F (adjust for higher altitudes).

Thermometers are easily adjusted if they need to be calibrated. The original packaging of the thermometer will have directions on how to adjust. Once calibrated thermometers are accurate within 1-2 degrees.

In addition to checking for doneness, thermometers allow for a change in cooking time by increasing or decreasing oven temperature. The cook can choose a lower temp, longer cooking time or higher heat, shorter time and use the thermometer to check for doneness.

Thermometers are available in analog and digital display. Important features are easy to read temperature display, stainless steel probe, shatterproof probe cover (tempered glass), and ease of calibration.

Choose the type of thermometer that will fit your cooking style. An instant read is a simple probe on a single stem with an analog or digital read out. Digital probes are popular because of the easy read display. Make sure either style has a means to calibrate.

Pop ups are popular with avid grillers, and there are individual thermometers especially designed for grilling. Infrared thermometers are more expensive, great for food too hot to touch and its fun to point and shoot!

A great tool is the probe thermometer with a wire extension attached to a unit with an alarm to notify the cook when the pre- set time or temperature is reached. The probe is oven proof and is inserted in the protein, the wire sits between the oven and the door in a closed position, and the time-temperature unit stays outside the oven.

There are thermometers for candy-making, deep-frying, and chocolate tempering. They vary in the temperature display based on the range of temperature used in a specific cooking process. Always choose a thermometer designed for your purpose.

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Carol Blonder