Always Use a Meat Thermometer

Congratulations for jumping on the meat thermometer bandwagon. Using one is really the only way to tell if meat is cooked thoroughly. And undercooked meat is a leading cause of foodborne illness — one that is easily preventable.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers an eight-page fact sheet aptly titled “Kitchen Thermometers”. It gives you details about the proper use of more than a half-dozen different types, including digital, dial, instant-read and oven-safe thermometers (the type you leave in the meat as it is cooking).

Different kinds of thermometers have different usage guidelines. For example, some must be inserted at least 2 inches; others provide an accurate reading with only a 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch inserted into the food.

In general, here are some tips for using meat thermometers:

  • Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure it doesn’t touch bone, fat or gristle.
  • Know the proper temperature reading for the food you’re cooking. The Kitchen Thermometers fact sheet includes a chart. In general, steaks, roasts and chops (beef, pork, veal and lamb) must be cooked to at least 145 degrees, with an additional three minutes of rest time before carving or consuming. Ground beef must be cooked to 160 degrees. Poultry (ground, whole or pieces), as well as casseroles, reheated leftovers and foods cooked in the microwave oven, must reach 165 degrees.
  • After each use, clean the thermometer with hot, soapy water.

In addition, thermometers should be checked for accuracy every once in a while. Some types can be calibrated, allowing you to make adjustments to be sure they’re giving an accurate reading. But even thermometers that can’t be calibrated should be checked. If your thermometer is off by 2 degrees or more, it’s time to get a new thermometer.

An easy way to test the accuracy of your thermometer is to put the stem in a glass full of crushed ice and water, making sure it’s at least 2 inches deep and not touching the sides or bottom of the glass. After 30 seconds, the reading should be 32 degrees.

Ohio State University Extension offers a two-minute video showing how to test a thermometer’s accuracy and calibrate it, if possible.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or [email protected].

Image: Alexey Stiop |