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What is a Meat Thermometer?

Updated May 16, 2024
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Undercooked meats are a primary source of bacteria such as salmonella and e. coli. These food-borne illnesses can be avoided by cooking meat to the proper temperature through the use of a meat thermometer.

Getting into the habit of using a meat thermometer is one of the best things a new cook can do. Aside from using a meat thermometer with meats, it can also be handy for checking the temperature of egg dishes and casseroles. Additionally it guards against the dangers of undercooking, and a meat thermometer can protect against overcooking those expensive cuts of meat.

A meat thermometer is a probe, usually made of stainless steel, which is inserted into the thickest part of the cut of meat. The tip measures the temperature of the meat, and the heat is shown as a reading on a thermometer gauge or digital display. A meat thermometer can come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, prices and colors. Meat thermometers can be purchased at most variety retail stores, specialty cook shops and online.

The types of meat thermometers include:

Ovenproof: This is the most common type of meat thermometer, designed to resist the prolonged heat of an oven.

Microwave: A microwave meat thermometer is designed for use in microwave ovens only. It resists the quick, intense heat generated by microwaves.

Pop-up: This thermometer will pop up when meat reaches the proper temperature. Thermometers implanted into turkeys by poultry distributors is a familiar example.

Digital: Digital meat thermometers are not designed to go into an oven but are used instead to verify the proper temperature of meat after it is out of the oven.

BBQ: A BBQ meat thermometer is the newest on the market. Many are "wireless." The internal measuring unit is separate from the external heat-reading unit, which is placed on the outside of the barbecue or smoker so heat does not escape while checking the meat.

Most meat thermometers are accurate within 1-2 degrees, but if you want to check an ovenproof meat thermometer, insert it into a pan of water and bring the water to a boil. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius), so a check of the temperature at the first sign of boiling will tell you if the meat thermometer is doing its job properly. The thermometer will be hot, so take precautions when handling it.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On May 29, 2014

@Grivusangel -- I use a digital thermometer, too. My dream meat thermometer is the kind with the probe that you leave in the meat, and it's attached to the readout monitor with a cable. The monitor has a magnet on it that attaches it to the outside of the oven. You set the thermometer for the desired internal temperature, and it alerts you when that temperature is reached. I saw one on one of the TV chef shows and I've wanted one ever since.

They run about $25, so I'll need to save some change to get one, but that's one kitchen gadget I really, really want!

By Grivusangel — On May 28, 2014

I like the digital thermometers. They give a quick reading and I can actually *read* it. No guesswork, like the old meat thermometers, where the gauge dial was so tiny, it took a magnifying glass to see it.

In my opinion, a meat thermometer is just one of those essential kitchen tools. You need one if you're doing any kind of cooking with a roast, whole chicken, turkey, etc. They're not that expensive, and they're sure enough cheaper than a trip to the ER for a nasty bout of food poisoning! It's a small price to pay.

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