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How to Use an Instant-Read Thermometer

checking the internal temperature of a steak with an instant read thermometer
Lisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock

An instant-read thermometer is an affordable and simple way to guarantee you’re cooking meats and other dishes to a safe internal temperature. Here’s how to use one.

When it comes to cooking, looks can be deceiving. A cut of meat can look totally done (and might even appear burned on the surface) but inside it still hasn’t reached a safe temperature where harmful bacteria have been killed via heat. Rather than guess if your chicken breasts or roast have cooked completely through, it’s best to use an instant-read thermometer to check.

How to Use a Food Thermometer

When checking the temperature of a hot dish, be sure to remove the food from the direct heat to avoid burns. It’s also important to understand that all meats and dishes have different safe minimum internal temperatures.

Roasts and thick meats: When taking the temperature of roasted meats, place your thermometer directly in the center, and away from any bone, fat, or gristle. Wait until the temperature stops rising, which should take about 20 seconds.

When cooking thick chops or steaks, make sure to place your thermometer in the thickest part and away from gristle, fat, and bone.

Thin meats: If you have something thin, like thinly sliced chicken breast or a burger patty, you should place the thermometer at least two or three inches in through the side.

Casseroles: Combination dishes like casseroles and quiches should be checked in the thickest part of the meal, and several other places in the dish, too.

Always Use with Care

Like all cooking tools and utensils, it’s essential to use them with care and caution. Some thermometers are oven safe, and others are not, so always know which one you’re using.

Food thermometers are often come into contact with raw meats and should always be washed before and after contact. Wash the thermometer by hand with hot soapy water, but do not completely immerse it in water. Some thermometers, however, are waterproof, so always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper handling.

Check for Accuracy Using an Ice Bath

Checking the accuracy of your food thermometer is an essential step in ensuring it’s correctly measuring the temperature of your food. You can do this by filling a large glass with ice water and placing the thermometer at least two inches in.

You want to ensure your thermometer read 32 degrees. If it does not come to 32 degrees, follow the packaging directions to calibrate it to the correct temperature.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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