A meat thermometer allows you to check progress and put your mind at ease when things are hectic in the kitchen or around the grill. No more worrying about serving uncooked meat to your friends and family. Therefore, Whether you're a professional chef or a novice home cook, everyone needs at least one type of meat thermometer on hand. Today I will show you how to pick the best meat thermometer.
Why Is It Important to Use a Meat Thermometer When Cooking?
Simply put, using a meat thermometer when cooking is the only surefire way to know that your meal is fully cooked and ready to be enjoyed. Though you may have a great eye for knowing when your steak is exactly medium-rare or get a gut feeling when that chicken is perfectly roasted, only a meat thermometer can tell you for sure.
Using a meat thermometer can also help you determine if a meal has been overcooked. When you cook meat to a proper temperature, it is juicy and tender; if you leave it in the oven or on the grill for too long, it will be dry and lack flavor.
Since no two cuts of meat are the same, using cooking time to determine when a meal is done is an inherently flawed method. While some pieces might be cooked perfectly, others could be undercooked or burnt. In other words, a meat thermometer is the only way to go if you're looking for a stress-free dining experience.
What to Look for When Buying a Meat Thermometer?
1. Temperature accuracy and range
Look for thermometers that are advertised with accuracy within ±2˚F, which is a range of accuracy most good thermometers can promise. This will help you ensure food safety as well as preferred doneness.
2. Temperature range
Factor in what you cook most often and then find the range of temperatures the thermometer can report — and withstand — that works best for you. Thermometers with a wide temperature range are useful for larger foods with longer cook times. But a narrower range might deliver better accuracy or a faster response time. Read the use and care instructions to determine the uppermost temps the thermometer can withstand to ensure the device can handle direct cooking as well as flare-ups.
3. Probe size
You want a probe that's long enough to reach the thickest part of the food so you can accurately determine doneness and thin enough that it won't damage the meat. For small or thin items like fish or chicken breast, a shorter probe is fine, but for bigger foods like a large steak or a pork roast, a longer probe — around five inches — is better.
Whether your thermometer's interface is a simple dial or a connected app, you want it to be clear and intuitive. You want at-a-glance readability so you'll know whether to adjust the heat or stop the cooking process. Stores might have a demo product you can see, or you can often find a sticker that replicates the readout. If you're shopping online, watch product videos or preview the app to see if you like the interface.
5. Battery life
Some grill thermometers will require you to replace the batteries periodically while others are rechargeable. Check the manufacturer's claims about battery life to get a sense of how long you can use it per session and the total battery life.
Main Types of Meat Thermometers
Thermocouples read temperatures very fast – in as little as 2-5 seconds. These restaurant supplies are very versatile and can measure both thick and thin foods. They can be calibrated for easy reading. Unfortunately, they are highly inaccurate during cooking and are best used when the food is nearly cooked, for accurate results. Being rather sensitive restaurant supplies, thermocouples are not safe for oven usage.
2. Digital instant-read thermometers
Digital instant-read thermometers are often cheaper than digital probe thermometers but still offer a 0.1°C measurement accuracy. Instant read thermometers are designed to be used outside the oven, during cooking or toward the end of cooking to confirm doneness. These tend to have a small footprint, take up little space in a drawer and are ideal for checking temperatures quickly.
3. Digital probe thermometer
These have two parts: a probe that's inserted into the meat, and a digital display that sits outside the oven. They're connected by a slim cable.
The benefit of a digital probe thermometer is that it can stay in the meat in the oven from the moment you start cooking, so you know exactly when it comes to the correct temperature. The probe is ideal for larger pieces of meat that cook for extended hours like a turkey or a larger roast. Most come with digital displays that are visible outside the oven. They are usually equipped with alarms you can set to alert you when they reach a desired temperature, so you are always aware of the cooking progress.
4. Dial Oven-Safe Bimetallic Thermometers
Dial bimetallic thermometers read temperatures in 1 – 2 minutes. This is much slower than most thermometers on this list. However, unlike many on the list, these restaurant supplies can be used in foods while cooking – although they have to be placed at least 2 inches deep for accuracy. These restaurant supplies are a good fit for roasts, soups and casseroles, but are not advisable for use when preparing thin foods. Due to the metallic nature of these thermometers, they are able to easily conduct heat and do not always provide accurate readings.
How to Pick the Best Meat Thermometer
1. Speedy and accurate temperature readings
What matters most in a good kitchen thermometer is speed and clarity—how quickly you can turn it on and see a steady reading of the temperature inside your dish. A thermometer that can quickly jump toward the final temperature is much better than one that leaves you guessing as it slowly rises. A good thermometer should also cover the whole temperature range of home cooking, from below freezing (32 °F) up past very hot frying oil (400 °F).
2. Sufficient probe length
The probe on a thermometer should be thin at its point to minimize juice-leaking punctures, and long enough to reach the center of large roasts or deep pots. A longer probe also helps keep your hands a safe distance from heat and steam.
A thermometer's durability depends on how well its electronics are protected from dust and water, as measured by its IP (ingress protection) rating. The IP rating consists of two numbers that indicate how much abuse an item can withstand. The first number (ranging from 0–6) pertains to solids, and the second one (ranging from 0–8) pertains to liquids.
4. Easy to read
We prefer thermometers that display large numbers on their digital screens to make it easier to read temperatures quickly. Backlit displays are also convenient when you're cooking in a dimly lit kitchen or grilling outdoors at night.
5. Easy to clean
You need to clean a meat thermometer each time you insert it, so you'll want to choose a model that doesn't have little crevices that trap grease and bacteria. Some digital probe thermometers have a dishwasher-safe probe, which makes cleaning easy.
6. Reasonable price
With rare exceptions, we've found that thermometers retailing for $20 or less are slow, of poor quality, and often barely distinguishable copies of one another. We think paying the extra $10 or $15 is worth it for an accurate, high-quality instrument, but paying a lot more isn’t necessary for most people.
How to Use a Digital Thermometer for Meat?
To get the most accurate reading with a digital thermometer, it needs to be inserted into the middle of the thickest part of the meat. If inserted too little or too far, the reading will be for the outer part and won't give you the reading for the middle.
For joints of meat that are on the bone, like a rib of beef or leg of lamb, make sure the tip of the thermometer isn't in contact with the bone, or you risk getting the bone temperature.
For pieces of meat cooking on the barbecue or in a pan, it’s best to measure the temperature out of the pan, so you don't get the residual temperature from the hot surface.
For whole chickens and other birds, the most accurate place to take the temperature is the thickest part of the thigh, in the gap between the thigh and the breast, again, avoiding the bone. Once you are happy with where you've probed your thermometer, always wait for the temperature to stop fluctuating to get an accurate reading.