A food thermometer is a tool to measure the temperature of food. It lets you know when a food is properly cooked to a safe internal temperature, which is usually quite different from the temperature at the surface. You’ll find a variety of types, abilities and prices, but a good thermometer is an essential tool that no home chef or cook should be without!
How to use a thermometer:
Make sure your thermometer is accurate. If it isn’t giving you correct information, it’s like a friend who gives you certain medical advice because he thinks it’s the right thing to say; you might be OK, but chances are you’re going to regret it. The easiest way to check a thermometer is to stick it into a glass of 50% ice and 50% cold water. Its reading should be 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). If it isn’t, read the instructions it came with; some thermometers can be adjusted (calibrated) while some cannot.
Clean the thermometer every time you use it. There’s a story of a family who got sick from grilled chicken prepared at home. The cook used a thermometer to make sure the chicken was done; however, it hadn’t been cleaned after a number of uses. There was plenty of debris on the thermometer for germs to thrive on – and, of course, they buried themselves right into the chicken. So make sure to clean your thermometer after every use. In restaurants, they’re also sanitized with a chemical or alcohol. Properly cleaning thermometer stems after use is an important way to keep them safe.
Stick it in. You use a thermometer by sticking the stem (called the probe) into whatever you are cooking. The cheaper, basic kinds of thermometers require the stem to be at least 1-2 inches inside the food; the more costly but faster thermometers might require only 1/2 - 1 inch. Check your thermometer’s guidelines – or e-mail us, giving the brand and model of thermometer. Stick the probe into the thickest part of the food. In a chicken breast, it would be the top of the lobe; in a roast, dead center, being sure to avoid the bone (bones are hotter than meat).
What kind is best?
You need to determine how you’re going to use the thermometer and how much you have to spend. Ask yourself these questions:
How often do I need one? Once a year for the holidays? Then go basic. Do you cook every day of the week for your family? A nice digital one might work well. Are you a professional who cooks every day for restaurants/kitchens – or do you cook for a high-risk individual? The top-of-the-line model might be your thing!
What do I cook? If you frequently make stir fry, it might be hard to stab (probe) a thin piece of chicken or beef with a lower-cost thermometer, but it is possible. Since the probe has to go into the product all the way, you’ll want one with a smaller sensing range so you can get an accurate temperature. If you fix mostly larger foods, like roasts and turkeys, a simpler one with a larger sensing range will be fine. Sometimes the “bells and whistles” on the fancier models are worthwhile; some thermometers that have alarms that alert you when the required temperature is reached. This saves you from constant checking.
I’m an excellent BBQ chef – what do I need a thermometer for? All too often, we guys think that using a thermometer is sissy! The solution is to give yourself a grill fork with a built-in thermometer in the handle. You can choose to give your secret away and show off the latest technology to your friends, or to cover up the digital readout with your hand so no one knows you’re putting safety first!