How-To

How To Use A Meat Thermometer (And Why You Need One)

Cook your meats perfectly and consistently with this essential kitchen gadget.

meat thermometers on a white background

Photo, Flickr/YourBestDigs.

The best way to really know if your meat is cooked is by checking the internal temperature. Whether it’s a chicken breast you don’t want to dry out, or a splurge-worthy prime rib roast you (absolutely) don’t want to overcook, this simple kitchen gadget can make all the difference when you’re looking to impress, even if it’s a one-pan meal meant just for you.

Below we’ll explain how to use a meat thermometer and how the different types on the market vary so you can make the best choice for your cooking needs.

How to use a meat thermometer

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The good news is, it’s pretty straightforward. To get a precise temperature reading, insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat (in a whole chicken this would be the breast or leg.) Monitor the temperature towards the end of the cooking time and when you’ve reached the target, remove the meat from the oven (or heat source) and let it rest for 5 minutes  to allow the juices to redistribute before digging in.

Tip: Keep the thermometer probe away from the bones — they will interfere with the temperature reading.

Oven-going vs. instant-read meat thermometers

Oven-going thermometers go in the oven and stay in the meat while it cooks, whereas digital instant-read thermometers are used after cooking to check for doneness. Note: Both types of thermometers should still be inserted into the thickest part of the meat.

OXO Good Grips® Chef's Precision Digital Instant Read Thermometer. $30, Bed, Bath and Beyond.

OXO Good Grips® Chef’s Precision Digital Instant Read Thermometer. $30, Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Instant-read thermometers

These are fast, easy to use, and can provide an accurate reading in 10 seconds. Instant-read thermometers only need to be inserted a ½-inch into food to get an accurate reading, so they can be used for both thick and thin cuts.

Polder THM-362-86 Classic Digital In-Oven Thermometer/Timer, $31, Amazon.

Polder THM-362-86 Classic Digital In-Oven Thermometer/Timer, $31, Amazon.

Oven-going thermometers

These will take 1 to 2 minutes to register an accurate temperature, and should be inserted 2 1/2 inches into the thickest part of the food. This means they work best for larger pieces and roasts.

Tip: When using an oven-going thermometer, push it in just a little further after you take the chicken out of the oven, to double check that the meat is cooked sufficiently. (Why?)

Safe Internal Cooking Temperatures

Pork: 160F

Whole Chicken: 180F

Chicken Pieces: 165F

Ground Meat: 160F

Beef (Medium Rare): 145F

Beef (Medium): 160

Beef (Well Done): 170F

Watch: How To Make A Roast Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

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