Meat Thermometers – A Grilling Essential

Steaks on the grill with thermometer to check internal temperature.

Grilling adds a fun element to picnics and summer but it can also be a time of danger for food borne illness. It is not possible to tell if a food is fully cooked by simply looking at it. The only way to accurately measure if a food product is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature is to use a food thermometer.  This is especially true when grilling meats; meat and poultry tend to brown quickly on the outside but may not have reached a safe internal temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from causing foodborne illness.

Know the Safe Internal Temperature

To insure cooking is both SAFE and GOOD TASTING, follow the guidelines below for safe minimum internal temperatures and rest time for meat, poultry, and seafood.

Date last reviewed: March 11, 2022. Source: FoodSafety.gov

Calibrate Thermometer for Accuracy

A properly calibrated meat thermometer is key for achieving both meat safety and quality. Imagine the indignation of serving undercooked meat followed by food borne illness because the thermometer didn’t read correctly or wasn’t in calibration.  Neither is a viable excuse for a food safety misstep.  Thermometers should be checked and adjusted on a regular basis using the ice-water method.  For a video demonstration of thermometer calibration, view How to Calibrate a Meat Thermometer courtesy of the North American Meat Institute and University of California Davis Cooperative Extension. 

Insert Thermometer Properly

To get a correct temperature reading, the thermometer must be inserted in the properly location.  Usually, this in the center of the thickest part of the food away from bone, fat, or gristle.  Use these guidelines on finding the right location: 

BEEF, PORK or LAMB ROASTS. The food thermometer should be placed midway in the roast, avoiding the bone. Irregularly shaped foods, such as beef roasts, should have their temperature checked in several places.

THINNER FOODS such as MEAT PATTIES, PORK CHOPS and CHICKEN.  The USDA encourages the use of digital instant-read thermometers for thinner foods as digital thermometers don’t need to be inserted as deep as dial thermometers and may be inserted sideways in the thickest part.    

Regardless of thermometer type, manufacturer’s instructions should be followed regarding depth of insertion to give an accurate reading.  If instructions are not available, check the stem of the thermometer for an indentation or “dimple” that shows the end of the sensing device. The probe must be inserted the full length of the sensing area. For dial thermometers, this is usually 2 to 3 inches and less for digital instant-read thermometers where the heat sensing device is in the tip of the probe.  About 15 to 20 seconds are required for the temperature to be accurately displayed with a dial thermometer and about 10 seconds is needed for a digital thermometer.

Additional Thermometer Tips

  • Use a clean thermometer for testing each time it is inserted into the food.  Follow manufacturer’s directions for washing before and after each use.
  • To prevent overcooking, begin checking the temperature toward the end of cooking but before the food is expected to be “done.”
  • Wait until toward the end of the cooking period before inserting a thermometer to prevent the possibility of transferring possible bacteria from the outside to the inside.  This will also help to prevent loss of moisture.

Use that food thermometer and grill safely!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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