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A meat thermometer is a highly useful kitchen tool. Buying a meat thermometer will make it easier for you to make sure that meat is cooked properly, greatly reducing the problems of overcooked meats or undercooked and potentially unsafe meats. There are several different models of meat thermometer on the market, and you may want to consider the way in which you plan to use a meat thermometer when thinking about which model to buy. It is important, however, to buy a meat thermometer which is designed specifically for meat.
General considerations when buying a meat thermometer should include the construction. The readout of the meat thermometer should be very clear and easy to read, with a strong glass or plastic cover, depending on the model. You may be able to find a meat thermometer which is designed to resist fogging up, which is also very useful. You should also get a meat thermometer made from stainless steel, so that it will be easy to clean, and you may want to consider buying a meat thermometer which is dishwasher safe for the best sanitation.
There are four basic styles of meat thermometer: oven proof, instant read, pop-up, and microwave safe. Each meat thermometer is designed for a specific use, and you should consider the design when buying a meat thermometer. An oven proof meat thermometer is designed to be left in the meat while it cooks. Many oven proof versions are wireless, or have a long cable, allowing the cook to leave the display outside the oven. When buying a meat thermometer which is oven proof, you may want to think about options such as a temperature alarm, or a wireless transmitter which can be worn to keep an eye on the meat.
An instant read thermometer is meant to be inserted into the meat for a quick temperature reading. This type of meat thermometer does require the cook to open the oven, and it cannot be left in the meat while the meat cooks. Some instant read thermometers have physical probes, while others use infrared technology to determine the temperature of the meat without requiring contact. If you are buying a meat thermometer which is designed for instant reading use, you may want to consider a more expensive infrared model.
Pop-up meat thermometers are usually designed for a single use. They can be used in any meat, although they are most closely associated with turkeys. When a pop-up thermometer is used, the oven proof thermometer pops out when the meat is done, indicating that it has reached a safe temperature. Microwave safe meat thermometers are obviously designed for use in microwaves. For cooks who rely heavily on the microwave as a kitchen tool, buying a meat thermometer designed for microwave use might be a good idea.
After buying a meat thermometer, it is useful to know how to use it properly. A meat thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat, but it should not be allowed to touch the bone. If you are unsure about whether a meat thermometer has accurate readings, you can calibrate it in boiling water. Be aware that at high altitudes, water boils at lower temperatures. Recommended safe cooking temperatures for meats vary, but as a general rule, heat poultry, mixed meats, and pork to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius), and other meats to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). This is the low end of the threshold for bacterial infection, and if you are concerned about meat safety, you should use slightly higher temperatures.
The meat thermometer I covet is the oven safe one with the probe you put inside the meat and then the cable is outside the oven attached to the readout, and you can set an alarm when the desired temperature is reached. Love that one! I've seen Alton Brown use it on TV.
I priced those and they run about $25, but I hope they will come down in price, eventually, or I can find one cheaper online. But I wouldn't have one that's not digital. Fortunately, I have a great cookbook that has a complete temperature guide for every kind of meat you can think of. I refer to it all the time. I'd think most cookbooks geared toward beginners would have such a chart inside.
I'd always recommend a digital thermometer. Period. They're just easier to read. My thermometer has a big display that's easy to read and it's pretty accurate.
You don't have to spend a ton of money on a meat thermometer, but I'd spend enough to make sure mine was digital. I think I paid about $8 for the one I have. It's not absolutely instant read. It takes maybe five seconds to register the temp, but it does read faster than a mercury thermometer and it's much, much easier to read. I'd also recommend one that comes with some kind of temperature guide for various cuts of meat and how the temp should read when the meat is safely cooked.
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