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Proper use of meat thermometer?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

I recently purchased a digital meat thermometer.  I believe it to be accurate as I have performed several tests with it to check accuracy such as putting it in an ice bath and checking it against another thermometer.  It seems to be accurate throughout the range it measures.


But I am confused as to how to use it properly.


I have now tried it on several dishes including meats and poultry.  Each time I use it the temperatures it reads seems much higher then I expect.


For example:


Today I made a meatloaf.  I cooked it the amount of time specified in the recipe.  I took it out of the oven and within about a minute inserted the thermometer into the center of the loaf taking care not to let the probe touch anything but the meat.  My understanding is that ground beef should be at least 160 degrees when measured this way to ensure it is safe.  So I wanted to check where it was.


But the temperature read something like 220 degrees.  I didn't expect it to be that high.  The meatloaf tasted fine, cooked nicely to I would say a "medium."


I understand that 160 is a minimum, but should it be that much higher?


I had similar experiences with steaks, chicken, turkey and turkey burgers.  They all read temperatures much higher then I expected.


Whenever I see them do this on a television cooking show they seem to always show a temp just at the minimum allowed.


Am I doing something wrong or are such high temperatures normal and acceptable? 


Using the meatloaf as an example:


Just for the record it was 2 one pound meatloafs and I cooked them at the same time in the same oven at 375 degrees for one hour.


Could I have cooked it a much shorter time and still have it be safe albeit rarer?

post #2 of 10

One pound is not a lot of meat I've seen burgers that big.  One hour @ 375 is a lot of cooking time IMO.  Might want to take the temp more often next time.  2.5 - 3.5lbs is my average and I preheat my oven to 450 put in the meat and lower the temp to 350 @ 20 min/lb and start taking temp if I even need to.  That said I grind my own meat so I'm not always going for that 160 mark just till it's cooked through.


You mentioned ice bath did you check it against boiling water?  (212-F)

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 

Didn't think of the boiling water.  Good idea so I just tried it.  It read exactly 212 degrees.  So it appears that the thermometer is accurate.


An hour at 375 does seem like a lot for a pound of ground beef.  But it did come out pretty close to the way we like it.  I wouldn't say it was even well done, just medium... maybe medium well.


But I still can't understand the temperature readings.  I understand there can be some variations in cooking times.  Each item you cook is unique in density, size, etc.  And ovens vary.  But so far, in order to get my meats to come out at those minimum temperatures it seems I would have to cook them for far less time then the recipes call for... less time then I would feel comfortable with.


Maybe my oven temp is way out of calibration and it is hotter than it says.  That's the only thing I can think of.  Although it doesn't seem to way overcook anything when I follow the recommended times.  It seems to be right in the range.


It's frustrating because I got the thermometer to take away the guessing about when things are done.  So far, it hasn't helped much.

post #4 of 10

I don't know what type of oven you have but it might need a thermocouple, or a calibration.  I've had a commercial range for @ 20yrs now and I know how it operates and both ovens are different by several degrees.  I tend to depend on one more than the other so knowing your oven helps contribute to consistency in your cooking. 

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

I think what I will do is start checking the temp with the thermometer much earlier then I usually would to try to catch it when it hits the minimum safe temp just to see when it gets there compared to when I expect it to get there.  That way I should learn something about how far off it is (if it is off at all).


It doesn't help much to know that a chicken is safe to eat when the thermometer says at least 165 if it reads 185 when I test it every time.


How about this question:


Chicken is safe to eat at 165.  But does that necessarily mean it is desirable from a taste and consistency point of view at that temperature?  It could be safe to eat but still undercooked from a taste standpoint.  Do those safety temperatures also correspond with a good taste/consistency temperature?

post #6 of 10
Make sure you're temping the center of the food & not the edge. Also, check your temps: ground beef 155° not 160°. And chicken is definately not undercooked at 165°… although i will cook dark meat a little further for that very reason, that texturally it improves.
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Grande View Post

Make sure you're temping the center of the food & not the edge. Also, check your temps: ground beef 155° not 160°.


According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services it is 160°.

post #8 of 10

If I'm looking for leftovers I'll pull a trussed chicken at 165 as I know what's done and what can be reheated without drying out.  If I'm not after leftover and it's a whole chicken I'll slice open along the thigh as that tends to be pink next to the bone when the breast is done.  Don't forget about carryover while resting.

post #9 of 10
Originally Posted by ThankYou View Post


According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services it is 160°.


There are two sets of minimum temperatures at work here. The FDA Food Code (and CalCode in California) requires 155-deg. internal for ground beef. However, because meatloaf is a mixture of ingredients, it should be taken to 165-deg. or higher. I've noticed that most temperature charts designed for the home market, including those printed by supermarkets, add 5 degrees to the FDA minimums.

post #10 of 10

This is an interesting discussion because recently I acquired two sous vide units and have been playing around and reading. One issue with the "safe temperature" is that it is designed to be the simplest safe approach to food temperature and it doesn't take into consideration TIME. There is a logarithmic scale over temperature (starting around 130F) and time that truly represents what is safe to eat. ThankYou as others are suggesting what I think you are seeing is simply a high temp with a long time relative to what you are cooking. Your oven temp is 350 - well at some point the food you place in there will hit an equilibrium and the food itself will be 350.


We've all heard that poultry has to be cooked to 165F at the thickest part right? Well, that's not entirely true. For instance, we can bring chicken up to 145F and hold it there for a specific amount of time and we will have ensured that salmonella bacteria have been destroyed even though the internal temperature of the chicken never reached 165F, in other words we've pasteurized the chicken.


In any event, you seem concerned about the accuracy of your digital probe, but not with the result of the food you are cooking. I'd say if you are happy with the food, know that you could cook it for less time, but it may not be what you want. Not too many people sit well eating pork that has pink in it, but according to even the FDA guidelines now, pork can be cooked to 145F and that usually results in some pink meat.

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