Judging the ‘done-ness’ of a piece of meat is a skill that few of us possess. This is especially true in circumstances where the cooking temperature is uncertain or difficult to measure – such as in a barbecue – or when we’re attempting a once-a-year roast such as a Christmas turkey. Whether you prefer your steak medium-rare or well-done, it is important that food is properly cooked for the sake of taste and texture but also to kill any bacteria that might be present on, or in, the food. A meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of roasting or grilling.
Meat thermometers are available in a wide range of types: digital or analogue; quick-read or leave-in; wireless or wired; inexpensive or ridiculous. Our research suggests that it is possible to find a practical thermometer at a price that fits everybody’s budget: Connectivity and micro-degree readouts are not essentials. All that is required is a speedy, reasonably accurate reading. We find that digital thermometers are more accurate than analogue thermometers and generally give a quicker reading, although the latter are usually cheaper and sometimes more rugged.
How to use a meat thermometer
For chicken, insert the thermometer on the inside of the thigh, next to the breast. For steaks and roast meat, insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. For burgers, insert the thermometer sideways into the centre of the patty.
Know your thermometer – check its accuracy and the time required for a good reading by using it in a bowl of ice and a cup of boiling water.
Avoid cross-contamination and sanitise the thermometer after every use.
Whole joints of meat will continue cooking for another ten minutes or more once removed from the oven.
The US Department of Agriculture publishes guidelines of the minimum, safe, internal cooking temperatures for meat, poultry and seafood, as reproduced in our table below. (The UK Food Safety Agency has slightly higher temperatures for burgers cooked in commercial kitchens but the US recommendations are a useful, general guide):
|Food||Recommended Minimum Internal Temperature F (C)|
|Chicken and turkey||165 (74) For a stuffed bird the centre of the stuffing should also be at minimum temperature|
|Beef, pork, veal and lamb||145 (63) and allow to rest for 3 minutes or more|
|Hamburger, mixed meats||160 (71)|
|Ham||Pre-cooked: 140 (60) Fresh: 160 (71)|
|Fish||145 (63) or until flesh is opaque and flakes easily|
Best Meat Thermometers
Topop Cooking Thermometer
The Topop is a cheap but well-reviewed digital thermometer that is supplied with an LR44 battery included. It measures temperatures within a range of -50 ºC to +300 ºC and provides a readout on the LED display within 10 seconds. Readings are available in Centigrade or Fahrenheit and there is a hold button to record an internal temperature while withdrawing the probe from the meat. On the downside, the display is small and not waterproof but we like the long, 6-inch probe and reviewers report accurate readings making this a reasonable ‘value-pick’.
MasterClass Analogue Meat Thermometer
This device from MasterClass is representative of the analogue thermometers available. It features an easy-read, two-inch diameter dial graduated from 54 ºC to 88 ºC and showing recommended internal temperatures for various meats. The casing and probe are stainless steel which should ensure its durability, although it is not ovenproof so you won’t be able to leave it in while the meat cooks. It is low-cost, easy-to-use, comes with a 5 year guarantee and does not require batteries.
OXO Good Grips Leave In Meat Thermometer
This thermometer from the generally excellent OXO Good Grips range can be left in the oven to give you an up to the second measure of the temperature in your meat without needing to take the whole thing out of the oven. The analogue dial has readings for fahrenheit and celsius, as well as markers for the suggested temperature of different meats. It also comes with a probe cover that lists more detailed cooking temperatures for medium rare, medium and well done levels of each meat. For extra ease of use the stainless steel probe has a textured area to show you how deep the thermometer should be inserted into the meat. This is well made, dependable thermometer that saves you the trouble of having to fish the meat out of the oven each time you want to check how cooked it is.
Amir Digital Food Thermometer
This thermometer is the latest iteration of an Amazon best-seller. We like the good-sized LED display with available back-lighting and the built-in magnet that means it can be hanged on a refrigerator. It features a folding, 110 cm probe and provides a readout within 4 to 7 seconds. The available temperature range is -50 ºC to +300 ºC and the manufacturer claims an accuracy of +/- 1 ºC . Readings can be switched between Centigrade and Fahrenheit and there is a Hold button and battery-saving, auto-off feature. Unusually, it is IP67-rated: This ‘Ingress Protection’ measure means that it is protected from dust and capable of withstanding (shallow) water immersion for up to 30 minutes. This Amir thermometer uses a AAA-battery.
Victagen Wireless Thermometer
The Victagen thermometer has a 7-inch stainless steel probe that is left in the meat during cooking and is connected by a heat-resistant wire to a base/transmitter outside the oven or barbecue. The base communicates with a handset that displays current temperature and can be programmed with target temperature and an alarm. The handset is pre-programmed with target temperatures for various meats and ‘done-ness’. Its LED display measures a fairly small 1.5 x 1.3 inches but is backlit for easier reading. The device measures temperatures between 0 ºC to +250 ºC and is reportedly very accurate. We like that this thermometer allows the cook to remotely measure the progress of the cooking and provides a lot of functionality at a friendly price. The set-up requires four AAA-batteries that are not included (two each for the base and handset).
ThermoPro TP16 Meat Thermometer
This digital thermometer features a display unit connected by a 38-inch heatproof wire to a 6-inch stainless steel probe that remains in the meat during cooking. The probe has a ‘stepped-down’ tip that is designed to provide a fast, precise reading. Readouts are available in either Fahrenheit or Centigrade between 0 ºC to +250 ºC and target temperatures can be programmed manually or selected from six pre-sets for various meats. It also features a timer and alarm. The ThermoPro receives very favourable reviews and offers excellent value for money. The display is bright and clear and the unit uses a single AAA battery.
ETI Superfast Thermapen
The Thermapen is a chef-quality, digital thermometer that provides fast, accurate readings and a superior ‘build quality’, reflected in its higher cost. The foldaway stainless steel probe has a fine tip that enables readings within 3 seconds, and opening and closing the probe activates or darkens the bright, clear LED display. It measures temperatures between -50 ºC to +300 ºC with a claimed accuracy of +/- 0.4 ºC between -50 ºC and +200 ºC. Readings are available in Fahrenheit or Centigrade. The thermometer is water-resistant, to cope with wet hands and kitchen spills, and the casing incorporates a ‘Biomaster’ additive to resist bacterial contamination. It uses two Lithium Ion batteries (supplied with the purchase); it will fit in a trouser pocket, and it is available in a variety of colours. The Thermapen only does one thing: measure temperature, but it does it well!