Thursday, December 23, 2010

Demystifying the Meat Thermometer

With all the details being attended to during the preparation of your holiday meal, the most important is the main attraction. Be it turkey, ham or roast, if it isn't cooked perfectly when you expect it to be, the whole day feels like a disaster. I've had several Thanksgivings where the turkey didn't get cooked on time.

The year I was 10, our power went out during a snowstorm. My parents packed up everything and we drove to another city to have dinner with friends and finish cooking our turkey in their oven. One year my aunt forgot to turn on the oven. Two hours later my husband asked aloud, "Isn't this thing supposed to be on?". :shock:
And we've had countless Thanksgiving turkeys that just weren't done in the number of hours per pound that the package illustrated.

There is still no way to gauge the exact cooking time, but there is a gadget that will help us be sure when the bird is cooked to a safe temperature, without over-cooking the meat.
Enter the meat thermometer.

These devices once scared me more than the threat of food borne illness! Yep, "When, Where and How", felt like cramming for a college midterm. But by examining the types of thermometers to choose from, we find the answers to these questions.

Instant Read thermometer:

The instant read thermometer is not oven-safe. Don't insert the thermometer until your approximate cook time is reached. Pull the meat out of the oven, just far enough to stick the thermometer into the meatiest part of the bird or roast, without touching the bone, and within about 15 seconds, the thermometer will read the internal temperature.
An instant read, digital thermometer is useful for a wider variety of foods because it only needs to be inserted 1/2-1 inch deep. This makes it possible to read the internal temperature of a meatloaf, casserole or the burgers on the barbecue.

Oven-proof meat thermometer:

A no hassle thermometer, this one is inserted before putting the bird or roast in the oven. Make sure it's inserted in the meatiest part (in poultry it's the inner thigh area, near the breast) and doesn't touch the bone, as bones conduct heat faster and will give a false reading. At the approximate cook time for your meat, checking the temperature reading on this thermometer takes just a quick look.

Meat Probe:

The most advanced meat thermometer available is the temperature probe.

Using a digital probe allows the meat to cook steadily, without opening the oven door between each temperature check. Every time an oven door is opened, up to 5 degrees of heat can be lost, which in turn, extends the over all cook time. A digital monitor sits outside the oven and a temperature probe is inserted into the meat. A long, thin cord attaches the two pieces and runs from the meat to the monitor outside the oven. The oven stays closed, while you easily watch the temperature reach it's final destination.

The most expensive meat thermometer is the probe and sits in the $15-$20 range. The oven-safe and instant read thermometers run in the $3-$6 range.

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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License