Thermometer Tips

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 at 9:20 am

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about eating red meat. I talked about the wonders of the instant-read thermometer and how one can use it to make sure their meat is safe without having to overcook the meat.

This week, I taught my lab students how to use a meat thermometer. I taught them the appropriate temperatures for different meats and why, for instance, ground meat has to reach a higher temperature than whole cuts of meat.

I warned the students who were cooking to treat my instant-read well.

“Wash the thermometer thoroughly before returning it to the sheath,” I said. “Cause once that sheath gets dirty, it’s impossible to clean.”

And then I remembered a task I had left undone.

Last week, a reader asked what brand of thermometer I used, because hers kept giving up the ghost after a few weeks or months of use.

I’ve been puzzling over her predicament because I’ve never had the same problem.

Ecko Brand instant-read thermometerI use an Ekco brand instant read thermometer–and while mine is quite new, before that I used my sister’s (same brand) for years. As far as I know, hers is still working just fine in Columbus.

Between her question and my reminders to (and observations of) students, I thought I’d share a few more thermometer tips.

First, regarding the use of an instant read thermometer:
Instant read thermometers are not the same as a traditional meat thermometer. While a traditional meat thermometer is meant to be placed into a roast and stuck in the oven for the duration of cooking, the instant read thermometer is intended for only periodic use throughout the cooking process. As a product begins to near doneness, one should use the instant read thermometer to check the temperature. If the temperature is not yet appropriate, the thermometer should be removed from the meat and the meat should be returned to the heat.

Second, regarding the cleaning of an instant read thermometer:
While an instant read thermometer should be quite waterproof, I never quite trust it enough to submerge it in water. Instead, I clean the thermometer by wiping it off with a soapy rag and then by either dipping the probe portion or running the probe portion under very hot water or sanitizing solution (obviously, the sanitizing solution is more often used in a commercial food service setting–and is probably not practical for home use.) I always clean my thermometer before returning it to its sheath, because, as mentioned before, the sheath is almost impossible to clean once it gets dirty. If the sheath does get dirty, an old-fashioned(?) pipe cleaner, such as children use for craft projects, may be effective for cleaning the narrow interior of the sheath.

Third, on the calibration of an instant read thermometer:
After regular use (and sometimes abuse–I’m always dropping mine), an instant read thermometer can begin to give incorrect readings. You’ll note that your instant read is measuring the ambient room temperature as 60 degrees when really it’s warmer than that. Or maybe the difference is more subtle than that and you haven’t noticed. Nevertheless, an uncalibrated thermometer could lead to a food safety snafu. To avoid this, you can easily calibrate your instant read thermometer. I recommend doing so every couple of months.

Thermometer in ice water bathTo calibrate, prepare an ice water bath by sticking a few ice cubes in a glass of water. Let the water sit for three to five minutes so the water can equilibrate to freezing temperature (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Then, place your instant read thermometer in the ice water bath. Let your thermometer gauge come to a stop.

Hex nut on thermometerNow, you will want to adjust the temperature gauge so that it reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit. To do this, you will need to grasp the hex nut directly under the gauge with a pair of pliers. Then, while holding that hex nut steady, you’ll twist the circular gauge until the indicator points at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Your instant-read thermometer is now calibrated and ready to be used again to feed your family delicious, just-right-temp cooked meat!

Newly calibrated thermometer

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