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How to Properly Use a Meat Thermometer

Here's how to get the best results when using a meat thermometer to take the temperature on steak, beef, chicken, and more.

4 min read

When it comes to cooking meat, there are many methods for guessing doneness. You can touch it, check the cooking time, peek at the color or even use a cake tester(Opens in a new window). However, using a meat thermometer(Opens in a new window) is the only way to know your meat is cooked perfectly and safely.

Whether you're grilling juicy steaks and burgers(Opens in a new window) or roasting chicken(Opens in a new window), read on to learn how to properly use a meat thermometer, from what to know about setting it up to cooking at the right temperature(Opens in a new window) of your choice.

How to Set Up a Meat Thermometer

  • Measure the center. The outside of what you are cooking is very hot. We want to measure the center of the thickness, which is the coolest part.
  • For a larger cut, put the tip of the thermometer(Opens in a new window) into the center of the core, wherever that is, and don’t touch the bone. The bone is not something you are going to eat and it conducts heat in a different way, so rest the tip of your thermometer on the bone.
  • For cooking a chicken, turkey(Opens in a new window) or rib roast, measure in a few spots. The best way to do it with a flatter food like a steak or a burger is to insert the thermometer(Opens in a new window) into the side. For example, if you are cooking an inch-thick steak, you slide the point of the thermometer in about an inch deep, halfway up the thickness. The temperature will climb and then stop.

When to Insert the Meat Thermometer

Your cooking time is meant to help you plan. Use it as a guide to know when to begin taking the temperature. Start a little before the stated time when roasting, don’t measure too frequently, because you lose heat each time you open the oven door.

Meat Cooking Time

Foods keep cooking for a little while after you take it from a pan(Opens in a new window) or oven. That’s why we recommend you stop cooking a bit before it’s done, and rest the meat before carving it(Opens in a new window). Knowing when to stop cooking depends on how big or small your pieces are, and how hot their outside is. While larger meats keep cooking for 20 minutes, something thin and small keeps cooking for only about a minute. As the meat rests, and the temperature crests, the juices inside redistribute, so that more of them stay in the meat when you cut it.

How to Cook Meat Safely

Different types of meat are considered “done,” at different temperatures. Americans generally enjoy beef that is cooked less than chicken. This is a matter of taste. The USDA-recommended temperatures(Opens in a new window), on the other hand, are a matter of safety and science, designed to keep people safe from foodborne illness. It’s confusing because the temperature that many chefs call “medium” differs from the temperature that the USDA calls “medium.” We recommend choosing what’s right for you and following our handy temperature guide(Opens in a new window):

Temperature Guide for Beef, Poultry, and More

  • Beef, pork, veal and lamb: 145°F for 3 minutes
  • Ground meat and sausage: 160°F
  • All poultry: 165°F

Meat Temperature Chart

  • Rare: 125°F to 130°F*
  • Medium rare: 135°F*
  • Medium: 140°F*
  • Medium well: 145°F and a 3-minute rest
  • Well done: 160°F to 180°F
    *(not recommended by USDA because of foodborne illness)

Now that you've mastered using a meat thermometer, find out what other foods need temperature precision.


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