Do I Really Need a Meat Thermometer?

I think every cook has their own method for determining whether their meat is done. Does the meat separate from the bones? Is it oozing bloody juices? does a knife slide in easily? Is it pink in the middle? Can you pull the leg off the bird easily? The problem is that these methods are a bit… imprecise. How much force do you need to pull the leg off? A guy might do this more easily than a girl. How pink is too pink? What is “easily”?

Well, the easy way to eliminate the guesswork is with a meat thermometer. The USDA has come up with a list of safe cooking temperatures for a whole series of meats, fish and poultry types (copied below).

Category Food Temperature (°F)  Rest Time 
Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160 None
Turkey, Chicken 165 None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
Poultry Chicken & Turkey, whole 165 None
Poultry breasts, roasts 165 None
Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165 None
Duck & Goose 165 None
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165 None
Pork and Ham Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None
Eggs & Egg Dishes Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm None
Egg dishes 160 None
Leftovers & Casseroles Leftovers 165 None
Casseroles 165 None
Seafood Fin Fish 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. None
Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque. None
Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. None

So why use a meat thermometer?

  • You’re less likely to undercook your meat and get salmonellosis or other foodborne illnesses (especially important if you have young kids, are pregnant or fall into one of the other categories of vulnerable populations)
  • You’re less likely to overcook your meat, so it’ll be more tasty and moist if you use a food safety thermometer.
  • You can ask your cooking helpers to check the chicken without worrying (except about burns)
  • No, you don’t lose cook credibility points for using a food thermometer.

Why not use a food thermometer? (Other than the obvious, which is that you just keep forgetting to buy one, like I did for quite some time). They’re pretty cheap ($10-20), and can last a while.

It’s worth noting that buying a cheep fridge thermometer is also a good idea; food kept above 41F is more likely to both spoil and grow pathogens if it’s contaminated.


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