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Using Your Instant-Read Thermometer

Fine Cooking Issue 55
Photo: Scott Phillips
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When the time comes to ask-that all-important question—“Is it done?”—an instant-read thermometer is your best tool for getting the right answer, especially when meat or poultry is involved. Here are a few tips on getting the most accurate reading from your thermometer.

Pick the right spot

The center of the food is usually the best place to put your thermometer. For a whole roasted bird, stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (legs take longer to cook than breasts) without touching the bone. Sometimes hot spots occur, so take two separate temperature readings. Measure both thighs of a bird, for instance, or insert the thermometer into a roast from different angles. But don’t go overboard taking extra readings: Each time you pierce the food with a thermometer, it loses a little juice.

Standard or digital?

There are basically two choices in instant-read thermometers and both have pros and cons. The standard model has a face like a clock with a needle that moves up and down. The digital model is, well, digital. The standard model seems to reach a final readout temperature quicker than the digital, but the digital only needs to be inserted about 1/4-inch into the food to get a good read, whereas the standard needs to go in about 1 to 2 inches (up to the little dimple on the side of the stem). I keep both models on hand so I have options.

Check the calibration

Take the temperature of boiling water and ice water. The boiling water should be 212ºF or a few degrees less, depending on your altitude; the ice water should read just a few degrees above 32ºF. If the calibration is off, you can adjust a standard thermometer by turning the hex nut under the thermometer’s face with a pair of pliers. A digital thermometer can’t be recalibrated.

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