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Food thermometers: how to use them and check their accuracy

Food thermometer on table.

Food thermometers help you:

  • Cook food to a safe temperature
  • Prevent overcooking and get the best flavor
  • Hold and store foods safely

Use a food thermometer every time you prepare hamburgers, poultry, roasts, pork chops, egg casseroles, meat loaves, and other combination dishes.

How to use a food thermometer

Large oven-proof dial thermometer

  • Insert into whole poultry and roasts at the beginning of the cooking time and leave there while cooking.
  • Insert the thermometer in the center of the thickest portion without touching fat or bone.
  • Check readings as the food cooks.

Dial thermometers

  • Insert stem at least 2 inches into the thickest part of the food without touching fat or bone.
  • The temperature should register in about 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Insert sideways into thin foods like hamburgers and chicken breasts.

Digital thermometers

  • Insert stem at least 1/2 inch into the center of the thickest part of the food without touching fat or bone.
  • The temperature will register in 5 seconds.
  • Ideal for thin hamburgers, chicken breasts, pork chops, etc.

How to check the accuracy of a food thermometer

Dial thermometers should be check periodically. Follow manufacturer's recommendations.

Ice water method

  1. Fill a large glass with ice.
  2. Add water to the top of the ice and stir well. Let stand for 3 minutes.
  3. Place the thermometer stem at least 2 inches into the mixture.
  4. The thermometer should read 32 degrees after 30 seconds.

Boiling water method

  1. Bring water in a deep pan to a full rolling boil.
  2. Immerse the stem of thermometer 2 inches into the boiling water.
  3. The thermometer should read 212 degrees after 30 seconds.

To calibrate

Follow manufacturer instructions to make adjustments until the correct temperature registers and re-test.

Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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