How to Properly Use a Meat Thermometer in the Oven

Last Updated on July 28, 2021


Annabelle Watson

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

how to use a meat thermometer in the oven

Meat thermometers are simple tools that can make a huge difference in your kitchen. They function by utilizing a probe that is inserted into your cut of meat that shows the temperature at the center. 

If you’ve been struggling with getting your roasted meats to the right level of doneness, then you need to invest in a meat thermometer.

1. Why Use a Meat Thermometer?

food temperature

Image Courtesy to Fiat luxe

So, a meat thermometer is a really versatile tool for your kitchen. Sure, it is great for making sure that your prime rib is cooked to the perfect temperature, but it’s functionality doesn’t end there. 

Meat thermometers are handy no matter how you are cooking a piece of meat. Use your meat thermometer on the grill to get perfectly, medium-rare steaks. Or, test the temperature of your famous fried chicken, to make sure that when the outside is crispy, the inside is done and safe to enjoy.

Meat thermometers go hand in hand with your kitchen timer. Break out the meat thermometer near the end of your cooking time. This will tell you if you need to pull your meat from the oven soon, or if it needs more time to cook than indicated in the recipe. It really is a fail safe tool for having perfectly cooked meats, every time.

Read More: Tips to Clean A Meat Thermometer.

2. What Kind of Thermometer is Best?

So now that you know why you need to use a meat thermometer when cooking meat in the oven, it’s time to shop. The problem is that there are a lot of options out there when it comes to meat thermometers, and you need to find the right one for you and your cooking needs. Let’s break down the options so you know which is right for you.

Dial Thermometers

This is as basic as it gets. A metal probe with a dial on the top. Most of these give you the temperature and indicate the proper temperature for the meat you’re cooking. 

The other handy thing about these simple thermometers is that in most cases they can be left in your food through the entire course of cooking.

Digital Instant-Read Thermometers

Another simple and inexpensive option. These thermometers work similar to the dial thermometer, but instead give you a fast, digital readout. Hand-held versions cannot be left in the food while cooking. But, there are versions that have the probe attached to a cord. 

These can be left in the oven, while the display is outside the oven. We like these because they often have an alarm when the food reaches a desired temperature.

Thermocouple Thermometer

These are generally the fastest, and most expensive option available. Thermocouple thermometers have very narrow probes so they are ideal for thin cuts of meats, or fried meats. 

Their super-fast read out allows you to quickly check the temperature of your food without roasting your hand at the same time.

3. How to Properly Use a Meat Thermometer?

Now that you’ve discovered the right thermometer for your cooking needs, its time to give you some hints on how to properly use your meat thermometer. If you’ve not used one before, it’s important to point out that yes, there is a right way and a wrong way. If you don’t use the thermometer correctly, you’ll still end up with food that isn’t cooked to the proper temperature.

Location, Location, Location

Each type of meat has a right place to measure temperature. One of the basic principles that you need to remember is that you don’t want to touch bone or gristle. This will give you inaccurate readings.

For roasts, meat loaf or other thick, boneless cuts of meat, insert the probe in the center of meat. This will give the most accurate indication if the meat is cooked through.
For a full chicken – measure in the thigh. Make sure to not puncture the meat so deep that you hit the bone. Remember the bone will give an inaccurate reading.
Meats with bones (ribs, rack of lamb, etc..) – measure at the center of the cut, avoiding the bones as best as possible.

Depth Matters

Each different thermometer works best at a particular depth. Your basic dial thermometer will need to be inserted as deep as possible to be accurate. While the thermocouple thermometer only needs to go about a quarter of an inch into the meat. 

This will also determine which thermometer you should buy. If you’re cooking lots of roasts, a dial thermometer is fine. But if you want to cook steak on the grill or pork cutlets, a thermocouple thermometer is a better option.

Carryover Heat Is Your Friend

Don’t allow meat to cook all the way to temperature. This is how you end up with shoe leather for dinner. Carryover heat is the heat that is held in the meat that continues to cook, even when the meat is removed from the oven. 

A good rule of thumb is to remove your meat when the temperature is 5 to 10 degrees below the desired temperature. Once out of the oven, cover and allow to “rest” for at least 10 minutes.

4. When Is My Meat “Done”?

Now you know which thermometer, and how to best use your thermometer, but when is your meat done? The USDA has great guidelines on proper temperatures for a variety of meats.

These are good guidelines to follow, especially when you are cooking things like pork and chicken, which can make you sick if they aren’t cooked well enough. Steak, lamb and some fish can be safely cooked to lower temperatures. Here are some basic cooking temperatures for your reference:

Beef, lamb, pork, veal – 145°F, with a minimum 3 minutes of rest.
Fish and/or shellfish – 145°F
Uncooked and/or smoked ham – 145°F, with a minimum of 3 minutes of rest.
Ground meats (burgers, meatballs, meatloaf) – 160°F
Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, game hens) – 165°F

So, there you have it. All the information you need to successfully use a meat thermometer in your oven. With this handy, and yet simple tool, you are on the road to perfectly cooked meals, every time.

Read More: Best countertop microwave ovens in the market.