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Food Thermometers: An Underutilized Kitchen Tool

Do you use a food thermometer on a regular basis outside of the holidays? According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, the percentage of consumers who own food thermometers has increased from 49% in 1998 to 70% in 2010.  Of consumers who report owning thermometers, 82% report using them when cooking roasts, 53% use them when cooking chicken parts, and 23% use them when cooking hamburgers. Color, sight, nor taste can determine if a food is cooked to the proper internal temperature. Food thermometers are not only crucial for preventing foodborne illnesses, but they also help prevent overcooking! After buying a nice piece of meat these days you don’t want to turn it into cardboard by overcooking it either!

Various Options

When it comes to thermometers there are multiple options to choose from. One of my favorite thermometers to use at home is the digital instant-read thermometer because it takes up minimal drawer space and it’s quick! I also own a dial gauge thermometer or pocket probe that is common to see in foodservice operations. There are also oven-safe thermometers, thermometer-fork combinations, oven probe cord thermometers, and more. Some thermometers are extra fancy and have Bluetooth capabilities, commonly used in smokers/grills.

If you don’t already have a food thermometer in your kitchen, you can find instant-read digital thermometers for roughly $15 at grocery stores, online, and in stores that have kitchen supplies.  I’m telling you right now, that $15 is going to be well worth the prevention of foodborne illnesses and delicious and juicy end products for you and your family.

Thermometer Operating Tips

First and foremost, you’re going to want to test your thermometer for accuracy. To do this, you can use the ice water or boiling water method. If you’re using the boiling water method, don’t forget to adjust for altitude when it comes to your boiling point. If you notice your thermometer is off, be sure to calibrate using its owner manual and check it regularly to ensure its accuracy. To use your thermometer, insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat, avoid touching fat, gristle, bones, or the bottom of the pan, as it will provide an inaccurate result. Clean and sanitize your thermometer between each use to prevent cross-contamination. Keep a safe minimum internal temperature chart like the one below handy on your fridge for a quick reference when needed. You can cut this one out to use or find one online at to print off for free.

Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

Food Type Internal Temperature (°F)
Ground meat and meat mixtures Beef, pork, veal, lamb 160
Turkey, chicken 165
Fresh beef, veal, lamb Steaks, roasts, chops

Rest time: 3 minutes

Poultry All poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing) 165
Pork and Ham Fresh pork, including fresh ham

Rest time: 3 minutes

Precooked ham (to reheat)

Note: Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F

Eggs and egg dishes Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm
Egg dishes (such as frittata, quiche) 160
Leftovers and casseroles Leftovers and casseroles 165
Seafood Fish with fins 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
Shrimp, lobster, crab, and scallops Cook until flesh is pearly or white, and opaque
Clams, oysters, mussels Cook until shells open during cooking



The holidays are soon to be upon us, so if you’re looking for a useful gift, a food thermometer might just be what you’re looking for! Happy cooking everyone!

Written by University of Wyoming Extension- Cent$ible Nutrition Program Educator Shelley Balls, MDA, RD, LD


  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, AND
  • United States Department of Agriculture,USDA
thermometer between two sheets of cookies

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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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