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We once heard that cooking beef without a good thermometer is like driving a car without a speedometer, and we couldn’t agree more.
A good meat thermometer will improve how you cook beef more than any other kitchen tool. It’s a must have in any kitchen.
In case you’re thinking, but what about DIY touch-test methods to check for doneness? Yes, we know they’re out there and we’ve talked about them before. However, a thermometer is the only way to guarantee that your beef is done to the appropriate temperature. In our kitchen, we always test our beef with a thermometer and we recommend that you do the same.
What to look for in a digital meat thermometer:
Meat thermometers have numerous features, but there are three that are must-haves that we always look for.
- Is it digital? There are two common types of handheld thermometers – digital and dial face. Go with digital. They’re easy to read and they register temperatures faster. Ideally, your thermometer should be able to read the temperature in 5 seconds or less. Why that fast? Because a few extra minutes on the grill is the difference between serving a medium steak or well-done steak.
It’s also important to keep in mind that when cooking beef, the temperature will continue to rise after being removed from the heat. This is called carry-over cooking, and is why professional chefs recommend removing the beef from heat when it’s 5-10 degrees below the serving temperature.
2. Does it have a long probe? You want a probe that’s at least 4 inches long so that it can reach the center of a larger roast.
3. Is it splash proof and/or water resistant? We’re messy cooks. Water-resistant thermometers are easier to clean and are less likely to be damaged while cooking.
How to use a digital meat thermometer:
The beauty of most meat thermometers is that they’re extremely easy to use out of the box. You probably won’t need to read directions. However, the key to an accurate reading is to place the thermometer in the correct location in the beef, and that’s up to you.
When checking the temperature, place the probe in the thickest part or center of the beef, not touching bone or fat. For thinner cuts of beef like steak, remove the steak from the heat and insert the thermometer through the side into the center.
Checking for accuracy and calibrating:
There are two ways to check the digital meat thermometer’s accuracy: ice water and boiling water.
For the ice water method, fill a large glass with ice. Then, add cold water to the glass and stir the ice mixture. Immerse at least 2-inches of the thermometer’s probe into the water and wait 30 seconds before reading. Make sure the probe doesn’t rest against a chunk of ice while taking the reading or it could read inaccurately. The final reading should be 32 °F.
The boiling water method is a little trickier and it should only be used if the ice bath test result is conclusive. For the boiling water method, put at least 4-inches of water into a pot and bring it to a full, rolling boil. Immerse at least 2-inches of the thermometer’s probe into the water and wait 30 seconds before reading. Make sure the probe doesn’t come in contact with the pot or it could show a higher temperature. Here’s the tricky part — the boiling point of water changes based on elevation, so you need to take into account where you live to know the temperature water usually boils at. The final reading should be 212°F if you’re at sea level.
The best meat thermometer:
There are lots of thermometers on the market, but we do have favorites.
Our all-time favorite inexpensive meat thermometer is the ThermoWorks ThermoPop. We originally discovered the ThermoPop because it was inexpensive (about $30) and it received so many top ratings from cooking sites like America’s Test Kitchen. We decided to give it a try and we’re so glad we did. It’s small and easy to carry around, fast and accurate, and has a long probe that makes it easy to test roasts.
Since we knew we were working on this thermometer post, we reached out to the team at ThermoWorks to see if we could test the Thermapen Mk4. It’s a professional-grade thermometer that is the highest-performing kitchen thermometer around. We’ve read about it for years, but never tested one until recently. We now we understand why everyone raves about it — it’s an amazing thermometer. Not only is it fast and accurate, but it’s incredibly simple to use. All you have to do is swing the probe out from the body and it automatically wakes up and starts reading temperatures. When you stick the probe in beef, it reads temperatures in under 3 seconds.
Whether you choose the ThermoPop or the Thermapen Mk4, you can’t go wrong.
Beef doneness temperature chart
Now that you know all about thermometers, let’s talk about doneness. There are two really important things to remember when testing for doneness.
First, the only way to tell if beef is done is by the internal temperature, not the color or the cook time.
Second, the temperature of cooked beef will continue to rise as it rests. Remove beef from heat when the thermometer reads about 5-10°F lower than the desired doneness.
The temperatures in this chart are final doneness, so you need to pull your beef off the heat about 5-10°F before these temperatures are reached.
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Are you looking for other beef recipes or tips & tricks on cooking beef? Don’t miss our ebook — An Essential Guide to Beef: A Cattle Farm Shares How to Purchase & Prepare Beef.