Instant-Read Thermometer for Better Cooking

Looking to nail the perfect doneness? Let’s cover the essential tips and benefits of an instant-read thermometer like how to buy, use, and calibrate. As a food scientist, I believe this is the most important tool in the kitchen!

Instant-Read Thermometer for Better Cooking

I genuinely think even the most sophisticated cook should use a thermometer. They’re not expensive devices, and they allow for precision in the kitchen, something vital for both safety and taste’s sake. Furthermore, they’re easy to use. What’s not to like?

I recommend using either a digital instant-read apparatus or a digital probe. You can also use a bulb or a bimetallic thermometer, which are easily found at the grocery store. However, the latter isn’t as accurate and can take longer to give precise temperature reads.

My favorite tool

Thermapen® Mk4

View Price on ThermoWorks

How to use a thermometer

Using an instant-read thermometer is quite simple. You will want to select the thickest part of the food to plunge the probe into, which is likely to house the least-cooked piece. For meat, do not touch the bone, or you will get a false high reading.

The instructions will tell you to probe at least a half-inch, but you’ll want to go deeper if the meat is thicker than an inch altogether. With digital thermometers, the temperature should continue to drop as you move inward, and you’ll know you’ve gone too far once it starts to rise again.

Give the thermometer time to stabilize. It’s taking average readings along the sensing part of the probe. Some thermometers can read as fast as 2 to 3 seconds, while others need more time.

Inserting a digital read thermometer in a piece of chicken

Degrees of doneness

Cooking temperatures vary by food type—target 165 degrees Fahrenheit for chicken breast and 170 degrees Fahrenheit for the chicken thighs. Check large roasts 30-40 minutes before you expect it to be done cooking–thinner and smaller cuts are good to check 5-10 minutes out.

You should shoot for 5 degrees less than your desired temperature, and take your meat out of its heat source so it can rest.

How to calibrate a thermometer

Digital is a bit more difficult to calibrate than analog (a mercury thermometer); however, both use the same method. A digital thermometer can be adjusted by a repairman if needed, but you can also keep in mind how many degrees it may be off and do the math in your head.

  • Ice Point Method: Add cold water and ice to a drinking cup. Allow it to stabilize for a few minutes. Insert the probe into the center of the glass. Allow the temperature to stabilize. If it does not reach 32°F (0°C), press “calibrate” on the digital thermometer 32 degrees or turn dial-face thermometers to 32 degrees.
  • Boiling Point Method: Boil water to 212°F (100°C). Add that to a glass measuring cup and insert the probe into the hot water. If it does not reach 212°F (100°C), press “calibrate” on the digital thermometer at 212 degrees or turn dial-face thermometers to 212 degrees.
Calibrating a meat thermometer using a glass of ice water

Types of thermometers

  • Meat Thermometer – ranges from 140 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, which explicitly captures the range of cooking meat.
  • Oven Thermometer – ideal for any kitchen, but especially when using older appliances or when cooking with an unfamiliar oven. It can help identify hot spots or an oven that doesn’t keep regular temperature.
  • Candy Thermometer – ranges from 100 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which encompasses a wide range of recipe needs. It comes with a liquid gauge, as digital instant-read thermometers like oven and meat thermometers can’t capture the high heat needed for boiling sugar, deep-frying, or making cheese.
  • All-Purpose Thermometer – precisely what it sounds like: an instant-read digital tool used for baking, cooking meat, or anything else that would be helpful to have an internal temperature read.
Popular meat thermometers found on Amazon

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Ruth Brentari says

    I have a Thermoworks instant read thermometer. I’m relatively new to cooking. I was cooking 2 bone-in pork chops in a casts iron pan. I measure the first chop at 125 taking the temp from top down. I measured the 2nd chop at 185, taking the temp both top down and through the side. We didn’t cook them any further, let them test 10+ mins. Both were medium rare when we cut into them. I’ve calibrated the thermometer (Thermoworks Mk4), it’s accurate. I’m 90% confident I didn’t hit the bone. I did take the temp on the pan. What did I do wrong with the second chop?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Ruth- Typically the sides cook faster than the center, I’ve always found the edges to be higher in temp then the center. Also if you are measuring from the side you should try to get into the center. You’ll get a more accurate reading if you test it on a plate off the pan, sometimes the tip of the probe can briefly the pan and get a false high.

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