Do You Need a Meat Thermometer For Cooking Meat?

A whole roasted chicken at 160 degrees Fahrenheit on the Thermapen MK4 meat thermometer.
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Do you need a meat thermometer for cooking meat? A similar question would be, do you need a speedometer to drive a car? No, but it helps.

One of the main reasons people overcook their meat is that they have no idea the temperature their meat is at in the cooking process. By the time they use one of the old school indicators of doneness like cutting into it or looking for clear juices, etc., it’s probably too late.

Now, before I get an email from T-Bone McTarnahan exclaiming his preternatural ability at judging the doneness of meat, needing a meat thermometer doesn’t apply to everyone.

There are plenty of people with thousands of hours of cooking experience that are pretty good at judging the doneness of their meat. But even they don’t have x-ray vision or the ability to tell you that your hamburger is at 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle.

Monitoring a whole chicken in the oven with the Tappecue Touch Meat Thermomete

Chicken is almost done. Where am I? Watching the game and not the chicken in the oven. Thanks, technology!

A meat thermometer can. In this world of hacks (I hate that term), it is the ultimate way to bridge the gap between a rookie cook and a self-proclaimed culinary icon on Reddit.

I’m assuming a majority of the people reading this don’t have a meat thermometer so I’ll give you a quick bullet point list of the benefits of having a meat thermometer.

  • It saves you time.
  • It makes you a better cook.
  • No more guessing if your food is safe to eat.
  • You can cook your meat to a lower serving temperature than the recommended FDA guidelines due to temperature pasteurization.

The last point on pasteurization is compelling enough on its own to justify having a meat thermometer.

In this post, I will discuss all of the benefits of a meat thermometer and why you need one in your life.

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A Meat Thermometer Saves You Time

Let me restate that. A good meat thermometer saves you time. How is that you ask?

I know that 2,543 people in the last month have lost precious time in dealing with a horrible meat thermometer.

That is how many people visited my article on how to deal with a certain meat thermometer so they can get an accurate reading of their food’s temperature.

I won’t name the thermometer but I will tell you it’s a dial-type thermometer. Don’t buy a dial meat thermometer. (see picture below)

Good Cook Classic Meat Thermometer NSF Approved

However, if you get even a decent meat thermometer you can get so much of your life back not having to constantly check your food in the oven.

Like the infomercial says, set it and forget it.

This not only goes for large roasts and birds but for thinner cuts of meat as well. Think of all the extra unnecessary time that has been spent by people overcooking their food because they weren’t sure if it was done.

Each and every one of us has eaten a hockey puck burger or shriveled sausage. A meat thermometer would have saved the person cooking precious time, not to mention their grillmaster credentials.

ThermoPro Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer for Grilling Waterproof Kitchen Food Thermometer with Calibration & Backlight Smoker Oil Fry Candy ThermometerView on Amazon

A Meat Thermometer Makes You a Better Cook

How can a little plastic device make you a better cook? The more you use a meat thermometer, the more familiar you become with the best internal temperatures to serve your food.

Cooking a piece of meat using temperature as a guide is far superior to using time as a determiner of doneness.

Using time as a guide doesn’t take into account the many factors of each individual cook’s specific situation.

The exact size, weight, and shape of your meat, as well as your cooking chamber, type of heat, pot or pan used, are just some of the variations that come into play when estimating the doneness of meat using time.

A hamburger cooked at medium heat in a cast iron pan will cook faster than a hamburger cooked in a light skillet at the same heat level.

The one thing that never lies is the internal temperature of your meat. It is the result of all of the aforementioned variables above.

If you know the internal temperature of your meat you are already a better cook than those that don’t.

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A Meat Thermometer Makes You a Safer Cook

If you’ve ever been served bloody chicken you know the importance of knowing your meat’s internal temperature.

No one is saying you need to memorize the meat temperature guideline chart from the FDA, but having a handy magnet or info sheet around your kitchen wouldn’t hurt.

In fact, most meat thermometers come with a handy temperature guide in their package. Put it in the vicinity of your meat thermometer in the kitchen drawer and you’ll be good to go.

In fact, a lot of meat thermometers will have a handy temperature reference guide on the thermometer itself, like the thermometer pictured below.

ThermoPro Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer for Grilling Waterproof Kitchen Food Thermometer with Calibration & Backlight Smoker Oil Fry Candy Thermometer

How Low Can You Go? The Science of Meat Pasteurization

For example, let’s say you’re cooking pork chops. The FDA’s recommendation is that pork chops need to get to 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a 3-minute rest to kill all of the harmful bacteria.

This conservative recommendation is to ensure all harmful pathogens have been destroyed in your food. Actually, it’s not that conservative considering the recommendation once was 160 degrees Fahrenheit. (pre-2011)

I give them kudos for lowering it. It’s saved millions of people from eating dry pork chops.

If you have a meat thermometer you not only have the ability to monitor this, you can go lower than the suggested temperature due to the process of meat pasteurization and carryover cooking.

The chart below is a meat pasteurization chart. Pathogens in meat are destroyed by both heat and time working together.

The way you read this chart is that you have the temperatures on the left, and then the time at which your pork needs to stay above-said temperatures to kill all harmful bacteria.

Pork Temperature Chart showing pathogen destruction at different temperature and time levels

Pork Temperature Chart showing pathogen destruction at different temperature and time levels

If you have a meat thermometer you can cook your pork chops to an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (or lower) You just need to ensure that the internal temperature is above this threshold in every part of the meat.

There are some cuts that are naturally uneven like pork tenderloin so you will need to be more thorough when checking the internal temperature.

Pork tenderloin at 138 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle.

Pork tenderloin at 138 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle according to the ThermoPro TP-19 meat thermometer.

So, Do You Really Need a Meat Thermometer?

Do you really need a meat thermometer to cook meat? Yes, you do. It saves you time and it makes you a better and safer cook.

Look at it this way. A meat thermometer simplifies things for the home cook. No more guessing when things are done. In fact, here are two Thermomeat articles dedicated to the problem of cooking without a meat thermometer:

You can take time out of your life reading about how to tell if your meat is done by using tips or use a meat thermometer.

Tips are also vastly more inaccurate than a meat thermometer.

I value my time, I think I’ll go with a meat thermometer rather than fool around with folksy tips to determine if my food is ready.

I consider my meat thermometer (Thermapen MK4 is my go-to) the most important cooking tool I have. Without it, I’m just guessing.

No one wants to eat food that uses guessing as an ingredient.