Many cooks who are hoping to achieve a degree of precision in their cuisine, whether they are cooking steaks or making candy, have a meat thermometer in their kitchen drawers. Meat thermometers are a great way to get precise temperature measurements of food.
Although they are called meat thermometers, they are not just used to measure the temperature of steaks. They can have many other uses around the kitchen, whenever you need to get a precise temperature reading of something.
Many people want to use meat thermometers to measure water temperature, whether for poaching an egg or a baby’s bathwater. However, they are not sure if they can.
Here are a few guidelines explaining how to best use meat thermometers in water, as well as alternatives if you don’t have one lying around.
What Is a Meat Thermometer?
A meat thermometer is a thermometer that comes with a long probe so it can be inserted directly into a cut of meat. The probe measures the internal temperature of meat, which in turn can tell you if the meal is ready more precisely than if you just eyeballed the meat from the outside.
Meat thermometers come in digital or analog editions. Fancier varieties have settings that tell you at what temperature a type of meat is safe for eating. Others can be inserted into meat, such as a roasting turkey, and pop up when the meat is done.
While the additional bells and whistles can be nice to have, a plain meat thermometer is good enough to tell you when a meal is ready.
When to Use a Meat Thermometer
Cooks most commonly use meat thermometers to tell when a thick cut of meat is ready for consumption. Undercooked meat can make people seriously ill, so it usually has to be cooked to a precise temperature, depending on the type of meat, to kill all the bacteria.
However, it can be hard to tell if the meat has reached that temperature just by looking at it from the outside, particularly if you are cooking a thicker cut of meat.
Some people rely on the color of the meat to tell if it is cooked enough or not. However, sometimes meat will look brown because it was in the refrigerator for too long or there were issues with its storage, creating the false illusion that it is cooked when it is still a bit raw.
To use a meat thermometer, insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat and wait a few seconds. Then, the temperature reading will tell you if it needs to cook for a few more minutes or if you are done.
You can also buy meat thermometers that can stay in the meat the whole time while it cooks. Then, all you have to do is check the temperature reading every once in a while until it reaches your desired heat.
You can find the minimum cooking temperatures for different types of meat here.
Using a Meat Thermometer for Water
The term meat thermometer is a bit of a misnomer since this versatile kitchen tool can be used to check the temperature of other types of food as well. You can use it to ensure that leftovers are heated up enough or even to check water temperature.
To use a meat thermometer to check water temperature, just insert the probe of the thermometer into a pot of water and wait a few seconds for the final temperature reading.
Other Food Thermometers
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can use another type of thermometer to get an accurate reading of your water’s temperature.
Instant-read thermometers are a type of all-purpose food thermometer that are inserted in food for a few seconds until they get an accurate reading. They are different from meat thermometers because they tend to be smaller and you can’t leave them in throughout the cooking process.
Candy and deep-fry thermometers are another option for measuring the temperature of your water. They tend to read hotter temperatures than meat thermometers do and can clip to the side of your pot. However, most do not have a probe as meat thermometers do, so you will not be able to use them for your roast turkey.
If you do not have any kind of cooking thermometer, you can always just guess the water’s temperature by watching its behavior and waiting for it to boil. While this is far less precise than using a thermometer, it’s how our ancestors cooked for centuries and they managed to heat water just fine.
However, you should never, ever use a digital thermometer used to take body temperature to measure water. Those thermometers are built to measure body heat, which is cooler than the heat of boiling water. If you put it in a pot of hot water, it might shatter and seriously injure someone.
When Should You Measure Water’s Temperature?
Although you can usually tell from looking at a pot of water if it is hot enough for your uses, there are certain circumstances under which you may find it useful to get a precise temperature reading.
Serious tea lovers like to get precise temperatures when boiling water to steep tea leaves. That is because different varieties of tea need to steep at different temperatures to bloom their best flavors.
You can also use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of other liquids, such as coffee. This way you can tell if your drink is too hot before you burn the roof of your mouth.
Sometimes, just boiling water is not enough when cooking—certain dishes need water to be heated to an exact temperature. For example, many chefs recommend heating water to a precise temperature when poaching eggs if you want that perfect pillowy texture. This is important to destroy bacteria in eggs and to get the right reaction that poaches eggs instead of boiling or steaming them.
Finally, precise water temperature measurements have their uses outside of the kitchen as well. If you are preparing a bath for a baby, checking the temperature of the water ensures that your baby will be safe. Food thermometers are very useful if you have a baby because you can use them to check the temperature of baby formula or reheated breast milk.
For serious home cooks, a meat thermometer is an indispensable kitchen tool. It is key to ensuring food safety when cooking different cuts of meat as well as taste because it helps prevent overcooking or undercooking.
However, meat thermometers can also be used for other dishes. For example, you can use them to check the temperature of boiling water.
To use a meat thermometer in water, just insert the probe into the water and wait a few seconds to get an accurate temperature reading. If you want a thermometer that you can keep in the pot continuously, get one that can clip to the side such as a candy thermometer.
Most days, you can get away with guessing your water’s temperature instead of measuring it precisely. However, for certain uses such as brewing tea, poaching eggs, or even preparing a baby’s bath, an accurate temperature reading is necessary.
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