Choosing a Food Thermometer

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
food thermometer

Milos Luzanin/iStock/Thinkstock

March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.

A food thermometer is the only way to test if foods have been cooked to the safe minimum internal temperature, but which food thermometer is right for your kitchen?

Stores carry a wide variety of food thermometers, from traditional dials to even disposable varieties. Take a look at those listed below and pick which type is best for you and remember to use it every time you cook:

  • Dial oven-safe thermometers inserted two to two and a half inches deep into the thickest part of the food can remain there throughout cooking. They read in one to two minutes and are great for roasts, casseroles and soups, but not appropriate for thin foods.
  • Digital instant-read thermometers are not designed to stay in food while it is cooking and reads in about 10 seconds when the stem is inserted into the food about a half inch deep. Good for measuring the temperature in thin and thick foods. This type of thermometer works well for shallow-tray frozen dinners.
  • Dial instant-read thermometers are not designed to stay in the food while cooking and read in 15 to 20 seconds when the stem is inserted about two to two and a half inches deep in the thickest part of the food. Can be used in roasts, casseroles and soups, but not appropriate for thin dishes unless inserted sideways.
  • Pop-up thermometers are usually already inserted into poultry when you purchase the poultry. This thermometer is designed to pop up when the food reaches the final temperature for safety and doneness. Always verify the meat is done though with a conventional thermometer.
  • Thermometer-fork combination thermometers are convenient for grilling and read in two to 10 seconds. It should be placed at least a fourth of an inch deep in the thickest part of the food, with the sensor in the fork fully inserted.
  • Microwave-safe thermometers are now available designed for microwave ovens only.
  • Disposable temperature indicators are meant for one time use. They read in 5 to 10 seconds when the temperature-sensitive material changes color. It's meant for only specific temperature ranges, for example, for burgers or chicken. Always use them as directed by the manufacturer.

Before using a food thermometer, read the thermometer manufacturer's instructions. The instructions can tell you how far the thermometer must be inserted in a food item to give an accurate reading. Most digital thermometers will read the temperature in a small area of the tip so they may work with thin foods or foods in a shallow tray like a frozen dinner.

Find an Expert

Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.

Search Now