Never take a knife to a gunfight. It’s safe to say (and we think you’d agree) that no one should ever enter into a confrontation or other challenging situation without being adequately equipped or prepared. Yet often times that’s exactly what we do when we’re too casual in our interactions with buffets, holiday pot lucks – even food in our own kitchen.
The potential for our bodies to be overrun by harmful bacteria is a real threat, especially around the holidays. If we fail to follow safe food handling practices, we’re not only putting ourselves at risk, but our families too. Knowing what tools to use – and how to use them properly – can drastically reduce the chance we’ll be laid-up over the holiday with a food borne illness.
The right tool for the job
The variety of food thermometers on the market today is daunting. Some have bells and whistles, some have lights that tell you when your food is “done.” Some have dials, knobs and buttons; while others have digital displays that will tell you the time of day and whether or not it’s going to rain. Keep in mind that the best thermometers are only as good as the temperatures they read.
A good temperature tool should be easy to operate, fast and accurate. It’s as simple as that. If you’re cooking for a house full of family and trying to make sure that your pork roast lands at the same time as your casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy and chicken nuggets (for the kid who won’t anything else), the last thing you want to worry about is whether or not you’re going to need a Ph.D to operate your thermometer.
The fast and accurate characteristics are easy enough to understand. A fast thermometer reduces the loss of heat during cooking, and accuracy – well, do we really need to explain that one?
Another aspect of finding the right tool is knowing what you’re going to be using it for. For example, you wouldn’t go duck hunting with a fishing pole, nor would you go fishing with a shotgun, err, at least you shouldn’t. Knowing what you’re going to cook will help you select the proper probe/meter combination and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your instrument. (For a complete list of ThermoWorks thermometers, click here.)
It’s in the way that you use it
If you’ve ever had to fight with a toddler to get them to hold a thermometer under their tongue, you’ll understand what we mean when we say, it’s all in the way you use it. A properly placed thermometer will give you an accurate indication of “real” temperature, while a misplaced probe will lead you astray.
You must first find the actual spot on the thermometer where temperature is sensed. For some it’s in the tip, for others, it may be an inch up the probe. Knowing where temperature is taken will allow you to place the probe in the right spot.
When temping food, the “right spot” is always going to be in the center of whatever you’re cooking – since that’s likely to be the coldest. When the coldest part of the food reaches the ideal temperature for killing bacteria (165°F) you can rest assured that the rest of the dish is ready.
With larger cuts – say for example a turkey – you’d be wise to temp the bird in multiple locations before calling it “done.” The middle of the breast, the wings and thighs are great places to start. Similarly, a large roast or pork loin might need temping in multiple locations. Once you’re satisfied with the readings, you can eat without the fear of anything coming back to haunt you.
The holidays are a wonderful time to spend time with family, and food is typically a major part of the celebration. Before you cut into that glazed ham or carve your turkey, use a thermometer and know ahead of time that it’s safe to eat. Don’t let bacteria crash your pot-luck party this year.