|Cooking Temperatures and Thermometers
McGee in On Food and Cooking says that cooking can be defined
as the transfer of energy from a heat source to food. The common
kitchen measurement we call temperature is an indicator of the affect an
energy source has on the food we are cooking. It is also an indicator
of the state or condition of a food product—ambient, frozen, boiling, medium-rare,
It follows that we know a lot about food temperatures. Indeed,
the art of cooking has a lot to do with temperatures. We learned
in an earlier article on food safety that
cold foods should be kept cold and hot food hot and that the temperature
range of 40º to 140ºF is defined as the “temperature danger zone.”
We know what temperatures to cook meat and poultry for (a) safety and (b)
taste. Regarding safety, the United States Department of Agriculture
(USDA) has a hotline (1-800-535-4555) where you can obtain the recommended
safe temperatures for preparing meats and poultry of all kinds.
Regarding taste, we also know that following USDA's recommended temperatures
might result in food more done than we're used to, hence
the disparity between chefs, cookbooks and the USDA.
Nonetheless, in addition to adhering to 40º to 140ºF
for the storage of food, chefs know, and you should too,
that 160º - 165ºF is the safe temperature range
for the cooking of all ground meats and chicken products.
(While at FoodFit.com, I helped research their “Cook it
Safe” feature. It is very useful, balances USDA and
chef's preferences and is cleverly organized and constructed.
On the other hand, try to imagine yourself in a restaurant kitchen grilling
steaks all night and using a thermometer to determine rare, medium-rare
and well done. Of necessity, grill cooks don't use thermometers;
instead they are trained to learn by touch when a steak is done to order.
Larger pieces, such as whole tenderloins and roasts are timed and touch-tested,
as well. However, when eight veal hotel racks, at $60 apiece, are
roasting in the oven, for a banquet special that is not an every day menu
item, the prudent banquet chef will use a thermometer.
At home every night is special. You need a thermometer.
Follow the temperature recommendations in your favorite cookbook for roasts,
steaks, turkeys and deep fried foods and use a thermometer to achieve them.
An important attribute of a good thermometer, besides accuracy and ease
of reading, is the thinness of the probe. Fat probes poke huge holes
in meat that juices leak out of and that never close up. Most
common kitchen thermometers have really fat probes, nearly ¼-inch.
A few have thinner probes that can be inserted and left in the meat as
it cooks. There is even one of this type with a probe that sends
a signal to a responder in your pocket, as you schmooze with your guests
away from the stove. It beeps like a cell phone when it reaches a
set temperature! “Oh, excuse me, I have to answer my thermometer.”
only thermometer I use and recommend is the Thermapen. It's hand
held, digital, fast reading and certified accurate from 50º to 572ºF.
It features a “thermister” at the very tip of its needle thin probe.
It's British made. They have a Web site in Utah: www.thermoworks.com.
Bad news: the Thermapen costs about $80. It's worth it.