I can give up my egg slicer, but don’t ask me to part with my trusty meat thermometer.

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meat thermometer
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Whenever a new kitchen appliance or cooking gadget hits the market, it is hard not to rush out and buy one. After all, these new tools are supposed to make preparing meals a lot easier for us, right? Oftentimes, we find that these gizmos and devices don’t save us any work or time at all, and they just wind up taking up space in a drawer or cabinet. I am thinking about my electric knife right now, but who will admit to buying a garbage bowl? It took several overcooked roasts and undercooked chickens, however, before I realized that the one kitchen gadget I simply can’t do without is a meat thermometer. Whether you choose a dial or digital thermometer, don’t roast another Thanksgiving turkey without it.  

It is a Food Safety Issue

The main reason you should use a meat thermometer is food safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cooking foods thoroughly and checking them using a meat thermometer to avoid foodborne illnesses like Salmonella or norovirus. Follow their recommended cooking guidelines, even if you are heating leftovers. It is a good idea to copy and paste these guidelines inside a kitchen cabinet where you can easily find them. A good meat thermometer will also have the recommended temps available somewhere on the tool so there is no guesswork while roasting a chicken or grilling a steak.

Don’t Rely on Your Senses

Do you know why turkey has such a bad reputation for being either too dry or underdone? Instead of using a handy digital thermometer to let us know when it is done, we just eyeball it – if the skin is golden brown, then it must be done, right? Wrong. Instead of guessing when the roast is done, or going by the clock, just use your thermometer. You can't rely on how the meat looks to determine if it is finished, especially if you are cooking in a poorly lit kitchen or grilling outside under the blazing sun and a cloud of smoke. And speaking of grilling, don’t depend on  grill marks to indicate whether or not the meat is cooked through. The heat from the grill can mark the outside of the meat before the inside has reached the desired temperature.

Don’t Check by Cutting into the Meat

Don’t. Just don’t ruin that fabulous prime rib by cutting through the middle to check for doneness. When you cut into the meat, you allow all the fabulous, delicious sealed-in juice and flavors to run out, and what you planned on serving for dinner can quickly become dry and unappealing. If you use a thermometer you will know in a matter of seconds whether or not the meat is done. You may find that the outside of your roast is browning too fast, or the wing tips of your bird are getting too crisp, but the interior isn’t done. Make a tent with aluminum foil and cover the entire piece of meat or just the affected areas to protect them from overbrowning.

How to Use a Meat Thermometer

To get the most accurate temperature reading, place the thermometer in the meat while it's still cooking in the pan, oven, or on the grill. Do not take it off the heat before gauging the temperature. Measure in the thickest part of the meat and avoid hitting any bones or fat. With most thermometers, you need to insert the probe at least 1/2 inch into the meat. If your cut is thicker than an inch, you will want to go even deeper to reach the very center.

WATCH: How to Cook Prime Rib

Which One to Buy

A good meat thermometer does not have to cost a lot, but you certainly want one that is good quality and will last a while. This CDN Thin Tip Thermometer is easy to use and comes with a handy sheath for storage, and this equally inexpensive Taylor Precision Digital Cooking Thermometer model has a convenient alarm that beeps when the food is ready (you can leave the probe in the meat). Whichever model you choose, even if you purchase one from your grocery store, use it properly and take care of it – the quality of your dinner and your health may just depend on it.