A meat thermometer is worth its weight in gold

By Chef Dez | Nov 21, 2012

Over the years I have discovered many simple methods that will help to easily perfect the meals that we serve. Some are so obvious, like a meat thermometer, that it is bizarre when I come across a household that does not have one.

Always during the approach of traditional holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter I seem to get bombarded with questions about how long a turkey should cook.

Although I appreciate the opportunity for helping people in the kitchen, the answer to me always seems so obvious that it is surprising that more people don’t already have the solution.

Not only will a simple oven-proof meat thermometer help to save your turkey dinner, it will also be the resolution to mastering the doneness of a myriad of meat roasting recipes.

I have owned my current meat thermometer for probably close to 15 years now and it is still going strong. Not bad for an investment of only a few dollars.

Be certain that you are purchasing one that is heat resistant (oven proof) so that it can be left in the piece of meat for the entire cooking process. If an instant read thermometer is used instead, and the temperature is checked at a number of intervals, valued juices will be lost from the meat with each puncture.

One of the most important goals in cooking meat is to keep it moist while still reaching the desired doneness.

The area of a turkey where the thermometer should be inserted is the thickest part of the inner thigh without touching the bone. A stuffed turkey should be done when it reads 180F, and unstuffed at 170F.

You should also notice that the legs move easily when twisted and the juices run clear. There is a difference in these two temperature readings because a stuffed turkey is denser, and the stuffing needs to reach a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria present.

This being said, I do realize that people appreciate approximate cooking times to effectively coordinate side dishes to the main course, and it is for this reason only that I will provide guidelines for you.

Do not use these parameters as your main indication of doneness, but rather as an additional plan to your trusty meat thermometer. For example, if you cook your turkey in a 325F oven then allow for this approximation in time:

WEIGHT UNSTUFFED STUFFED

3 - 3.5kg (6.5-8 lbs) 2.5 - 2.75 hours 3 – 3.25 hours

3.5 – 4.5kg (8-10 lbs) 2.75 – 3 hours 3.25 – 3.5 hours

4.5 – 5.5kg (10-12 lbs) 3 – 3.25 hours 3.5 – 3.75 hours

5.5 – 7kg (12-15.5 lbs) 3.25 – 3.5 hours 3.75 – 4 hours

7 – 10kg (15.5-22 lbs) 3.5 – 4 hours 4 – 4.5 hours

There are many factors that will play havoc on the final accuracy of the cooking time, including: the temperature of the turkey prior to roasting, the temperature of the stuffing (if used), or maybe your oven is running a bit hotter or colder than the set temperature.

Where you decide to purchase your meat thermometer is not important, as they are available almost everywhere. What is important is that you get one and enjoy the benefits of it for years to come.

Dear Chef Dez:

I heard that it important to let a (turkey) “rest” when it comes out of the oven, before carving it. Is this true, and why?

-Brad B.

Abbotsford, B.C.

Dear Brad:

This is true. Actually it is true with all cuts of meat. The “resting” period gives the meat time to adjust coming from the extreme heat to room temperature. During the cooking process, the high heat causes the atoms in the molecular structure of the meat to move at a high rate of speed. If the meat is cut into soon after it has been removed from the oven, grill, or pan, it will lose a large degree of its vital juices that keep it moist and flavorful.

Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4. Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cooking show performer. Visit him at www.chefdez.com.

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