Instant-read thermometers make people better cooks; lowers risk of killing family and friends with food

An instant-read thermometer is the best gift for the cook who has everything. Here’s what some folks told Elizabeth Weiss of USA Today.

William Keene, senior epidemiologist at Oregon’s Public Health Service, gives instant-read thermometers as wedding presents. "They save people’s lives."

The thermometer also makes Keene’s food taste a lot better. That’s because after spending a long day talking to people who’ve gotten sick from eating undercooked food, he found he had a tendency to overcook everything. Food "would get all dried out." But when he used the thermometer he actually stopped when it was done, rather than overdone. Though don’t forget to wash the tip with soapy water after you use it, "to avoid cross-contamination.”

Kathy Bernard of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline gives them out as bridal shower presents. At the holidays they’re especially useful when people pull out recipes they don’t often make, like eggnog. "Since it contains raw eggs, if you’re going to make it from scratch you start cooking the egg base, stirring it over low heat until the mixture reaches 160," to kill any possible salmonella.

Jack Bishop of America’s Test Kitchen, a popular cooking show on PBS, said, "It’s something you can be pretty sure most people don’t own, or if they do own one, they don’t own a very good one.”

And they’re not just for meat, says Bishop. The old-fashioned method of knocking on the bottom of the loaf pan to see if the bread’s done only works if you’ve spent enough years baking bread that you know what you’re listening for. With a thermometer there’s no guessing. Plain bread is done at between 200 and 210, a sweet loaf between 190 and 200.

And for cheesecake, a thermometer is the key to avoiding cracks across the top. "The magic temperature is 150," Bishop says

Old-fashioned meat thermometers rely on metal actually expanding and turning the temperature dial. Digital instant-read thermometers use electronics and are faster and generally more accurate. The instant-read digitals use slightly different technology than a regular digital thermometer, so be sure to look for ones that say they are instant-read.

Our favorite is the Comark PDT 300 (right, exactly as shown, about $30).

I started using my thermometer on homemade bread a couple of years ago; big improvement.