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Publication #FCS1083

Keeping Food Safe: Choosing and Using Food Thermometers in Homes1

Claudia L. Peñuela, Amy Simonne, and Isabel Valentin-Oquendo2

At-home Cooking Requires Measuring More than Just the Ingredients

Proper cooking of foods to safe internal temperatures is one of the most effective ways to prevent foodborne illnesses. Several types of food thermometers are available for purchase, and choosing the right one when cooking at home will help to keep food safe for your family. This publication provides specific information on how to use different thermometers in different foods.

Where to Start

Using the right thermometer in the right part of the food is crucial to ensuring a correct temperature reading. Table 1 presents the most common thermometers and methods for use. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Table 1. 

Common food thermometers and how to use them

Type of Thermometer

Placement and Duration



Instant-read, bimetal

  • 2–2½ inches into the thickest parts of food

  • 15–20 seconds

  • Used for roasts and casseroles

  • Can be used for thin foods if inserted sideways into the food through the center

  • Use near the end of cooking

  • Not designed to stay in the food while it’s cooking

Oven-safe, bimetal

  • 2–2½ inches into the thickest parts of food

  • 1–2 minutes

  • Used for thick foods (roasts) / deep-dish foods (casseroles)

  • Not for thin foods (less than 3 inches thick)

  • Temperature should be tested in more than one place

  • Designed to stay in food during cooking



  • At least ½ inch into food

  • 10 seconds

  • Can be used for thick or thin foods

  • Some can be calibrated

  • Use near end of cooking time

  • Not designed to stay in the food while it’s cooking

Thermometer-fork Combination

  • At least ¼ inch into thickest parts of food

  • 2–10 seconds

  • Proper for most foods

  • Cannot be calibrated

  • Convenient for grilling or oven-cooking

  • Use near end of cooking time

  • Not designed to stay in the food while it’s cooking

"Well, it looks done…."

Measuring food temperature with a food thermometer is the only way of knowing if your food has reached a safe internal temperature. Color of meat is not a reliable indicator of doneness. The meat may have not reached the proper temperature, or it may even be overcooked. This is why it is important to use a thermometer designed for the job—instead of relying only on our eyes. Food can be cooked to doneness and still be juicy and flavorful…and safe to eat! Here are a few recommendations for measuring the temperature in different foods.

Thin meat: patties, chicken breasts, and pork chops

  • If possible, use a thermistor and insert it in the thickest part, away from bone and fat.

  • If you are using a bimetal thermometer, insert it 2 to 3 inches, which is usually the full length of the sensing area.

Thick meat: beef, lamb, or pork roasts

  • Insert the thermometer midway through the center of the roast, away from the bone.

  • For irregularly shaped foods, check the temperature in different places.


  • Whole: Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone. While the "pop-up" style devices now common in whole poultry products may be considered reliable as doneness indicators, using a conventional meat thermometer as an additional tool is a good practice to ensure safe internal temperature.

  • Stuffed: The center of the stuffing should be checked and its temperature must reach 165°F.

  • Parts such as legs: Insert into the thickest part of the meat while avoiding the bone. For irregularly shaped parts, check temperature in multiple locations. In addition, thermometers may need to be inserted sideways to get an accurate reading.

Combination dishes, casseroles, soups

  • Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the dish or the center.

  • Check temperature of egg dishes and dishes with ground meat and poultry in several locations.

Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

Table 2. 

Safe minimum internal temperatures for your home-cooked foods




  • Poultry (whole, pieces, and ground)

  • Stuffing

  • Combined dishes and leftovers

  • Food cooked in microwave


  • Ground beef, pork, veal, and lamb

  • Egg dishes


  • Beef, pork*, veal, and lamb (steaks, roasts, and chops)

  • Fish

*Whole cuts of pork (e.g., roasts, loins, chops) also need a 3-minute rest time after removal from the heat source. During these three minutes, the meat's internal temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful bacteria.



  • Cook food to the right temperature using a food thermometer.

  • Use the right thermometers for the right foods.


United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Appliances & Thermometer. Use A Food Thermometer. Accessed January 12, 2011.

United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. Kitchen Thermometers. Accessed January 12, 2011.

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This document is FCS1083, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date July 1998. Revised March 2012. Reviewed July 2015. Visit the EDIS website at


Claudia L. Peñuela, EFNEP assistant in nutrition; Amy Simonne, professor; and Isabel Valentin-Oquendo, former assistant in FNP, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.