The biggest Thanksgiving fear: a family member getting drunk and embarrassing himself. The next biggest? Getting the turkey right. Most people dry it out because they’re so scared of serving it raw. Thankfully, there’s a way to eliminate the guesswork.
According to the USDA, a turkey’s internal temperature should be 165ºF before serving. Set your target temperature, then monitor your bird with a good thermometer. And after the holidays, use it to detect cold spots hidden in your microwaved frozen pot pies.
Here are the two thermometers we like best. The first is perfect for beginners. The other is for pros, and those who aspire to be. Both will prevent your second biggest fear from coming true.
Voice Alert Thermometer (Model ET-84)
The Maverick Voice Alert thermometer is the only thermometer that tells you when your meat will be done, rather than just showing what the current temperature is. An authoritative female voice talks you through your cooking time as if it’s a NASA launch. Half an hour before your food is done, she’ll announce, “Thirty minutes until ready,” then again at 20, 10, 5, and 1 minute. With 10 seconds left, she becomes extremely bossy: “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one! Time’s up! Your food is done!” In the poultry setting, she’ll remind you to baste every 30 minutes.
Experienced cooks might find that the Maverick Voice Alert thermometer offers TMI (Too Much Information), but many first-timers will feel comforted by the constant reminders. Luckily you can switch to beep alert mode if she bugs you too much. The unit comes preset with USDA-recommended safe doneness temperatures, but those can be changed.
The Maverick looks like a silver iPod, but instead of a set of ear buds at the end of the white wire, there’s a long, pointy stainless steel probe. You stick this probe in your cooking food, then run the insulated wire outside your oven. The wire attaches to a digital display screen that sits on your counter. It shows you your target temp, the actual temp, the time elapsed, and the estimated time remaining, both numerically and on a countdown bar, as if you were downloading a file.
To use, you select the kind of meat you’re cooking from programmed options (beef, pork, veal, poultry), pick your desired doneness level (rare, medium rare, medium, well done), then set up the probe as just described. As with all probe thermometers, to get the most accurate read, the probe needs to be in the thickest part of the meat, not touching bone or in a really fatty part. And this probe needs to be at least an inch in.
The FoodPro Plus is the thermometer used by most professional food inspectors and in many pro kitchens. Fluke is the new name for what was formerly Raytek, the most respected name in industrial thermometers.
Actually two thermometers in one, the FoodPro Plus is both a stainless steel probe and an infrared thermometer that allows you to simply point at whatever you’re cooking to get a temperature read.
Although infrared temperature readers are less accurate than probes, they allow professional inspectors to test a lot of food without coming in contact with it. That way, there’s less cleanup and danger of cross-contamination.
When you pull the unit out of its black nylon carrying pouch, it looks like an ear magnifier without the cone tip attached. But press the green button and the infrared beam glows in front, instantly producing a temperature reading on the display screen if you happen to be pointing at anything. The pointed probe flips down from the handle.
If measuring by infrared, hold the gun 1 to 10 inches away from your target, which needs to be at least 1/2 inch in diameter. If there’s smoke or steam, hold the unit back and at an angle to avoid interference.
When using the probe, hit the Select button to switch to the probe function, insert the tip at least 1/2 inch in, and hold it while the probe graphic flashes on the display; when the probe beeps, the temperature shows on the display.
Of course, never shine the infrared beam in your eyes. It won’t instantly blind you, but staring into the beam at close range might temporarily damage your sight. You can safely shine the beam elsewhere. You might want to do as they do in professional kitchens: Shine the light on each other’s asses to see whose is “hottest.”