When you’re barbecuing large joints of meat and birds like chicken and turkey it’s not always easy to decide about when they are cooked well-enough to eat.
If you barbecue for too long over-cooking can result in dry and unappetizing meat, but if you don’t cook for long enough there’s always a chance that dangerous bacteria (such as Salmonella and E. coli) which are often present in the raw meat will not have been eliminated by cooking and could cause illness.
Cutting and piercing a large piece of meat to check on how well its cooked can be “hit and miss” because using this method it’s not easy to judge when to stop cooking if you want your lamb or beef rare or medium-rare or your duck pink.
There’s always a worry that you might not have cooked it long enough to be safe. But there’s a way round these problems – use a barbecue meat thermometer.
Meat thermometers have been around since the days of the Victorians, but with reliable modern ovens they aren’t used as much as they used to be. But with the increase in the popularity of barbecue grills they are coming back into fashion.
Modern meat thermometers in their basic form still look much as they have always done. They have a long pointed probe which is inserted into the meat and a gauge or dial which measures the temperature at the center of the meat. But innovation and modern technology has transformed the humble meat thermometer. There are now a wide variety of different types of meat thermometer to choose from.
This article will help choose one that’ll help you improve your barbecuing skills.
Is it Necessary to Use a Meat Thermometer when Grilling?
If you are grilling fresh steaks you may want to cook them rare or medium-rare. If your meat is really fresh a rare steak is not a health risk, but if you are barbecuing processed meats such as English sausages, hot dogs and burgers and large meat joints and birds they must be cooked until their inside temperatures are high enough to kill harmful bacteria which may be present.
You may be told by individuals that regularly use their barbecue grill for steaks, sausages and burgers that a bbq meat thermometer is just not necessary because it’s easy to check on how well your barbecued food is cooked.
We don’t disagree with this, and in fact we have described simple manual techniques you can use when barbecuing in other articles we’ve published. But, if you are grilling large numbers of steaks and burgers for a large barbecue party it’s easy to under-cook the odd one or two. By batching your food properly and using a barbecue meat thermometer you’ll produce much more predictable and safer results.
How to Use a Barbecue Grill Meat Thermometer
Any meat thermometer, no matter how basic or high-tech has the same two component parts – a pointed probe containing a temperature sensor and a gauge or dial. The probe may be connected directly to the gauge or connected via a length of wire to a remote gauge. The pictures in the next section of this article provide illustrations of the two main types of bbq meat thermometer you can buy.
The tip of the probe is inserted into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding contact with any bone because this will affect the reliability of the temperature readings.
When barbecuing chickens, turkeys and ducks the probe should be inserted into the thigh area (near the breast of the bird). With roasts, steaks, burgers and chops the probe should be inserted into the center of the thickest part (e.g. with a steak push the probe into the side of the meat).
A few seconds after the probe is inserted into the meat you want to test, you’ll get a temperature reading.
What to Look for When Choosing a Barbecue Meat Thermometer
The two types of barbecue meat thermometer which you can buy are the instant-read and the remote read. The instant-read thermometers look very much the same as the original Victorian meat thermometer. The remote-read thermometers use modern technology to make it possible to monitor food temperature continuously – from a distance.
These either have analogue (dial) or digital displays. Those with analogue displays can often be inserted into the meat and left there until cooking is finished. They can be inspected at any stage during cooking to get an indication of the inside temperature of the meat.
Those with modern digital displays can only be used to take the meat temperature outside the grill because the digital electronics wouldn’t stand up to the high temperatures inside. In consequence, if you use a instant-read device with a digital display you might have to take your meat out of the barbecue grill several times near the end of the cooking period in order to check its internal temperature.
Whichever type of instant-read thermometer you choose make sure that it’s easy to read and has a sufficiently long probe for the size of the meat joints or birds you’ll be barbecuing?
Survey what’s available at your local barbecue accessory shop or, if you shop online read the customer reviews thoroughly before you purchase your barbecue thermometer.
Remote Read Thermometers:
There’s lots of choice here. You can either buy one that has a probe directly connected by a wire to a digital gauge or one that has a wire connected to a transmitter which sends regular signals to a remote digital gauge (i.e. it works like a wireless ‘phone).
The benefit of the wireless variety is that the receiver, which displays the temperature, can be carried around anywhere inside or outside the house remote from the barbecue grill. You choose the appropriate settings on your electronic thermometer so that it reminds you to get back to your grill when your selected meat temperature has been reached.
Which Type of Thermometer is Best?
The answer to this question depends very largely on how good you are with electronic devices and gadgets. If you tolerate them but try and avoid them wherever possible, go for the instant-read type of barbecue meat thermometer. If you are comfortable with electronic gadgets then you’ll almost certainly prefer the wireless remote-read thermometer.
When you research customer reviews at online stores such as Amazon you’ll find that some people have difficulties getting the receiver and transmitter of the wireless products working properly, but in most cases this seems to be a user rather than a technical problem. If you buy a wireless device make sure you read the user manual thoroughly!
The weak point of all the remote-read devices is the connecting wire. The probe obviously stays inside the barbecue, but the wires go from inside to out. If you’re not very careful with the barbecue lid it’s easy to sever the wires accidentally.
Despite the vulnerabilities of the remote devices they have more than proved their worth. They make cooking on a barbecue grill far easier, particularly for those recipes which need 2 to 3 hour cooking times.
If you have any doubts about which type of meat thermometer to purchase, we recommend that you start with a fairly basic instant-read thermometer and upgrade when you have become really comfortable using a barbecue meat thermometer for all your outdoor cooking.