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Meat Thermometers 101

Martha Stewart Living, November 2006

Traditional: These models are cheap, easy to use, and battery-free. Their drawback is that they are slow to give a reading, needing up to 10 seconds (which often feels longer for a cook at a hot oven).

Instant-Read: The choice of many chefs, these models produce a reading in a few seconds. They have analog or digital displays. Many versions can be calibrated with the press of a button.

Digital Probe: Among other features, these timer look-alikes usually include an alarm that sounds when food reaches the temperature the cook punches in. The probe stays in the meat; a cable connects it to the main unit outside, letting cooks monitor with out opening the oven. But the cable can become very hot, presenting a burn risk. Some cooks love the programmable features; others find them difficult to navigate.

Laser: These are essentially traditional or instant-read thermometers with an added bonus: a laser. The infrared beam reads only surface temperatures, but this is a useful feature for cooks testing hot oil or chocolate, or griddles and grills.

Disposable: When inserted, these strips change color if the meat has reached the strip's preset temperature. They are sold in bulk and thrown away after use, reducing the risk of cross-contamination. But the presets, matched to USDA guidelines, don't give cooks much leeway, and the short probes aren't ideal for large or thick cuts.

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