BBQ Time: Calibrate your thermometer

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Don’t you hate it when you find out that because you weren’t properly informed you wasted money?  I’ve long been a fan of metal probe-style instant read thermometers. As I’ve written before, they help you to cook meat not only safely but also to the perfect level of doneness. I knew these thermometers need to be tested frequently (especially after being dropped) but whenever I found one to be on the fritz, displaying a temperature out of whack with normal  temperature standards, I threw it away.

At an average of $15 each, that means that over the last few years, I’ve thrown out well over $100 worth of instant read thermometers!  That’s money I could have spent on dinner out at a nice restaurant, a facial, bonbons, beer or some other necessity of life. (Or, I guess I could have saved it,  but whatever.). 

Essentially that cash went into my trash can and then into land fill since almost all instant read thermometers can be calibrated. I learned this info when I took a safe food handling course on Sunday and I’ve been mad at myself ever since for not knowing that these tools are easily adjusted.

As I got over the initial embarrassing sting of how I’ve wasted money, I realized that if one person doesn’t know about something, there are likely others who aren’t informed either. So, today, just in time for grilling season, I’m going to teach you how to check your instant read thermometer for accuracy and how to fix it if it fails the test. 

  • Step One – Testing:  Fill a glass with equal parts cold water and ice cubes to make an ice slush mixture. Insert the instant read probe into the centre of the mixture being sure not to touch the sides or bottom of the glass. If the thermometer does not read 0 degrees celsius (or 32 degrees fahrenheit) move on to step two.  Otherwise, clean the probe and put it away.
  • Step Two – Calibrating: Turn the thermometer so that the face is away from you. On the underside of the thermometer, look for the nut that attaches the probe to the casing that holds the face. Use a small adjustable wrench to turn this nut gently. Retest the temperature and readjust the nut until you get the appropriate reading. Note:  Many models have a wrench built right into the same holder that keeps the probe clean and protected!

Did you know how to test and calibrate an instant read thermometer before reading today’s post?  Or, am I the only one who didn’t know how to do this task?

NB: If you need info about how to use an instant read thermometer, check out this post from last spring.

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15 Responses to BBQ Time: Calibrate your thermometer

  1. Genius. I’ve been using an instant read thermometer for my new passion – home-made yogurt – and it went wacky just the other day. Now I can fix it – thanks, Dana!

  2. Not all “insta-read”—which BTW is a trademark—are can be calibrated. Many don’t have the nut on the back side. Only those using a bimetallic strip to twist the indicator may have the nut. And those are only calibrated when inserted up to the dimple. See my video on measuring, http://xrl.us/ok9hx (start about 5:30 in), for more info.

    The current new slew of digital thermometers use a thermocouple and cannot be calibrated.

  3. Alison George says:

    I appreciate this tip Dana. For whatever reason, when ever I’ve tried to recalibrate, I’ve done so awkwardly over a pot of boiling water. Hot and difficult. Why I never thought of ice water is beyond me. Thank you!

  4. Helene says:

    Great tip. Do you have a favorite thermometer?

  5. Diva says:

    Thanks so much for this great information, Dana! We had a thermometer issue just this Easter and I realized I had no idea how to tell my sister in law if hers was working properly or not. Am off to test mine today. Thanks!

  6. cheryl says:

    I’m bookmarking this post!

    I have one of those digital thermometers that connects by a wire to a display you can put on your counter… I just watch it go up until the food reaches the proper temp. I love it, and it has solved the problem of opening the oven door constantly, too.

  7. Don says:

    Like Alison, I spent too much time over a pot of boiling water. Ice water. Brilliant.

    Is there any need or way to calibrate an electronic quick read?

  8. danamccauley says:

    Hi all – sorry I wasn’t in to comment earlier in the day – I was in London speaking to culinary students and just got back a little while ago.

    Glad this post proved helpful to others!
    Helene: I have a slew thermometers and I’m indifferent to the brands. What I like best is one that has an easily read face. I find the digital ones (like the one in Amy’s hand in the picture above) steam up and reflect the light sometimes and some of the dial style ones are sort of small. So, I recommend one that has a big dial.

    Peter: thanks for sharing more info. Mine all seem to have a nut so I guess they are bimetalic. FYI to those who work in commerical kitchens in Ontario, only bimetallic are approved for use in government inspected kitchens.

    Cheryl: I always worry about snagging that wire. Glad to hear it works for you.

    Don: please see above where I mention that the one Amy is holding is digital/electronic. As you can see, it has a nut on it and can be calibrated. Oddly, my electronic thermostat ovens at the TK can’t be calibrated….strange. I think you’ve given me a new thing to ponder!

    Oh yes, and before I forget: Vicky, can you add a link to one of your yogurt recipes? I glanced around your pages at The Star but didn’t find info easily. : )

  9. It’s news to me. It never occurred to me that a thermometer could go out of whack. Very helpful post!! Like Cheryl, I’m bookmarking this one!

    Thanks so much for posting this.

  10. dinnerwithjulie says:

    No way – I had no idea!!

  11. Natashya says:

    Huh, who knew? I have a small drawer with several types of thermometers.. you can never have too many different kinds!

  12. Jerry says:

    Yes, I too have found out the hard way that instant-read thermometers go out of calibration. Then my son, who works in the food service business, told me that they are trained to calibrate their thermometers frequently.

    Googling for “calibrate thermometer” shows many food-service sites that say, “If thermometers are used on a continual basis, they should be calibrated at least once a day. They should also be calibrated whenever the thermometer is dropped, before it is first used, and when going from one temperature extreme to another.”

  13. Simon Masin says:

    I had been invited to a cold weather bbq and asked to bring some bbq sauce for it, can someone share a good recipe?.

  14. Pierre Paten says:

    Hey, I just tried to msg you for an issue I had regarding this site’s post, but for some reason I can not fully figure out a means to talk to you. If you can see my e-mail, could you send me a message? Thanks.

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