The Trouble With Meat Thermometers

Transporter

This post will be dull. It will begin with an account of the weather, shift into a discussion of the importance of Star Trek: The Original Series, and conclude with an endorsement of meat thermometers. You have been warned.

I blame winter for this turn towards somewhat mind-numbing topics. I can’t complain of extreme weather like the “thunder snow” plaguing the Northeast, and I’m glad of that. I was unfamiliar with the concept of thunder snow before this week and was, frankly, skeptical, assuming it was as much a legit meteorological term as “snowmaggedon” or “snowpocalypse,” but my wife assures me that it’s a real thing, and she’s quite smart about these matters as a regular watcher of The Weather Channel’s Strangest Weather on Earth. While it is a thunder-free – snow or conventional – winter here in the Pacific Northwest, the darkness that frames my day is a stark reminder that winter is time for indoor activities. I leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark. Aside from my run at midday, I remain indoors for much of the winter.

To pass the time until the sun lingers long in the evening sky, I am reading a set of books given to me by my brother as a birthday present: These Are the Voyages: TOS by Marc Cushman. It’s a three-volume set (I have the first two) of Star Trek reference books that describe every detail of every episode of the original series. Cushman has exhaustively compiled anecdotes about story pitches, scripts going from first draft to final rewrites, casting, directing, cinematography, optical effects, and even fan mail. While I haven’t dressed up in a Star Fleet uniform since I was eight, I do love, enjoy, and admire Star Trek: The Original Series as a magnificent achievement in the science fiction genre. My daily winter routine is to read a chapter about an episode each evening and then watch that episode – online via the miracle of Hulu – in the morning while I workout in my living room. Reading the books has reminded me just how innovative Gene Rodenberry and company were. They invented automatic sliding doors and cell phones, for crying out loud. Real scientists are even making progress on real transporter technology, which, by the way, I learned was a necessary invention for the show to avoid the high production cost of filming special effect shots of the Enterprise landing on a new planet each week.

Another delightful bit of trivia I learned is the reason the Starship Enterprise’s registry number is NCC-1701. The 4-digit numeral was largely aesthetic, as 1s and 7s are easier to read and distinguish the 6s, 8s, and 9s. The NCC, however, comes from a combination of a common U.S. designation for commercial vehicles, NC, and the Soviet Union’s use of the CC designation. That’s right, it’s a combination of American and Soviet terms, with the belief that in the future, large-scale space ventures would be multi-national. While we have a ways yet to go, there are certainly signs of that hopeful future in the International Space Station. Of course, there’s a little less hope in Russian-Ukrainian-Crimean relations, but that’s not one of my blog topics.

I have great hopefulness for the future of my grilling based on the promise of another birthday present: a meat thermometer. Gene Rodenberry would approve of this gadget. It’s a wireless barbecue and meat thermometer. It has dual temperature probes that monitor the temperature of the food and the temperature inside the grill. Epic.

The meat thermometer is one of the most essential tools in my kitchen. I don’t use recommended cooking times when I grill slabs of meat. Rather, I rely on my knowledge of desirable meat doneness temperatures and Mr. Fahrenheit’s scale. It’s a far more accurate method of ensuring perfectly cooked animal protein.

I have used a variety of meat thermometers over the years and have learned a couple things.

  1. Do not use an instant read thermometer in a gradual manner. An instant read thermometer is designed to be inserted into a piece of meat, one that has been cooking for a while, just long enough to determine it’s internal temperature. Once the dial reaches stops climbing, you are to remove the thermometer and return the meat to the grill or oven to continue cooking, if needed. You are not to leave the thermometer in the meat. In my experience, leaving an instant read thermometer in the meat while it cooks in a hot grill results in your thermometer becoming a skewer with a gob of melted plastic on the end. This adds nothing desirable to the flavor of the finished product.
  1. Don’t let the wire get too hot. Meat thermometers designed to be left in the meat that I have used are metal probes with a wire that trails from the end of the probe and plugs into a remote temperature gauge. I have used ones with vinyl insulation on the wire, but the insulation eventually wears out, cracks away, or even begins to melt, exposing the wire. Not good. Having tired of buying new thermometers, I found one with a wire wrapped in a fine metal mesh form of insulation. Unfortunately, I let the wire get a little too close to the heat source. Through the magic of conduction, the temperature gauge pegged at round 427˚ and never came down.

I’ve gotten better at managing my remote probe meat thermometer, and I encourage any would-be grill masters to acquire one. You may not be ready for a wireless dual probe tricorder…I mean thermometer, but if you want to grill large hunks of meat, you must get a meat thermometer before the sun begins to illuminate spring evenings and your barbecure begins to call your name. Delicious smoked meats are in your future. Grill long and prosper.

 

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One thought on “The Trouble With Meat Thermometers

  1. Soviet Union: We put the CC in NCC-1701. Hehe.

    For my meat-heat-measuring needs (which are by far much more limited than yours, O Grillmaster), I’ve moved from the instant-read thermometers to a thin-wire cake tester. I saw a chef use one–you stick it through the side and into the center, then touch it to the skin under your lower lip. If it’s cool, it needs more time. If it’s warm, you’re good to go (for solid beef and pork cuts). For poultry and ground meats, you wait until it’s hot. I find this “fuzzier” measurement easier, since I don’t have to remember the actual temperature I’m going for. Also, the cake tester is thin, and doesn’t leave a big stab wound in the meat.

    k

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