I love to cook, I love to feed people, and I love to eat. Over the years, I’ve accumulated lots of kitchen gadgets. I use some of them on a daily basis and some of them only occasionally. But in my mind, there’s one that stands out, that does what no other tool can, and that I can’t be without.
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For years when I was younger I lived on a super tight budget. I bought groceries and cooked healthy meals, but I didn’t splurge too much on kitchen gadgets. I didn’t own a food processor (I remember trying to make chimmichurri – a pureed parsley sauce – with a knife… didn’t work out so well.) I didn’t own a stand mixer or a citrus juicer or an immersion blender (did those even exist back then?).
Over time, I bought, or received as gifts, many different kitchen tools that made it easier and more convenient for me to do what I love… and also what I do to feed myself and my family every day. Some are big things, some little.
But by far the most valuable is something I bought on a whim.
It’s an instant read thermometer.
When I bought it, I had no real expectations for this thermometer. It just seemed like a handy thing for a well-stocked kitchen to have. But it didn’t take long before I realized that I COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. 🙂
Before, I would cook, say, chicken, in the oven. After a reasonable length of time, I would start “checking” it. I could cut open the thickest piece and try to tell if it was still pink inside. Did that meat look cooked? Were the juices clear or pink? I definitely didn’t want to give myself or anyone else food poisoning so after cutting a bunch of slits into all my pieces of chicken, I would cook it a little longer, just in case.
If I was cooking pork it was even harder. Lots of pork stays a little pink in color no matter how long you cook it. Again, I would cut slits in it and try to tell if it looked cooked on the inside.
Even beef wasn’t safe from my knife. Once in a while I bought steak. At the time I liked my steak cooked ‘medium’. But I couldn’t be sure how well the steak was cooked without cutting into it.
You see where this is going.
I ended up, almost inevitably, with dry, overcooked, tasteless meat. By cutting into your meat you let all the delicious, flavorful juices out. Then I would overcook things even more, just to make absolutely sure they were “safe”. I did this while cooking turkeys, chicken breasts, pork chops, steaks, fish. You name it, I cooked it to within an inch of its life.
This was my life BIRT (Before Instant Read Thermometer).
Life After Instant Read Thermometer (AIRT)
I bought that nifty little thermometer, took it home and put it in a drawer. Next time I cooked some meat (a pork tenderloin), I thought – “Ooh! I should try my new thermometer!”
I got it out, stuck it into the thickest part of the meat, and just a second or two later there was a number starting up at me. A number that told me, in black and white, if the meat was safe to eat yet.
The simplicity of it was staggering.
When it reached the right temperature, I took it out, let it rest for a few minutes, and that night we dined on the most amazing pork tenderloin we had ever eaten. It was so moist and juicy we couldn’t stop talking about it.
And just like that, I was a convert.
In fact, I take our instant read thermometer completely for granted now. Nary a dry piece of meat to be found around this house anymore! We regularly enjoy moist pork, steak cooked perfectly to order, and even that most rare of meats to find moist – chicken breast.
Incidentally, I also find the thermometer handy to test things like water temperature, bread done-ness and other things. But these are kind of an aside.
Our first instant read thermometer bit the dust when I dropped it in a sink full of water (don’t do that).
Most recently we own this one, and so far we’ve been happy with it. I’ll definitely be updating this post if anything changes. But I don’t think it will.
Knowing now how much this tiny tool changed the way we cook (and eat!), I would buy it over and over AND OVER again. I’m only sad I didn’t buy it sooner!
See the recommended cooking temperatures for pretty much anything you would want to test.
Do you own an instant read thermometer? Do you find it useful?