Sometimes it's very difficult to work out whether the meat on a barbecue grill is correctly cooked, especially if it's a large joint of meat or a large bird such as a chicken or turkey. Over-cooked meat will disappoint your barbecue guests, and undercooked meat can be a health risk.
Stories of illnesses after BBQ's are not unusual and sometimes undercooked BBQ food can require emergency medical treatment in hospital.
A barbecue meat thermometer is a good solution to these problems. It can be used to measure the internal temperature of large roasts, steaks and other cooked foods. It does this by means of a probe which is inserted into the meat during or after cooking. The degree to which the meat has been cooked is indicated by its internal temperature.
Should You Always Use a Meat Thermometer?
If you are barbecuing fresh steaks it's not uncommon to cook them rare. Many people prefer them that way. But when you are cooking processed meats (e.g. burgers or English sausages) and large meat joints, chickens, turkeys and ducks they must be cooked until their interior temperatures are high enough to kill harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli (two of the commonest causes of barbecue meal illnesses).
Many people that barbecue regularly will tell you that you don't need a barbecue meat thermometer if you mostly cook steaks, sausages, hot dogs and burgers, because there are simple manual techniques for testing whether they're cooked or not, and, in the case of steaks whether they're rare, medium or well done.
But if you're cooking large numbers steaks, burgers, hot dogs and sausages you'll find it much easier and safer to manage your cooking if you use a meat thermometer.
How to Use a Barbecue Grill Meat Thermometer
There are lots of different types of barbecue grill meat thermometer, but all of them comprise the same basic components - a long probe and a gauge. The probe is long enough to be inserted into the thickest part of the meat and the gauge attached to it (either directly or by a wire) can either be analogue or digital.
The ones with a gauge directly attached to the probe are called instant-read meat thermometers. They used to be the most common type used for BBQ's, but now electronic remote-read meat thermometers have become very popular. As the name suggests these consist of a probe and a remote digital gauge which is either attached to the probe by wires or linked wirelessly to the probe through a transmitter station.
Whatever type of meat thermometer you use the tip of the probe must be inserted into the thickest part of the meat, but it must not touch any bone in the meat because if it does it'll give an overestimate of the meat temperature. The sensing areas of the probe are always clearly indicated and can be from ½ inch to 2 inches long. Take the length of this sensing area into account when inserting the probe into the meat (i.e. make sure it's at the center of the meat).
If you are cooking chickens, turkeys and ducks, insert the probe into the thigh area near the breast. For red meats, roasts, steaks, burgers or chops insert the probe into the center of the thickest part (i.e. in the case of a steak push the probe into the side, and for an English sausage insert it from the end).
Many BBQ grill recipes provide information on cooking temperatures, but here's a guide on the temperatures to aim for with different types of meats:
Beef and Lamb: Rare 125 degrees F, Medium 160 degrees F, Well-done 170 - 195 degrees F
Pork: Medium 160 degrees F, Well-done 170 - 190 degrees F
Chicken: Well-done 170 - 190 degrees F (chicken should always be well-done)
Duck: Rare 125 degrees F Medium 160 degrees F, Well-done 170 degrees F
Steak: Rare 135 degrees F Medium 140 degrees F, Medium 155 degrees F, Well-done 165 degrees F
What to Look for When Choosing a Barbecue Meat Thermometer
The probe of the meat thermometer should always have a sharp point so that it can be easily pushed into the meat. As indicated above this probe may be attached directly to an analogue dial or to a digital display. In some thermometers the dial or display will show temperature only, but there are others which helpfully indicate the right temperatures for different sorts of meat.
Probe thermometers which provide a direct reading of the internal temperature of meat have been around since Victorian times. Instant-read meat thermometers are the descendants of these Victorian ancestors. They either have analogue or digital displays. Analogue types can often be inserted into the meat to be cooked and left there throughout the cooking period. Digital instant-read thermometers can only be used toward the end of the cooking time. They're not designed to remain in the food as it cooks.
If you decide to buy an instant-read thermometer, make sure it has a nice clear analogue or digital display and that it has a good response time. Some thermometers can take up to 30 seconds to give a reading. This is a long time if you want to carry out your temperature checks quickly.
Make sure you buy your barbecue meat thermometer from a good barbecue accessory shop that has a good range of thermometers to choose from, or if you shop on-line check the customer reviews before purchasing.
There are a lot of different types of remote-read thermometers to choose from. Their cost has tumbled in recent years and they're now very affordable. The probe of a remote-read thermometer is either directly connected by wire to a digital gauge or to a transmitter which sends a wireless signal to a gauge. The advantage of the wireless meat thermometer is that it can be carried around whilst the food is cooking on your barbecue, providing an instant check on temperature wherever you are inside or outside the home. These devices can be very advanced, with special programs to help you keep an eye on and manage your barbecue cooking.
Some people have difficulties getting the transmitter and receiver of their wireless thermometer to communicate, but this is usually more of an operator problem than a malfunction. If you buy one of these thermometers, make sure you read the manual in detail. A more annoying problem is breaking the wires connecting the probe and the gauge or transmitter by accidentally dropping the BBQ lid on them.
However, don't be put off by these potential difficulties. There are thousands of remote-read meat thermometers in use on all types of BBQ grill. They are a fantastic way of making barbecue cooking easier, especially when they used for recipes requiring long cooking times.
To sum up; if you haven't used a barbecue meat thermometer before we recommend that you start with something simple like the basic Weber meat thermometer, and then move onto one of the more advanced remote-reading meat thermometers once you have become proficient at using a meat thermometer in your barbecue cooking.