Q. I have a hard time judging meat temperatures when I prepare lamb. I purchased a meat thermometer, but it didn't work out. The last time I cooked lamb, I waited until it reached 140 degrees. But when I cut into the meat, it was barely cooked inside. I would like to rely on a thermometer, because I always tend to overcook meat and chicken. What am I doing wrong?
A. There's just one thing to remember when preparing lamb: Don't overcook it. It's not as hard as you think. As far as a meat thermometer goes, I highly recommend it for large pieces of meat or roasts.
You should make sure your thermometer is calibrated. A good way to test it is to stick it into a glass of ice water. After a few minutes, it should read 32 degrees. If not, most meat thermometers have a six-sided nut or bolt right under the gauge, and you can turn the bolt until the chilled thermometer reads 32 degrees.
Check it again in ice water to make sure. Once your thermometer is working properly, stick it into different parts of the meat when you think it's almost done.
First try the thickest part, then try next to the bone. Also rotate the pan and turn the meat over to test it on the other side. In a lot of ovens, it can be as much as 15 degrees hotter in the back than it is in the front. (If it's more, it's time to get a new oven.)
Finally, make sure that after you pull the lamb or other meat out of the oven, you let it rest for 15 or 20 minutes. The lamb will continue to cook during this time; so even though the thermometer reads 135 degrees when you pull the meat out, it might reach 145 degrees before you carve it.
Jim Coleman is executive chef at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, a cookbook author and host of television and radio cooking shows. Candace Hagan is a food writer and cookbook author.