Don't trust pop-up thermometers to cook the bird right

ASK THE CHEF

April 06, 2003|By Jim Coleman & Candace Hagan | Jim Coleman & Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

To feed a family of five, I often buy large roasting chickens that have pop-up thermometers, but when I serve these chickens, my whole family thinks they are dry.

I don't want to risk serving something unsafe, and I don't know whether to use the pop-ups or not. What do you think?

Let's look first at how those little plastic thermometers work. The tips are filled with a soft metal that remains solid at room temperature and is supposed to liquefy when it reaches 185 degrees. That's when a spring releases inside the thermometer and that cute red stick pops up -- your signal to ring the dinner bell. So how could a great system like this go wrong?

Well, let's start with the poultry company. If you were the big rooster at MegaPoultry Com-pany, you might just be inclined to play it on the safe side. Your memo would probably hint that it would be better if the products were a tad overcooked than for the company to be sued.

Now let's move on to the pop-ups themselves. I'm not calling them cheap or anything, but the fact that you only paid about six dollars for a chicken that can feed a family of five AND a pop-up comes with it -- well, that should tip you off. Let's face it: They can't make $32,000 cars without issuing some kind of recall, so it stands to reason that maybe some of those little thermometers pop up at 190 or 195 degrees.

So what to do? My suggestion would be to purchase a real meat thermometer to test your poultry. When it reaches 180 degrees, you pull your chicken out because the "carry-over" heat is going to keep cooking that bird. In other words, just because you pulled it out of a 400-degree oven doesn't mean that it instantly stopped cooking.

Also, as with all meats, let it rest before carving and you will have a beautiful dinner for your family.

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