How To Calibrate A Meat Thermometer (Using The Ice Bath & Boiling Point Test)

If your food thermometer is inaccurate, then what’s the point? We put all our trust in food thermometers, but how do we know they’re giving us the correct reading? There are a couple of tests that we can perform at home, and recalibrating your thermometer is simple. I asked the experts from some of the biggest thermometer companies how they recommend testing and maintain thermometers.

A meat thermometer should be calibrated before it’s used for the first time, and regular tests should continue because thermometers become less accurate over time. High-quality digital thermometers shouldn’t need recalibration, but just to be safe, regular ice bath and boiling point tests are strongly recommended. Over time, even the best thermometers may become less accurate, especially if they are dropped and knocked.

  • Calibrating a thermometer ensures that it is providing accurate temperature readings, which is crucial for food safety.
  • Incorrect temperature readings can lead to undercooked or overcooked food, which can cause foodborne illnesses.
  • By regularly calibrating thermometer, one can confirm whether the thermometer is still providing accurate readings, if not, need for replacement or recalibration can be determined
  • Calibrating can be done using a reference temperature source such as melting and boiling point of ice and water for non-meat thermometer or using a calibrated reference thermometer in conjunction with a boiling water bath for meat thermometer.
  • Steps for calibrating thermometer:
    • Obtain a reference temperature source such as melting and boiling point of ice and water or boiling water bath.
    • Compare thermometer reading with the reference temperature
    • If the reading is not accurate, adjust the thermometer accordingly
    • Repeat the process multiple times to ensure consistency

How to Test For Accuracy

If you have dropped or knocked your thermometer a few times, it may start giving you false readings. Meat smoking can be quite chaotic and our thermometers can take a real beating, which may cause them to be out a few degrees. The quickest and easiest way to check a thermometer’s accuracy is to perform an ice bath test and boiling water test. If you have a high-quality thermometer, then it should be more durable and maintain its accuracy. However, if you have a cheaper thermometer, then it will probably need regular checks and require recalibration.

The Ice Bath Test

1Fill a large glass or bowl with ice and water.
2Place the thermometer into the ice bath, making sure that the tip of the thermometer is fully submerged.
3Wait a few minutes for the thermometer to stabilize.
4Record the temperature reading on the thermometer.
5Compare the reading to the freezing point of water (32°F or 0°C).
6If the thermometer is not reading 32°F or 0°C, adjust it using the adjustment knob or screw.
7Repeat steps 2-6 a few times to ensure the accuracy of the thermometer.

Can You Calibrate a Meat Thermometer Yourself?

You can easily calibrate a meat thermometer by following the instructions in the thermometer’s user manual and performing an ice bath test, followed by a boiling point test. If you can’t find the user manual, search for the manual online and download a copy.

In the manual, locate the manufacturer’s specifications and look for a ±°F on the documentation. These numbers show what the thermometer should read at boiling point and in ice water. After you’ve performed an ice water test and boiling water test, check the user manual for the ±°F, and see if the thermometer is within range. If it’s not, then the thermometer will require recalibration.

Boiling Water Test

1Fill a pot with water and place it on the stove. Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a boil.
2Insert the thermometer into the boiling water, making sure that the tip of the thermometer is not touching the bottom or sides of the pot.
3Wait for the thermometer to stabilize. This can take a few minutes.
4Note the temperature reading on the thermometer. According to international standard, the temperature should be 100 °C (212 °F) at sea level.
5Compare the thermometer reading to the standard temperature. If the reading is not 100 °C (212 °F), adjust the thermometer accordingly.
6Repeat steps 1-5 multiple times to ensure consistent results.

The Reset Button for Recalibration

Most digital meat thermometers will have a reset button for recalibration, but refer to the user manual and follow the instructions. All thermometers are different and have their own way of adjusting the dial thermometer. If you do a lot of meat smoking, test your thermometer every few months, and defiantly do a test if the thermometer has been dropped a few times. If you can’t recalibrate a thermometer, I would recommend buying another one because there’s no point using a thermometer that is inaccurate.

Test 1 – Checking Accuracy With Ice Water

The best way to check the accuracy of your meat thermometer is with an ice bath test. In order for the test to be done correctly, the ice bath should be 32°F/0°C and your thermometer should be within 1 degree (±0.1°F) of the iced water. For an accurate reading, the ice bath must be setup correctly, otherwise the test will be a waste of time. Follow these steps to perform an ice bath test.

How To Do An Ice Bath Test

  1. Fill a water jug with ice.
  2. Pour water into the jug until it is almost full.
  3. Place the thermometer probe into the ice bath and hold the probe in the center of the water jug.
  4. Note the thermometer reading, which should be 32°F/0°C.

Test 2. Checking Accuracy With Boiling Water

The other way to test the accuracy of your thermometer is with a boiling point calibration test. A boiling water test may seem simple, but its not that straightforward because water will boil at different temperatures depending on your location. Water boils at 212°F/ 100°C if you live at sea level, bu if you live above or below sea level, then the boiling point changes. So in order to find the correct boiling point for your location, first you need to use a boiling point calculator to determine the correct temperature. Thermometer company Thermoworks has a calculator on their website.

The Boiling Point Test

  1. Fill a deep pot half full of water and place it on the stove.
  2. Light the stove and turn, adjust the burner to the highest setting.
  3. Leave the pot until the water is fully boiling.
  4. Place the thermometer probe into the water.
  5. Note the temperature and check it matches the boiling point for your location.

Do All Thermometers Need Recalibration? 

If you buy a high-quality thermometer (like a Thermoworks thermometer), then it probably won’t need recalibration. However, it’s good practice to do regular checks. The first thing you should do after unboxing your thermometer is an ice bath test. Then, depending on how often you use the thermometer, re-test the thermometer every few months. If your thermometer takes a beating, then it will need to be recalibrated.

How Often Should I Calibrate My Thermometer?

You should calibrate your thermometer every few months if you smoke a lot of meat. If it has been dropped or banged a few times, then I would defiantly do an ice bath test and see if it needs adjusting. A quality thermometer shouldn’t need recalibrating, however, as thermometers age, they will need to have their accuracy tested.

Are Cheap Meat Thermometers Accurate?

There are some good affordable thermometers on the market that are very accurate, however, many of the cheaper thermometers are notoriously inaccurate. It’s okay to use a cheapo, but just check it regularly. Test it after unboxing and adjust the calibration if needed and check it periodically.

Most Accurate Meat Thermometer

Thermoworks thermometers are the benchmark for food thermometers. The Thermapen is the gold standard and is the thermometer of choice for chefs and barbecue enthusiasts. The Thermapen is not only the most accurate, it’s also the fastest and the most expensive instant-read thermometer on the market. Check the latest price on the Thermoworks website here. For more info on the best instant-read thermometers, check out my guide: Best Instant-Read Thermometers For Smoking Meat.

Calibrating a meat thermometer is a simple but important step in ensuring that you are cooking your meat to the correct temperature. A properly calibrated thermometer will give you an accurate reading of the internal temperature of your meat, which is crucial for determining when it is done cooking and safe to eat.

To calibrate your meat thermometer, you will need a few basic tools, including an ice bath and a pot of boiling water. Start by filling a large glass or bowl with ice and water, and then place the thermometer into the ice bath. The thermometer should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), which is the freezing point of water. If it does not, use the adjustment knob or screw on the thermometer to set it to the correct reading.

Next, fill a pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil. Once the water reaches a full boil, insert the thermometer into the boiling water, making sure not to touch the sides of the pot. The thermometer should read 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), which is the boiling point of water at sea level. If it does not, adjust the thermometer accordingly.

It’s important to note that boiling point of water will vary depending on elevation so in case you are in higher altitude you may need to adjust accordingly.

Once your thermometer has been calibrated, it’s important to check it regularly to ensure that it continues to give accurate readings. You can also check it again by using the same method or by using a calibration solution.

The Importance of Accurate Thermometers

Smoking meat is a technique that has been used for centuries to preserve and flavor meat. It is a process that involves exposing meat to smoke from burning wood, which helps to preserve it and add unique flavor and texture. However, smoking meat can be a delicate process and it is important to ensure that the meat is cooked to the correct temperature in order to ensure food safety and the best possible taste.

One of the most important tools for smoking meat is an accurate meat thermometer. An accurate thermometer can be used to measure the internal temperature of the meat as it cooks, which is crucial for determining when it is safe to eat.

Food safety is a critical aspect when smoking meat. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking beef, pork, and lamb to an internal temperature of at least 145 °F (63 °C) and poultry to at least 165 °F (74 °C) to destroy harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. If meat is not cooked to these temperatures, the bacteria can survive and may cause food poisoning if consumed.

Also, an accurate thermometer can be used to check the temperature of the meat at different stages of the smoking process. This can help to ensure that the meat is not undercooked or overcooked, which can result in a poor taste and texture.

In addition, an accurate thermometer allows to reach the desired level of doneness, which is a personal preference but also affected by the meat cut, desired final temperature and tenderness, age, and breed of the animal. This is important to ensure that the meat is cooked to the right level of doneness, which can affect its tenderness, juiciness, and overall taste.

In summary, an accurate meat thermometer is a crucial tool when smoking meat. It helps ensure food safety by ensuring that the meat is cooked to the correct temperature and it also helps to achieve the desired level of doneness for optimal taste and texture. Regularly checking the meat thermometer for accuracy will help to ensure the best possible results when smoking meat.

USDA Recommendations

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has guidelines on the accuracy of thermometers used in food preparation and cooking. According to the USDA, all thermometers used in food service operations should be calibrated at least once a day, or before and after use if they are used multiple times in one day.

The USDA also emphasizes the importance of testing the internal temperature of food, as it is the only way to ensure that food is cooked to a safe minimum temperature. The correct internal temperature must be reached to destroy harmful bacteria that could cause foodborne illness. For example, the safe minimum internal temperature for poultry is 165°F (73.9°C).

Additionally, the USDA states that food thermometers should be inserted into the thickest part of the food, away from bone, fat, or gristle, to ensure an accurate reading. They also recommend using a thermometer with a long stem and easy-to-read display for best results.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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