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How to Calibrate a Meat Thermometer

Updated October 23, 2023
Professional portrait of Amanda Blair

Amanda Blair

Assistant Director of SDSU West River Research and Extension

A properly calibrated meat thermometer is key for achieving both meat safety and quality. When considering meat safety, the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service states that the only way to accurately measure if a product is cooked to a safe temperature is to use a food thermometer. Use of a properly calibrated thermometer is also key to determining if products, such as steaks and chops, are cooked to your preferred degree of doneness.

Testing Your Thermometer

Thermometers should be checked and adjusted on a regular basis. To test your thermometer:

  1. Fill a tall glass with ice and add cold water.
  2. Place and hold the thermometer in the ice water for 30 seconds without touching the sides or bottom of the glass.
    • If the thermometer is a dial thermometer, allow 1-2 minutes for temperature calibration.
  3. If the thermometer reads 32°F, it is reading correctly and can be used.

Calibration & Adjustment

If the temperature retrieved during testing is inaccurate, consider the following adjustments:

Dial Thermometers

  • If you are using a dial thermometer and it is inaccurate or deviates from 32°F, turn the thermometer over and adjust the gauge by twisting the nut using pliers.
  • Calibrate the thermometer again to ensure its accuracy prior to use.

Digital Thermometers

  • Digital thermometers can be more challenging because there are no adjustments that can be made.
  • However, the inaccuracy can be added or subtracted to the final desired cooking temperature and the thermometer should be checked regularly.

For a video demonstration of thermometer calibration, view How to Calibrate a Meat Thermometer courtesy of the North American Meat Institute.